Friends of Peace band makes its debut public performance

Friends of Peace, an extremely talented band of musicians, consisting of 25 selected ex combatants undergoing rehabilitation programs conducted by BCGR are due to make their debut public performance at 7.30 p.m. on October 24, 2011 at Campbell Park in Colombo. Their scheduled first public performance in Colombo is indeed a significant event marking their emergence on the national musical scene. The debut performance is a further testimony to the success of the over all rehabilitation program reaffirming the value of love and care as essential factors in unlocking their latent talents and leading them towards a life of fulfillment while contributing to the enrichment of society.

The Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centre (PARC) at Welikanda has been particularly successful in this respect with the selection of twenty five gifted youth whose aptitude to music was nurtured through the establishment of a musical band.

At this juncture it is pertinent to mention that the Minister of Rehabilitation and Prison Reform Hon.Chandrasiri Gajadeera mooted the idea of setting up such a musical group. The guidance of Commissioner General of Rehabilitation Major General Chandana Rajaguru and the unstinted support of Lieutenant H.D.S.S. Perera of the Army Band provided the necessary impetus to Brigadier K.W.Y.Jayathilake, Coordinating officer of Rehabilitation (East) to act as the driving force behind this initiative.

Following the Humanitarian operation conducted by the Government, the conflict that afflicted Sri Lanka for nearly three decades, was successfully concluded in May 2009. During and at the end of the conflict, thousands of misled combatants surrendered themselves while some were captured.

Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation (BCGR) was tasked with the daunting responsibility of rehabilitating these surrendees and the captured combatants numbering over 11,600. Rehabilitation Centres were set up in Jaffna, Vauniya and Batticaloa to commence the gradual transformation of the mindset of the former combatants and provide them with the know-how necessary to reintegrate themselves as productive members of civil society.

The BCGR had to provide first the basic necessities of life - shelter, food and clothing – to establish a sense of normalcy followed by activities to de-stress the traumatized youth such as facilities to engage in sports, indulge in arts and crafts. Opportunities to resume education, skills development through vocational training etc. were provided thereafter.

The programs initiated at the rehabilitation centres enabling youth to discover their latent talents in fields such as music, singing, fine arts and other creative activities, slowly and steadily brought about psychological changes in these battle hardened former combatants whose unique purpose in life had been to inflict maximum destruction with the weapons they had been taught to wield.

The aim of transforming the misguided combatants into productive and useful citizens-independent and in a sound economic position, has been the motive force behind the establishment of this musical group. Following measures are crucial for success in the task of rehabilitation,

• Recognition of latent musical talents among the misguided combatants, provision of opportunities to develop their abilities to professional standards and enable them to devote their life to this chosen field.

• Similarly to identify those talented in vocal music and give them professional training in singing and channel them towards a creative career utilizing their abilities.

• Spread the message of “Peace and Reconciliation” to other districts in the island as well as internationally by facilitating the participation of the musical group at national and international musical events.

• On completion of the requisite period of rehabilitation facilitate the members of the musical group to establish themselves as part of a viable musical group in their own communities.

• Train the group for musical performances to be held during rehabilitation/ reintegration events within PARC and thus alleviate the isolation and stress among the rehabilitees by creating a melodious environment.

We look forward to the continued support of all at the BCGR who with their special aptitude for rehabilitation are engaged in these tasks as well as those benefactors who have provided us with much-needed material and moral assistance. There are no better messengers than the talented “Friends of Peace” to propagate the message of “Peace and Reconciliation” worldwide. Their participation at national and international events will be a further impetus to hone their talents to greater heights. I am sure all those who will have the opportunity to see them in action on the debut night and all those who learn of their talents will be inspired to generously donate musical instruments and finance the provision of costumes to be worn at performances.

We invite you to embrace this opportunity to become a shareholder in the task of rehabilitating the misguided combatants and re-integrating them as useful, productive citizens.