Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Engaging IDPs in Sri Lanka: A Buddhist Approach

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Engaging IDPs in Sri Lanka: A Buddhist Approach

Article excerpt

The rhetoric concerning protection of internally displaced people (IDPs) often focuses on top-down, international and/or state-led protection mechanisms. The 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and other more recent documents such as the Inter-Agency Standing Committee's 2010 Framework on Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons emphasise the international community's responsibility to promote 'protection' and 'durable solutions' principally by means of national programming, with the participation of additional actors, including IDPs, as appropriate. An emphasis on state-led IDP action agendas does not consider seriously that those most affected by displacement could serve as leaders in designing and implementing their reintegration efforts, including being actively included in the process of defining what concepts of 'protection' and 'durable solutions' mean.1

An example of a faith-based NGO working to empower IDPs to take part in framing and organising themselves in addressing issues that concern them is the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka. In recent years, Sri Lanka has suffered from many events causing displacement - including the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, a long civil war and recent large economic development projects. Sarvodaya works through a small number of national units and hundreds of legally independent organisations, called Shramadana Societies, which operate at the village level to address post-conflict development concerns through a Buddhist spiritual framework of mindfulness based on the concepts of sarvodaya (awakening of all) and shramadana (sharing of labour).

The movement seeks to bring together politics, economics and faith in a development approach grounded in village-level democratic participation, non-violence and a belief that diverse ethnic and religious groups can together improve the nation's quality of life. Sarvodaya works for and with Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Hindu groups.

Power and protection

One of Sarvodaya's key initiatives is Deshodaya. Deshodaya is a Buddhist term that suggests spiritual liberation from individual and unequal socio-economic limitations in order to build human potential. The programme employs mindfulness and 'awakening' to define 'protection' and 'durable solutions' in ways that help villagers, especially individuals who have been disempowered by their displacement, to recognise the power dynamics at play in local, national and international arenas, how these affect their lives and how they can use this recognition to understand the dominant discourse that underlies the power dynamics (and change it).

Villagers are encouraged to think critically about power and how it is enacted at the international, national and local levels; to create regional, district and village-level Deshodaya forums and groups to lobby and work with the government and international organisations; and to promote individual and community-level action that generates a bottom-up understanding of peace, development, post-conflict reconciliation and, most importantly for displaced individuals, protection. National Deshodaya forums bring villagers together - including IDPs - to learn about national and international actors responsible for policies that affect their lives. Participants are encouraged to identify where they themselves can intervene and act with others in seeking change. …

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