Building character strengths and virtues in post-conflict Sri Lanka: a school-based program for youth
Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic country that has been affected by a decades-long civil war and a major tsunami resulting in thousands of deaths and displacements, loss of social and family infrastructure, and adverse economic impacts.
As future leaders, young Sri Lankans have tremendous potential to influence the future. Rebuilding the country thus requires youth initiatives to promote tolerance, empathy, and respect for equality and diversity. This project will create and test an innovative two-year school-based program to promote character strengths in youth. Sensitive to the country’s culture and history, the Leadership, Empathy, Altruism, Personal Growth, and Social Responsibility program (LEAPS) integrates key tenets from the major religions in Sri Lanka (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam). By promoting unity, social values, and collaboration through spirituality, it seeks to enhance well-being.
LEAPS harnesses technology (educational media and equipment) to enable open discussion, reflection, and development of essential character strengths. These include empathy, self-regulation, teamwork, altruism, and kindness. LEAPS will comprise interactive sessions delivered in-class by teachers following a well-defined structure and process. A complementary web-based platform and mobile phone app will enhance experiential learning, uptake, and knowledge exchange. Using a “train-the-trainer” approach for sustainability, the team will supervise teachers throughout the project. To test benefits, it will test students before, during, and after the program.
The integrated approach of the LEAPS program is conducive to enhanced uptake, sustainability, knowledge translation, and scale-up. Its learning modules also allow young people from different backgrounds to consider their similarities and deepen their sense of empathy. Taken together, the skills gained through LEAPS will advance the role of youth in building lasting unity, understanding, and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.