RISEN Project Engages Sri Lankan Youth in Ancient Festival

November 07, 2012

To commemorate the Tamil holiday of Thai Pongal and celebrate diversity within a country too often divided along ethnic and religious lines, the Reintegration and Stabilization in the East and North (RISEN) project recently brought together youth from the north and south of Sri Lanka to promote reconciliation and advocate for the establishment of a youth network.

Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Transition Initiatives and implemented by DAI, RISEN works with the Sri Lankan government to improve personal and economic security in targeted communities, providing support and opportunities for at-risk youth and building public confidence that conflict issues are being addressed by the government.

Thai Pongal is a harvest festival tracing its roots to 200 B.C. In an agricultural civilization, harvests play a central role in the annual calendar. The Thai Pongal celebration gives farmers and their communities the opportunity to express their gratitude for healthy cattle, timely rain, and sun.

During the Thai Pongal event cosponsored by RISEN, 180 Muslim, Tamil, and Sinhala young people joined together in mixed teams to prepare the traditional Pongal dish made with rice, green gram, jaggery, coconut milk, and dried fruits in a cooking competition. In addition, 480 youth representing 40 teams competed in a traditional sports competition. In the evening, more than 2,000 people gathered to participate in a cultural celebration to cultivate hope representing traditional performances from across the island.

The Thai Pongal event was significant because these kinds of traditional games had become rare in the north during times of conflict. Coming together in competition and celebration—and seeing cultural continuity in other areas, such as music—enabled young people from the different regions to see how closely their cultures are tied together. The event organizers hope this bond will represent a foundation for future friendships.

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