Prashan De Visser knows something about working through contention. Following 26 years of civil war in Sri Lanka, in 2009 he founded Sri Lanka Unites and began placing his effort to heal his home country by promoting hope and reconciliation. Since that time, Sri Lanka Unites has expanded to 13 countries and is known as Global Unites. They have engaged 1.5 million youth who are learning to build alliances with former enemies, work toward a just and thriving society, and deal with hatred and violence nonviolently. Prashan joins Tim and Rick on this episode to discuss his work with Global Unites and unpack ideas and practices that foster positive transformation and societal change.
Tim Muehlhoff: Welcome to the Winsome Conviction podcast. My name is Tim Muelhoff. I'm a professor of communication at Biola University in La Mirada, California. And I'm here with my co-host, Dr. Rick Langer. Rick, great to be back.
Rick Langer: Thanks, Tim. It is. We are really looking forward to the guests we have today. It's a privilege for us to be able to do the Winsome Conviction podcast, and one of the things we do a lot is talk to people who are out doing something about the contentious climates in which we live. And I would point out, it's probably no surprise, but these climates are not just an American problem. This is a thing that is very much happening around the world. And we often see the changes and currents that are going through our own country and are sometimes oblivious to what's happening elsewhere, which has all kinds of problems. One is a lack of empathy, but the other is a lack of learning from experience.
And so our guest today, Prashan De Visser, is a person who is ... Prashan's from Sri Lanka, but has been really active in some very, very contention situations there with a civil war that went on for almost 28 years, I guess. And growing up in that climate made him think a little bit about what do we do with contention, and how do we work to make things just a little bit better? So I'm really fascinated. Thank you so much for joining us, Prashan.
Prashan De Visser: Thank you so much for having me. It's an absolute privilege to be in this conversation with you both.
Rick Langer: You have a interesting, and probably for our audience, a helpful background, in terms of having been educated in the States. You went to Gordon College, Notre Dame. Tim and I had your sister in class here at Biola 10 years ago.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yes, yes.
Rick Langer: So we have a little bit of family connection here on all of those things as well. Now, I would love to have you just give us a little bit of background about the Sri Lankan Civil War, what was going on there, and how that impacted your own life and set you on the trajectory that you've been on.
Prashan De Visser: Yeah, so we were born into the civil war. I was born in 1984, and I believe the civil war started erupting by 1981. And it ended in 2009. So a good chunk of our life, we lived in the midst of the war. Fortunately for us, we lived just outside the city, but there were many people who lived right at the war zone in the north and east of the country. For them, the impact of the war was daily. For us going to school in the city, our reality was you had suicide bombings where the Tamil terrorist organization, named the LTTE at the time, they were one of the first to come up with a concept of a suicide bomber. And they had the ability to recruit young people, brainwash young people to strap a bomb around their waist and come to the city and blow themselves up, because they felt that was the only way they could have freedom, have their own state, have justice. And they brainwash young people, believe that was the way to go.
They also were a pretty brutal organization. They managed to get young people to wear a cyanide chain, cyanide capsule chain where if they were captured they will eat that and kill themselves so that they would not be interrogated and not give away secrets. At the same time, it was a reaction to the injustices that took place against minorities in post-independent Sri Lanka, where now in a democratic structure where the majority had power, there was a lot of oppression. And as a result of that, some people didn't believe in nonviolent solutions. Some of these young people thought violence was the way, and that was the birth of it. So civil war definitely took away a lot of the potential of our country.
At independence, we were the second strongest economy in Asia in 1948. They used to call Sri Lanka the Switzerland of Asia. And high literacy rates, extremely gifted people, very diverse. They thought all of this will work in our favor, but unfortunately because of the bickering, the prejudice, the hate, which led to violence, we continued to fail as a country, economically. Today, we're a bankrupt nation, unfortunately. We have defaulted on our loans. And countries that were far less promising have raced past us. And the only thing we have to blame is the fact that we couldn't come up with an inclusive Sri Lankan identity. We couldn't deal with our problems nonviolently. And good people turned the other way or left the country and contributed to brain drain, and put us in the situation where we're in today. So now, a new generation needs to put things right. It's not over yet. We can transform this country and that's what my passion is. And our generation, I believe, is stepping up, and we believe we could see a change for our children.
