President, OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership
Our enthusiastic celebrations of the growth and progress of our Interfaith Peacemaker Teams in Sri Lanka were tempered by the tragic news of Easter morning terrorists attacks. We mourn the crushing loss of life and extend our heartfelt love and abiding support to the people of Sri Lanka. We are especially mindful that our work, however difficult, is needed now more than ever.
One of the profound ironies of life is that even in the midst of suffering, joy may be found and a higher purpose made clear. It is in the spirit of that higher purpose that we offer to you our report on Interfaith Peacemaker Teams in Sri Lanka and invite you to join us in answering the call to peacebuilding.
We are the Leaders We’ve Been Waiting For
“84 million!” exclaimed Mr. A.G. Dharmasena at OMNIA’s March Advanced Training Event. That’s how many Sri Lankan rupees were raised by the organized villagers of Hantana, near Kandy for the building of a local school. Using the interfaith organizing strategies that he learned in OMNIA training, Mr. Dharmasena, a retired officer in Sri Lankan Customs, brought together an Interfaith Peacemaker Team (IPT) to build power and work strategically. The result (a sum equivalent to about $50,000 USD) was a lesson in leadership - one that Mr. Dharmasena attributed to the OMNIA training he received last year.
As he shared the story with other OMNIA participants, the excitement was palpable. Suddenly it dawned on everybody, “this stuff works” as they broke out into OMNIA’s familiar chant:
We’ve been waiting for!”
OMNIA participants learn they cannot wait for someone else tocome along to give leadership, but must step out with courage as Mr. Dharmasena did. His story is only one among many shared in the training event. In all, OMNIA’s advanced training brought together 35 selected leaders from many parts of the country to learn how to lead Interfaith Peacemaker Teams (IPTs).
OMNIA also held two introductory training events, one in Kandy for IPT leaders, some of whom had just a year ago experienced Buddhist extremist violence; and the other in
Colombo, with people from the North and the East who still struggle with the repercussions of the 26-year long war.
Taking the Next Step in Leadership
For the first time in Sri Lanka, OMNIA conducted its top-level “Training of Trainers” event. Twelve carefully selected leaders explored and learned to teach key components of the OMNIA leadership model:
• how to listen to, learn from and live in deep solidarity with those in the margins,
• how to collaborate with those of other religions, and
• how to build power so they can act together in meaningful and measurable ways.
These key leaders demonstrated their commitment to building IPTs are now equipped to provide introductory training to new participants in their own villages. The trainers came from many parts of the country, included both Sinhala and Tamil speakers, and represented Christian, Muslim and Buddhist faiths.
A Growing Climate of Equality
In Sri Lanka’s tea-growing region there has long been a concern over low wages and poor working conditions among the laborers who harvest and manufacture its famous tea. To address this issue, OMNIA brought together over 70 people representing three villages. The group committed to building three IPTs
in those villages located in the tea region. “No longer should we be content to allow a system that insures its workers toil in lifelong poverty,” remarked one OMNIA leader, “Together the people themselves will learn to organize themselves and build power to better their own lives.”
Progress Begins in the Margins
“Sri Lanka celebrates diversity both in religion and race, but our engagement in diversity begins with those in the margins,” said Sri Lanka’s Minister for National Integration, the Hon. Mano Ganesan to a group of over 30 friends of OMNIA that gathered in Colombo for a dinner/dialogue on March 26th.
“This is exactly how OMNIA does its work,” he said. Among the participants were government civil servants, business leaders, representatives of the US and Norwegian embassies, Human Rights organizations and religious leaders. The event brought to a culmination three weeks of training in Sri Lanka.
From Sri Lanka, the OMNIA team traveled to Bangladesh, where under the auspices of the National Council of Churches, 42 senior religious leaders (Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians) gathered for basic and advanced trainings. Participants made commitments to create 11 IPTs in Bangladesh following that training.
Suzanne Morgan Receives the Ken Bensen Award for Excellence in Contextual Leadership
Ms. Suzanne Morgan, founder and president of Sacred Spaces International, received the Ken Bensen Award for Excellence in Contextual Leadership by the OMNIA Institute in Chicago for her work in supporting OMNIA’s peacemaking initiatives, and for her groundbreaking work in promoting interreligious understanding. The Rev. Dr. Ken Bensen, for whom the award is named, made the presentation at OMNIA’s Advisory Board meeting on Saturday, April 6 in Chicago.
“Today,” said Bensen, “we recognize you, Suzanne, for your generous commitment to peacebuilding around the world, and for your innovative use of Sacred Spaces to teach the world to love their neighbors as themselves…. you taught me how to see the church building itself as sacred space and a tool for peacebuilding. It was a valuable lesson that you taught me in my later years. Thank you.”
Interfaith Peacemaker Teams and You
By December 2019, there will be over 150 IPTs in Nigeria and over 25 in Sri Lanka. People of faith will be working together, resulting in a demonstrable reduction in extremist violence.
These are ambitious goals. We are clear that we cannot do this alone. We need you. Here are some ways you can engage:
Be a cheerleader for OMNIA. Tell its story, share our emails, newsletters, Facebook posts and re-tweet our tweets. We have a great deal of material including videos on our website. Invite friends over for tea and tell them of your excitement about OMNIA’s mission.
Go with us to places where we work, immerse yourselves and learn from those in the margins.
Give generously and encourage others as well.
If you have more suggestions, please contact me:
Watch Interfaith Peacemaker Teams in Action in Sri Lanka: