December 15, 2023

Stepping towards Reconciliation: A Volunteer's Experience

Senuka Jayakody

In this blog, a volunteer from the Sri Lanka Barometer Travelling Exhibit in Colombo shares his volunteer experience and how this experience enhanced his understanding of reconciliation.

The topic of reconciliation has been gaining heat in Sri Lanka again recently. The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Presidential Secretariat, 2023) and the implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution (Sunday Times, 2023) has been seriously considered by the current Government. However, a post-conflict society like Sri Lanka requires an orthodox or an emancipatory model of liberal peace to ensure the “inclusion of citizens in the peace process” (Natorski, 2011, p. 5).

While the Government is moving steadily towards a reconciliatory stand, where do the people on the ground, in other words, the public stand? This was a prolonged question I had, and I think I was not alone in asking the question. The Sri Lanka Barometer initiative provided for me, as well as for many others, some answers to this question.

I had learned about reconciliation for a Diploma in International Relations, so I had an idea of the concept and the importance of it for contemporary Sri Lankan society. As aforementioned, there has been much attention on reconciliation in the media recently, so naturally I was curious about the initiative. It was upon this conviction that I decided to apply to work as a volunteer for the Sri Lanka Barometer travelling exhibit at Galle Face Green in December 2023.

The modified shipping containers where the exhibit was showcased were lively and designed so professionally, that passers-by from all age groups and walks of life were attracted to it. Overall, the professional surroundings made me, as a volunteer, take on an increasingly responsible role and gain an enjoyable experience.

Although many important people visited the Sri Lanka Barometer exhibit, including a former President, my most memorable encounter was with an elderly lady who visited the Sri Lanka Barometer exhibit.

It was a Sunday, and the Galle Face was full of people enjoying their weekend. Many people were bustling near the ocean and the vendors at Galle Face Green, and some made their way to the Sri Lanka Barometer exhibit. An elderly lady entered the container, who had taken some time out of shopping to see what this exhibit is all about. As usual, I welcomed her by saying “Welcome to the Sri Lanka Barometer. Would you like an explanation?” She agreed, and since she spoke English, I continued in English until she interrupted me. “Explain to me in Sinhala or Tamil. We are Sri Lankan after all”, she said.

I was momentarily taken aback by her identification as “Sri Lankan”, as I felt like such a statement is rare in Sri Lanka, where many aim to prove their competency in English. However, what the Sri Lanka Barometer public opinion data from 2021 shows is that a fifth of Sri Lankans (20.6%) do indeed identify most strongly with being Sri Lankan first, an increase from 2020, where only 14.2% identified so. Apart from this, many others identify with people from the same ethnicity first (23.6% in 2021), with people who speak the same language (9.0%), or with people who practice the same religion (7.6%) (Sri Lanka Barometer, 2023).  

Respecting the visitors wish, I began to explain more about the Sri Lanka Barometer in Sinhala. However, she did not understand the word “reconciliation” or the Sinhala term “සංහිඳියාව” (sanhidiyawa). Then I replied with the Tamil term “நல்லிணக்கம்” (nallinakkam), which she understood and immediately grew much more attentive. She asked me questions on each of the eight domains that the Sri Lanka Barometer has identified as relevant for reconciliation in Sri Lanka through community consultations and expert discussions.

As she read the statistics on public opinion in Sri Lanka and looked at the Sri Lanka Barometer report I had given her, I talked with her, and she described her lived experience in regard to the subject. Born in the Eastern Province to a Muslim family, she studied all other major religions in Sri Lanka. She said she had married a Sinhala person and also spoke to her children in Sinhala.

In a country of 22 million people, I do not think I would ever meet her again. But I will never forget this encounter that made me reflect further on reconciliation in our country.

As someone who never previously had the opportunity to participate as a volunteer in an exhibition, this occasion at the Sri Lanka Barometer served as a learning experience for me. I learnt that many findings are very similar across different ethnic groups. For example, the statistics on political trust depict that Muslims (from 6.0 in 2020 to 5.4 in 2021), and Tamils (from 5.5 in 2020 to 5.1 in 2021) have similar trust as Sinhalese (from 6.2 in 2020 to 4.7 in 2021) (Sri Lanka Barometer, 2023). In addition, I gained an understanding of the real situation of what people think about reconciliation in Sri Lanka, which I consider the most valuable experience of all. The eight domains perfectly represent the Sri Lankan context, and the in-depth analysis helped me to comprehend the thought patterns of other Sri Lankans.

The exhibition was able to answer the question of where the Sri Lankan public stands on reconciliation through a data-driven approach. Surface-level views regarding this issue would often only present bias and add more to the confusion. But a data-based approach, such as this, was capable to give a holistic view of the context and issues while giving a voice to the people.  Even though I volunteered for only three days, I learnt much for a lifetime.

Senuka Jayakody is an undergraduate student at the History Department of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Colombo. He has a keen interest in global affairs and completed a Diploma in International Relations from the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS).


Sunday Times (2023) ‘Full implementation of 13A: President totake firm stand’, Sunday Times, 29 January.

Presidential Secretariat (2023) ‘Sri Lanka takes historic steptowards establishing an independent commission for truth, unity andreconciliation’, Presidential Secretariat, 8 December. Available at: (Accessed: 26 December 2023).

Natorski, M. (2011) ‘The liberal peacebuilding approach’, in The European Union Peacebuilding Approach:Governance and Practices of the Instrument for Stability. Frankfurt: Peace ResearchInstitute Frankfurt, p. 5

Sri Lanka Barometer (2023) National Public Perception Survey onReconciliation. Colombo: Sri Lanka Barometer.