Tim Muehlhoff: And you've started an organization, you're the founder of Global Unites, which is exactly trying to do that with a younger generation. Two quick questions, listening to that background, one, in my grad school, we did a very unique class with a class in Tel Aviv. And so we would be synced up with them. And I remember one time they had to immediately abandon the class because of a missile threat. What's it like to live under that kind of stress? I mean, what impact do you think it has on individuals and communities, to have that be the background of your daily life, what was happening in Sri Lanka?
Prashan De Visser: Yeah, I think there hasn't been enough studies done on the impact of that kind of trauma, consistent danger that you're living in, and the impact it has not just on your wellbeing, but then on your DNA, and how it has an impact on the next generation, and on and on. And also, many of our countries, there's a taboo of talking about mental health issues and trauma issues. You don't really speak up about it, especially men don't feel comfortable talking about what they're going through. And as a result, you have post-traumatic disorders, you have alcoholism, you have domestic violence, you have all these other issues, social issues, just spiking.
And you're wondering where it came from. You don't have to wonder too much; if you do enough study, this is all as a result of ... And yeah, so as a movement, what we realized is ... First, we created a movement called Sri Lanka Unites to see, how can the next generation not make the same mistakes? How can we address the grievances? How can we pursue justice and really transform the conflict to build an inclusive, thriving and just society for all Sri Lankans regardless of their ethnicity and their religion? And so that's the work that we started ... it's 15 years now.
Today, we have over 30,000 members across the country. And we can confidently say that we have more influence on young people than any extremist group, any racist group, any gang, or so on. We are recruiting from the very regions that they were thriving in before and telling young people there is a way, a non-violent way, and we can find justice. Look at what violence has brought us. Yeah, look at how this is destroyed us even further. And you can build amazing alliances with your former enemy, and those alliances help bring justice for you and for them. And that's the beauty of it. You can't do it by yourselves. And letting them know that it's not monsters across the aisle. They are people. People who wanted to manipulate you told you they were monsters, and they segregated our societies so that it was easier to believe that lie. But when you start building bridges and people interacting with each other, you start realizing we were lied to, and we can work together, and we can build justice and a thriving society for us.
Tim Muehlhoff: Just wish this related to the Winsome Conviction Project, Rick. I just wish there was more points of connection that we could-
Rick Langer: [inaudible 00:07:35] So let me invite you to unpack in a little bit more detail this process. It's great to think of this transition that goes all the way to the point of people actually forming alliances. I'm sure it doesn't happen overnight. In fact, it'd probably be interesting for us to even hear how this idea evolved in your own mind and then how this actually happens. What do you do with a group of students, of youth, to actually begin making that transformation? What does the end game look like? Talk us through that kind of a process.
Prashan De Visser: Great, I'd love to. So what we started doing first was research into looking at the ebbs and flows of conflict in our country. There are patterns. If you take the time to look at how these things emerge, you see that it's not something new. It happened 10 years ago, 15 years ago. We started seeing that every 15 to 18 years there was bloodshed in our country, there was a cycle of violence. And we saw how politicians would cash in at that moment because there was strong political leverage when the emotions were high. And the best way to have a stable base for you as a politician is to have a bunch of people who would uncritically follow you, blindly follow you because they are so emotionally overwhelmed by their hate or their fear or their grievance. And then you don't need to perform. You got a stable job with a stable base for a good long time, as long as they're not critically thinking.
Tim Muehlhoff: Did you just switch over to the United States? Are we still talking Sri Lanka at this point?
Rick Langer: Yeah, you need to signal your turns here [inaudible 00:09:04]-
Tim Muehlhoff: No, but honestly, I'm listening to you ... And again, it'd be really unfair to compare the American context to what's happening in the violence you have just described. But what you just said so resonated with the fears that often drive the American political machine. I mean, that was really haunting.
Prashan De Visser: Yeah.. And the reality is it's global. Wherever there is segregation, wherever there is grievances and injustices and social tensions, political communities have found out that that's a perfect place for them to build their base. When people give away their right and their ability to critically think and to question and challenge and hold their leaders accountable, it's almost you're giving into a slave loyalty to a certain base, and you've lost your right to now question. And then it's just as if you're covering one lie for another lie, it's like you're covering one mistake for another mistake, and you're not afraid to walk away and say, "This was wrong. I made a mistake."
Tim Muehlhoff: So let me just comment real quick. So we don't know when this will air, but the listeners just need to know the midterms are literally happening tonight. And it is concerning to me, some of my friends who are like, "Hey, voting's the easiest thing in the world. I'm voting my party. It doesn't matter, my party gets my vote." Why? Partly because of how the other side's been so demonized in fear, right? Aristotle said, "The most persuasive tactic we could ever do is fear." They'll vote straight party, "And I don't even need to know about particular people." That's what I'm hearing a little bit from you is this loyalty that's not a critical loyalty that needs to question what's happening every once in a while.
Rick Langer: Let me just add on to that with it the apocalyptic language about the outcome of an election. This is the end of democracies. And that kind of fear seems to lead to the absence of critical reflection or any nuance in terms of voting or action points that you might have. But talk to us a little bit more about that.
Prashan De Visser: And as a result, you have a dumbing down of society, once where a clash of ideals help refine the society, help find the better solution for how the country could thrive, now ends up looking at the country's capacity to think is shrinking each day. And the problems that you came to the table to solve are getting worse by the minute, but your resolved to be stubborn and almost idiotic on your side is stronger.
And for those of us who have a lot of admiration for your country and our democracy, especially in the last decade or so, we're watching in horror, because this was supposed to be a beacon of light to the world of what democracy looks like. And we were inspired by intelligent conversation of the clash of ideas to help refine the country to not just better your country, but as a result, be a blessing to the world. And now we are watching in concern saying, "Is this where the solutions are going to come from?" So the people need to rise to be able to say, "When have we abdicated our God-given right to critically think, to question? And as a result of that, are we doing right by the generations to come?"
I'm sorry, I moved away from talking about how we started in Sri Lankan [inaudible 00:12:22], but I get more to that because I'm very passionate about your country and your politics as well, but going back to ... so when we started, so how do we bring about solutions in our country? We saw the ebbs and flows of conflict. We saw those cycles of violence, and we saw how politicians manipulated that. But we also saw how young people were brainwashed to believe that violence was the only way, because in order to push an ideology, you need youth. And especially if it's going to be violent, you need them on the battlefront. And this happened time and time again.
And so what we started, our approach was, let's look at, why do young people believe that the other side are monsters and violence was the way? And when we did research, we found that 70% of Sri Lankan youth didn't have a friend outside their ethnicity or their religion. We're a small island the size of West Virginia, 22 million people packed in there. And if you tell me that 70% of our youth don't have a friend outside their ethnicity or religion, that's intentional planning. When we go to the school system, there are 10,400 schools, out of which only 112 schools have Sinhalese and Tamil [inaudible 00:13:34] taught in the same school. Over 9,000 schools are strongly segregated. That's a perfect environment for people to sell a lie without question, sell hate, sell prejudice, sell fear without question. And that's why young people are vulnerable to it.
So we felt that key for us is for us to create an inclusive Sri Lankan identity, to break the segregation, and then together, break down the structural evil and the injustices that were in society that were hurting all of us. And so we felt older generation may not take it. They're now dug their feet too deep in somewhere to walk away from it. Maybe they aren't. So we call it Sri Lanka Unites: A new generation dares UNITE.
