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Sri Lanka welcomes the Commonwealth Games Queens Baton Relay to the country, with a demonstration of how sport is being used by UNICEF to build social cohesion among the country’s diverse ethnicities

On the 12th October, seven months after its departure from London, the Commonwealth Games Queens Baton Relay arrived in Sri Lanka as part of its tour of every Commonwealth nation and territory, and in advance of the 2018 XXI Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast, Australia.

Symbolizing the Commonwealth Games ethos of ‘Equality, Humanity and Destiny’, the baton which itself contains a message from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Commonwealth, was welcomed to the country by the President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena at a welcoming reception, and by UNICEF Sri Lanka at a specially hosted event in Colombo, which showcased how UNICEF is using sport to foster social cohesion among young people.

 

 

For over 30 years Sri Lanka, a multi-ethnic country with varied languages, cultures and religions, faced conflict. Whilst the end of this conflict in 2009 saw the situation improve for many, tensions between communities, combined with existing social and economic inequalities, perpetuated visible and silent divisions.

As part of Sri Lanka’s process of peacebuilding and reconciliation, building trust and understanding between different ethnic and religious communities, including children who grew up during the conflict is a key priority. This is especially important as many schools in Sri Lanka remain segregated along ethnic and religious lines, with inter-ethnic and inter-religious interaction amongst children limited or non-existent.

It is against this backdrop that in March 2017 UNICEF, with funding and support including from The Commonwealth Games Foundation, and in partnership with Ministry of Education and the Provincial Department of Education in Uva Province launched the ‘Promotion of Civic Values through Physical Education’ Programme in 36 schools. Today this ‘sport for social cohesion’ programme has reached over 4,000 children.

Through the use of ‘mini-games’ that are fun and simple, but importantly teach children vital life skills such as communication, conflict management and problem solving, while fostering positive peer relationships, the programme is building competencies among young children of all communities to empower them to act as change agents and to foster social cohesion.

Celebrating the arrival of the Queens Baton, UNICEF brought together a group of ‘mini-games’ trainers from Uva province in the east of Sri Lanka, with over 300 children from across Colombo to demonstrate the games in action. Attending the event where the Minister of Sports, Hon. Dayasiri Jayasekera, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Games Association in Sri Lanka Mr. Maxwell De Silva, UNICEF Representative Mr. Tim Sutton and a selection of Sri Lankan sports people including 17 year old commonwealth games hopeful, swimmer Kyle Charles Abeysinghe. The attendees took part in the ‘mini-games’ with children, experiencing their combination of fun and learning.

Speaking at the celebration, UNICEF Representative Tim Sutton said: “All children have the right to play. In fact sport, recreation and play are important to stimulating children’s growth and development” adding “Sport is not about winning medals. Sport is all about team work and partnership. It enables children and young people to learn the values of team work and fair play that can last a lifetime, and help to build a more peaceful and cohesive society. As we continue to build a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka, sport can play a role in helping to overcome divisions and build cooperation, tolerance and respect for diversity”

Also speaking at the event, Minister of Sports, Hon. Dayasiri Jayasekera, commented “Sport is recognized as a powerful convener to foster collaboration and inclusion among Sri Lankan children. We are proud to take over the baton here in Sri Lanka, which is a powerful symbol of the excitement to come - but also of the importance of the games which will have a real impact on our communities, and will inspire people about Commonwealth sport and the Commonwealth nations.”

For more information about UNICEF’s work in Sri Lanka, visit www.unicef.lk

 

 

 
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