A letter from Chenoa Stock in Sri Lanka
May 10, 2010
A Change of Seasons
“Seasons?” you may ask. “In the tropics?” Yes, it is true. Even tropical countries, such as Sri Lanka, have seasons. And I am sweltering through yet another of the hot and humid monsoon variety. Where the days may be filled with shining sun, perspiring bodies, even while thinking, slower movement of the masses, and oh yes, the spontaneous I-forgot-my-umbrella monsoon downpours. Though I try to think positively and tell myself that I am living in a natural sauna, which surely somehow benefits one’s body for detoxing purposes, even my veteran status of four years of this oppressive season offers no reprieve. But the show must go on. And it does. But of course one can never forget the amazing benefits these rains provide to the rice paddy fields and their farmers, who are attempting to harvest yet another crop this season. So, yes. The seasons are changing. Not only for the island, through the forces of Mother Nature, but also for Sri Lanka, for Praja Abhilasha and for me.
In January Sri Lanka held presidential elections, when incumbent Mahinda Rajapakse called for an early vote in hopes of riding on his victory in the 25-year civil war against the Tamil Tigers, which ended in May, 2009. He achieved his goal, winning the election term for another six (+) years, defeating his opponent (and former Army Chief), Sarath Fonseka. I will not go into details, but since then General Fonseka has been arrested and held on trial for allegations from the government, one that claims that he began his political campaigning while still an officer on duty. Three months later, the court martial trials and postponements persist, as they continue to hold and question General Fonseka.
In April, Parliamentary elections were held. Though it was a low voter turnout, President Rajapakse’s party won the majority, but did not receive the 2/3 majority he needed in order to make changes to the Constitution, as he had hoped. Even though on trial, General Fonseka won a seat in Parliament and was able to attend the opening day, though he is still being held in custody by the Sri Lankan government.
Overview of Parliamentary Elections
In case you want another view of the Parliamentary elections, read this newsstory.
Though some of this information could seem dire, there is still a chance for President Rajapakse to bring about a season and attitude of change for Sri Lanka. Many in the resettlement camps in the war-torn north are able to move in and out of the camps and even return home. International dialogues are being held, calling for investigations into war crimes, to which the President and General Fonseka have agreed. The checkpoints in Colombo and around the island have decreased, and the government has even stated that they will begin to scale back and withdraw the emergency laws that have been in effect since the beginning of the war in 1983. So there is hope for a new season of reconciliation for the future of Sri Lanka.
And riding on this hope for a change of attitude in the government are the communities of fisherfolk, women, laborers, tea plantation workers and farmers who constitute the Praja Abhilasha Network. As we struggle in our campaign for land for communities who have been displaced by tsunami, war, development, human-elephant co-existence, land tenure and other natural disasters, we can only hope that this change will open the ears of the government and make them listen and understand what we claim to be a fundamental right.
One way we are planning to ascertain that our voice is heard will be by holding eight People’s Tribunals (or People’s Courts) in 11 districts throughout July and August. Through these Tribunals we will call community members to submit testimonies of their land displacement cases. After choosing the most comprehensive testimonies in each district, we will create a People’s Jury, consisting of scholars, lawyers and other human rights activists within Sri Lanka, who will hear and give the verdicts for each case. After the 11 Tribunals are held, we will write an Advocacy Paper to the government, clearly stating the verdicts of the cases and our proposals for future action that should be taken.
This is a great step for Praja Abhilasha, to engage in dialogue with the government with explicit evidence for our demands. Our planning will be carried out these next couple of months, preparing for the first Tribunal in the northern District of Mannar on July 3.
And it seems that in this step, a season of change has come for me also, as I will be making my departure from Praja Abhilasha and Sri Lanka mid-June. I have fulfilled my contract and have decided that now is the time to move on to new challenges and growth. I leave the Sri Lankan Network in the capable, transitional hands of the Rev. Thomas John, who is the facilitator for the Indian Network and will be advising Praja Abhilasha during this time.
I leave with the fullest heart of gratitude and love for my entire experience on this island. For the challenges, successes, growth, learnings (and new vocabulary!) and laughter. And on a personal level, for the community of which I have been a part, the travels, the expanded mind, the endearing annoyances and the different way of living and embracing life.
I will be giving presentations around the states (venues to be decided) from mid-June to end of July. I will then take a course called Immersion in the New Cosmology at Genesis Farm, located in Blairstown, N.J., late July/early August.
A bit of their vision: Transformation of a culture’s awareness, beliefs and stories about the Universe and the place and purpose of humans within it is the foundation for any deep change in the world. This understanding is core to our mission as we work with others to transform the ecological devastation being caused by the western industrial economy. Through its educational programs and its commitment to action, Genesis Farm offers diverse and innovative educational experiences that inspire a comprehensive approach to change, both personal and social.
After this, I cannot yet say where the season of change will take me. If you ask me at the end of this month, I might just have an answer.
I would like to conclude by saying thank you for all of your support, encouragement, caring words and thoughts throughout my time here. I never felt lonely or forgotten while living on the other side of the world. I may be in touch soon with some future news, but for now I will embrace the humidity that pervades this island and recognize that all seasons come to an end, but also allow for a fresh beginning.
Much love from Sri Lanka.
Joining Hands – Praja Abhilasha
No. 10 Malwaththa Road
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 125