And that started the journey. We started bringing young people across enemy lines and start helping them build friendships. And they were shocked because inherited prejudice, we believe, can be overcome by real life experiences. I would've been told all my life that this community were dangerous, they were violent, they were monsters. But if I'm sharing a room with a guy from that community and I find out within hours that I like this guy, he's just like me, and yes, we don't agree on some things, but I enjoy being around this guy, he makes me sharper, that's what happened to thousands of young people. We've engaged 1.5 million youth in Sri Lanka. And every one of them-
Tim Muehlhoff: Wow, that's traumatic.
Prashan De Visser: We are calling it like we were vaccinating a generation to be immune-
Tim Muehlhoff: Great. Well said.
Prashan De Visser: ... from the virus that's going on from one generally to another, so they can now think for themselves and say, "The next time a politician comes and says, 'You know what, this' ... Don't lie to us. I have plenty of people in that community, and we're not going to buy that. Give us solutions. If you don't have it and you are incompetent, get out of the way. Give us a chance to perform."
Tim Muehlhoff: So we did something on a much smaller scale. We're not quite up to ... What did you say? One point what million?
Prashan De Visser: 1.5 million Sri Lankan youth.
Tim Muehlhoff: Okay, we are not at the 1.5 million-
Rick Langer: But we almost hit 20, so that was good.
Tim Muehlhoff: We almost hit 20. We were part of something called Bridging The Gap, which is a group by Simon Greer, bringing together conservative and liberal universities and colleges where students would never apply to both. And we were paired with Pomona College. And we brought together roughly 10 students from each university, and they spent two different weekends together. And honestly, Prashan, what you're saying is ... these students liked each other immediately. And they went off to late night ... We're in bed. We're the old people. We're in bed, and they're off having round two at a restaurant, laughing, talking. So that is the power of that. But we don't see that crossover crossing the lines very often. It is so encouraging to hear. The scope of what you're doing I think just gives us great hope that these things can happen, not just on a small scale but on a big scale.
Prashan De Visser: Yeah. Because all the time we've been forced to believe that it's either option A or option B, and we just had a stake there. But you bring a new generation to the table who are thinking of it from brand fresh perspective, they come to the table. And especially now, if you help them have that interaction and have that human connection with the other and they're now able to look at an option C and option D. There was so many different ways to approach this issue, but we were so stubborn in believing this was it and if you didn't believe it, "I have nothing to do with you. You're a threat to my country. You need to get out." And as a result, we're just hurting ourselves and destroying our children's chance. So what we're telling the older generation is, "Okay, maybe you're stuck at A and B and you don't want to move anything. At least don't curse your children to be stuck at A and B. Give them a chance."
Tim Muehlhoff: But what would be my motivation to do that? If I'm stuck in A as a parent, but I really do believe A is the right option, both morally ... what incentive could you give me as a parent to suddenly look at my child and say, "Okay, but you don't have to adopt position A"? I can't imagine these children are receiving much encouragement from their in-group to pursue the kind of things that you're talking about.
Prashan De Visser: Yeah. So we had to be strategic about that. What we did was we called it the Future Leaders Conference, and then in small print, For Hope and Reconciliation. And so the parents were like, "My kid was selected as a national level leader," which was true. We were not making anything up. There was amazing potential of these young ... And we brought them together. And when they came in, they thought they were just going to room with people from their own school. But they find out that 25 districts of our country, 25 young leaders in one room, they're sharing that room for five days. They're engaging in conversation, they're doing challenges together, they're in the same sports team. And now they're [inaudible 00:18:14] competitive. They're very strong leaders, and they want to win. And they realize the only way to win is to start building alliances within my own team.
