“Civil society played an eye-opening role in resolving the conflict and bringing peace to Sri Lanka. They really have worked hard with their government. And I think this example is one we could bring home to Afghanistan,” explained Ziba Rahimi, a member of the 2017 Class of Afghan Emerging Civil Society Leaders (ECSL).
As part of the Afghan Civic Engagement Program, the ECSL project empowers youth leaders to be catalysts for positive social change in Afghanistan. Each year, one student is selected from each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and trained on leadership development, conflict resolution, civic activism, peacebuilding, community development and more. A few months ago, Ziba, along with thirty-one of her Emerging Civil Society Leader counterparts traveled to Sri Lanka for a ten-day Study Tour. Sri Lanka was chosen as it is similar to Afghanistan in terms of culture, history, economics and governance. The country is also ethnically diverse and was once divided by years of conflict. Today, it is a vibrant example of what is possible peace prevails.
“Before the trip I had mixed feelings. I wasn’t sure if Sri Lanka was the right choice to visit. But after going through Sri Lanka’s history and post-war improvements, it made me sure that this was a good choice for the group,” said Deeda Shakib, a civil society leader from the Badakhshan province. “And this gives me hope that maybe we can build that kind of future for ourselves at home,” she continued.
The Sri Lankan Study Tour: Leadership & Development in South Asia
Over ten days, the Afghan youth leaders joined training sessions and site visits organized by the Sri Lanka Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA). They were guided through the local government offices of Kandy and the temples and resettlement villages of Anuradhapura, and then interviewed local villagers in Jaffna. Through their travels and interviews, the young students engaged with their Sri Lanka counterparts to see how they can use their newly acquired skills in leadership, anti-corruption, religious tolerance and peacebuilding to inspire Afghan civil society and make a difference at home.
“Sri Lanka just emerged from decades of conflict fought partially over ethnicity and religion. That is very relevant to us. Learning from their experience was invaluable. I saw how civil society put an end to the conflict and worked to live in peace,” explained Mansoor Akbar the Emerging Civil Society leader from Nanagarhar Province.
Seeing first-hand the integral role of civil society in development, peacebuilding and progress was the most important learning for the young Afghan leaders.
Afghan Civil Society as a Catalyst for Change
As Mr. Tariq Salarzai, from Kondoz province noted, “The method that Sri Lankan civil society used during the peace processes, including the important role of civil society and activists, further strengthened our knowledge and will help us in our social activism for peace, development and stability in our country.” And he was far from the only one committed to sharing the learnings from the study tour.
In fact, Abdul Basir Hamidi, the Emerging Leader from the Takhar Province, has already planned to hold a two-day workshop for his coworkers focused on some of the unique lessons he learned in Sri Lanka. And in Kabul, Ms. Mena Nazari believes that Afghanistan could learn from the Sri Lankan example, particularly when it comes to the inclusion of women.
“Women and the World Economy was one of the most important trainings we attended. It clearly showed how women play a major role in the world economy. As I work for women’s rights, I am excited to take this information home, to organize seminars and workshops. And just like in Sri Lanka, I want them to include both genders. Because we need men to know how much difference including women can truly make on development, peace and stability.”
The Road Ahead with Emerging Leaders Catalyzing Change
These young leaders are dedicated to continuing their work to build a more peaceful, stable and prosperous country. With the Study Tour to Sri Lanka completed, they now have more of the skills, experiences and capacities needed to make that vision a reality. Having now returned to Afghanistan, they have already begun to use their new skills and experiences to catalyze positive changes in their local communities. So today, we are reminded of the words of Counterpart CEO, Joan Parker when she talks about our local partners: “They aspire, we support. They achieve, we celebrate.” We look forward to seeing what these Emerging Civil Society Leaders will achieve in the future. And yes, we will continue to support and celebrate!