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Linking Cultures and Making a Difference

As a Sri Lankan born American, I saw the potential in this program to build links between two countries. People at Braeside Camp develop leadership while serving kids who are from foster and families that are disadvantaged

by Udara Soysa

( March 27, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Several Sri Lankans from different ages and walks of life over the last decade were selected for a leadership program at Braeside Camp working with underprivileged youth in Orange County, NY. This program continues to build a bridge between Sri Lanka and the United States. The program offers an opportunity for Sri Lankans to work with underprivileged youth in New York for 8 weeks prior their return to Sri Lanka.

Gavin Britto, a Sri Lankan born American citizen was among very first people who participated in this program from summer of 2010.

"As a Sri Lankan born American, I saw the potential in this program to build links between two countries. People at Braeside Camp develop leadership while serving kids who are from foster and families that are disadvantaged," according to Britto.

Braeside Camp exists in a beautiful and peaceful setting (an oasis in the heart of Middletown NY) Our campus is complete with tall trees, rolling hills and a creek that wraps around the perimeter, all creating the perfect backdrop to the endless fun and frivolity that takes place here in the summer. The program has been in existence since approximately 1897 and began as a place for children to come and recover and convalesce from tuberculosis here in the great outdoors. After tragically losing its founders to the disease, the camp turned over to a, not for profit in the mid-1930’s. At that time it became dedicated to providing an authentic, enriching and educational overnight camp experience for kids in the Orange County NY area. While the camp serves many children, it is dedicated especially to those that could not otherwise afford such an experience and has existed as such ever since.

"Braeside Camp leadership program really changed the way I looked at the world," according to Yudesh Gunaratne. A former head prefect at Nalanda College, Yudesh participated in the leadership program in summer of 2016. " I grew more as an individual through the program," he said.

Meanwhile, Chathuranga Thoradeniya, a former Airforce officer and a leadership trainer from Sri Lanka who participated in this program said that the exchange program will continue to foster dialogue between youth from Sri Lanka and the United States.

"Key in developing international understanding is private initiatives bridging cultural gaps," he added.

Kaneel Maddumage, an attorney at law who participated in the program in 2016 said he is participating in the program again in 2017.

"I am very thankful for the good people at the American embassy for facilitating this connection, especially with visa complications," he added.

"We really appreciate the support given by Sally Sternal at the embassy to make our experience a reality," according to Ayesha Sheara, a law student who is participating in the program this year.

"Well, its tough being in a foreign country and working with youth who are totally different than me and I don't think I will ever consider such program if not for Braeside," she added.

"I just finished my law degree exams and I have 2 months before I start Law College, so during this time I wanted to develop my leadership skills so I decided to participate in this program," according to Keshini De Hoedt who is also attending the program this year. "It's tough being away from home but I am really loving it so far," she added.

Meanwhile, some youth from Braeside Camp visited Sri Lanka and served underprivileged youth in Sri Lanka through several volunteer programs.

Ricky Climes, a native of Orange Country made several trips to Sri Lanka in 2012/2014 and served youth in areas as far as Hingurukaduwa in Buttala, Sri Lanka. " I loved my experience at Braeside and through Braeside connections, I visited Sri Lanka few times -- I loved it,"

Chandler Owes, a New Yorker, who visited Sri Lanka in 2016 served as a volunteer to teach English with Horizon Lanka foundation in Anuradhapura. " For me this connection meant everything - I plan again to return to Sri Lanka this year as well," he said.

"Braeside prides itself on creating a culture of caring and nurturance where youth can feel safe and comfortable with one another," says Craig Altmann, a social worker from Orange County who adds that the cross-cultural element at Braeside is key for its long-term success.

So far nearly dozens of Sri Lankans have participated in the program while four Americans have visited Sri Lanka to volunteer as a result of the connections from the program.

More information about Braeside Camp can be found at www.braesidecamp.org.

( The writer is an Attorney-at Law )

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