Sri Lanka


Working at the community and national level since 2002, the Centre for Peacebuilding and Reconciliation aims to bridge divisions in Sri Lanka by creating networked peacebuilding groups in diverse areas of the country.

In 2023, CPBR ran an online photography cafe series to bridge relationships between divided communities. Through VISUAL CRAFTERS TO BRIDGE BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS, we worked with 46 rural youth from conflict-affected/prone areas to explore how photography can be used as a medium to engage youth in dialogue towards better communal understanding and sensitization while supporting youth to express freely and openly using a non-violent communication tool.

CPBR selected 46 young trainee photographers from Sinhala, Tamil, and Islam ethnic groups and Buddhist, Hindu, Islam, and Christian religious groups. Trainee photographers represented all 9 regions, all genders, and many sexual orientations.

Creating a safer space for young people representing rich diversity itself is a peacebuilding act according to the Sri Lankan social system. Photography was chosen as a peace-building method as it allows for freedom of expression, explores new boundaries, and increases the individual’s capability to seek new approaches to problem-solving.

The objectives were to:

- Develop young people’s capacities on photography as a healing and nonviolent expressive tool while finding their niche to establish their identity as a professional.

- Create a safer space and introduce a non-defensive tool for youth from diverse ethnic, religious, regional, gender, and sexual orientation groups to come together sharing collective identity as “Photographers” keeping other identities as secondary identities.

- Create a safer space to develop understanding and empathy-rooted relationships in a deeply polarized and wounded society.

- Lay the foundation to form a multi-ethnic, religious, and regional group that represents diverse genders and sexual orientation groups as “Visual Crafters” to bridge broken relationships.

To complete the project, we delivered: online orientation, 10 2-hour online sessions, a WhatsApp group for participants to share images and peer mentor, and a 3-day in-person workshop.

Photographer Akalanaka Kandanarachchi’s commitment as a mentor, teacher, and inspiration for students was one of the key factors in the success this initiative achieved throughout the process. He was not only provided guidance and support to be a good photographer. He guided and accreted space for young people to be authentic as well as to be good humans who believed in inclusion, humanity, justice, and nonviolence. Through “walking the talk”, he supported young people to craft their lives as “Humane Visual Crafters”.

Apart from technical and theoretical knowledge, sessions were facilitated to share each other’s needs, fears, hopes, dreams, cultures, and struggles to broaden the understanding of each other as well as to build empathy-rooted friendships to bridge broken relationships in a deeply polarized and wounded society.

Abdhul, on of the participants from Batticoloa, said:

“I never know what it means “Visual Craftivism”. Akalanka sir took us through a journey not to take snapshots but to make visual stories. When I was joining a photography café, I only took snapshots or selfies of my loved ones. Today, I was able to win a national competition. I can’t believe this. I started to train more young people in my community. I have a 15-member peer group. Half of them are Islam girls who never get an opportunity to learn photography. My initiative’s name is “Visual Expression for Inclusion”. My sister is also part of my peer group. Now she is better than me. One national NGO in our area invited me as a resource person to teach photography and videography. Now I am a facilitator too. If we get more training, we can walk along way....”

Explore the photo gallery from the project here.

Learn more about CPBR's work on their website:

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