Insights and Analysis

Sri Lanka’s Youth Discover Values4All during the Global Pandemic

July 22, 2020

By Celina Cramer and Erandi De Wass Gunawardena

As Sri Lanka swiftly went into lockdown, imposing a curfew in mid-March, young people found themselves with plenty of free time to spend online. Amidst the unpredictable ebb and flow of online opinion, we became concerned here in The Asia Foundation’s Sri Lanka office about some discriminatory content that was being widely shared by Sri Lankan youth. We saw this as an important opportunity to use social media as a force for positive change, and we began to increase our own social media activity through our ongoing Values4All program, posting a regular flow of pandemic-related content, from infographics on public health measures to positive stories from our young Values4All participants, raising awareness about social distancing and promoting unity in the crisis.

Values4All works to equip young Sri Lankans with values that support a tolerant and pluralistic approach to issues in their own communities. The project curriculum, now available through an Android mobile app in all three national languages—Sinhala, Tamil, and English—focuses on seven core humanistic values: active listening, honesty and sincerity, peace, respect, tolerance, compassion, and cooperation.

Digitization of the values curriculum: a youth browses the Values4All Android mobile app.

Partnering with two of Sri Lanka’s largest youth organizations, Sarvodaya and the National Youth Services Council, Values4All had planned an active program of in-person workshops with young people in the districts of Kalutara, Kurunegala, Ampara, Trincomalee, Mannar, and Vavuniya. But the pandemic forced a change of course. Switching to an online approach, the Values4All participants worked on a series of videos in collaboration with Roar Media, a respected online media company that produces uplifting, original stories from the South Asia region. The new Values4All videos are intended to inspire young people to appreciate the sacrifices of essential service workers and to convey a message of social cohesion and nondiscrimination against those who have contracted the virus.

We also reached out to the Values4All youth facilitators for a program of online discussions exploring their perspectives on the pandemic. The series of four webinars attracted a good balance of male and female youth facilitators from across the country with diverse ethno-religious backgrounds. Many lamented that the lockdown, though necessary, had disrupted their education. Others welcomed the quiet time to focus more intensely on their studies, to spend more time with their family, and even to explore new pastimes. Participants discussed their mental well-being, feelings of anxiety, and fears that they would contract the illness from loved ones who continue to work in essential services. Many worried that their path to a future career would disappear, although they also noted, optimistically, the growing need for digital literacy and IT-savvy professionals. The discussions also identified the spread of misinformation, stereotyping, and cyber-bullying as a growing challenge that needs to be addressed during the pandemic.

A team of young, online facilitators from Vavuniya in their first session on Zoom

Finally, the webinars resulted in several new digital projects, initiated by the participants, who challenged each other to promote positive values in their own communities, such as sharing a belief or a principle that has helped them during this uncertain period, producing short sketches envisioning life after Covid-19, and conducting interviews highlighting the needs of vulnerable or differently abled communities.

These online exchanges among the Values4All youth facilitators yielded insights into how the program can adapt to community needs as circumstances evolve in the coming months. The Foundation continues to seek opportunities to engage with young people and empower them to create positive change through their networks and in their communities.

Celina Cramer and Erandi De Wass Gunawardena are program officers in the Peace-Building and Community Dialogue Program for The Asia Foundation in Sri Lanka. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Sri Lanka
Related topics: Covid-19


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