So once they are hooked and once they start realizing, "My goodness, there's so much. We're accomplishing more across ethnoreligious lines together, we're sharper together. There's so much everybody brings to the table. We were playing with our hands tied back as a country all this time. We're free, we can do something" ... And it's some of the most inspiring moments in my life to see these kids not just connect, but now be so much more effective together than alone. And then they go ... And these are not kids who are failing out of school and causing problems with their parents. The parents were very proud about that. And when they went back and told their parents, they had influence over their parents. And then some of them was like, "No, you'll be careful. We don't believe this."
"No, I'm bringing them home. My friends I met there from the north are coming home for dinner. They're going to stay the weekend. And when I went there, they treated me like this, you better do this." And now a lot of our students saying, "I have a parent in the north and I have my parents in the south. I have this kind of food, the culture, the experience." It's so many exchanges happening. Just having a meal together heals so many wounds, and just really breaking bread and having that fellowship, sharing your rooms together. Doing life together takes away years of prejudice and hate and the mold and the rust that came in as a result of that segregation. And then life flows.
And we believe that that's ... it sounds simplistic, but it's profoundly impactful. And we've seen that. And then they start looking at, "Hey, what sort of policies can we come up with that'll help us move forward? Okay, my community won't buy that, but this, they will buy." Because most of the time we don't even have the capacity to think of policies and ways forward, because we don't know enough about the other community or what they really want. We just know what we don't like about them. And as a result, we're not gifted enough to be creative to come up with solutions. But now when you have an ally across the aisle and you are able to come up with solutions, not just from a new perspective but now you know what could work, and both sides come together and create something.
And that's what give us a lot of hope for Sri Lanka. And we are in a very bad context now. And finally the beauty has been that people, even the older generations are questioning, saying, "Wow, these guys sold these racist narratives to get elected. And they are corrupt. They ransacked our country and they bankrupted us, bankrupted the nation. It's time we start not falling for that same lie over and over again. We have to come together, we have to give young people a chance. We have to allow new emerging political parties to have a chance." And so now we are creating new emerging political parties that have no ethnicity, have no religion, but have a coalition with a new vision for the country.
Rick Langer: Talk to us a little bit about what you actually had the students do. It sounds like you've pulled together some people from the different districts, had them living together. Was this a week-long camp experience out in the way where you're doing intensive study? Was it an ongoing year-long project? How was it structured? How did it work?
Prashan De Visser: I would say there are four stages to it. One of the main stages is the actual conference. It's residential living together for five to six days. And then we split them from their communities and they're mixed together. And so they compete with each other. So sports is crucial. There's a lot of singing, there's a lot of dancing. There's a lot of debate on talking of policy, so plenary sessions in the morning talking about the massive challenges of our time and then having them have debates on it, sharing their speeches on it. So a lot of intellectual conversation in the early sessions of the day, and then in the afternoon building their skillset. So how can you be more convincing and persuasive in your communities to win people over? And then in the evenings, a lot of sports and problem-solving activities, see how do you think outside the box. And in the evenings it's entertainment, music, drama and all sorts of ...
It's important, what we realize is to really have an impact in an event, you need to touch the five senses of people, the touch, the smell. It's a truly holistic experience. Those memories last. And you have to use different pedagogies of teaching content where if it's just stand and deliver and you're preaching at them, that might work for some students. But sometimes they learn lessons at the sports time and we debrief after the sports. Some of them, that's the way they learned. Some of them was the videos that we created, some of them, the songs that we've created you. We just throw everything at them and we know something will stick for everyone. And so that's the first stage of it. The second stage is-
Tim Muehlhoff: Hang on, that's such a great first stage. Let's not go past that first stage, because that's what we're missing today. We don't get to the first stage, because we're in separate communities. And those communities don't have any points of contact with each other. So all my kids played Pop Warner football. And so when the season would happen, we'd travel with these families every single weekend. I mean, our joke was, "You're more my family than my family, because I see you more than anybody." But there was a release valve, which was we would cheer on the football team. And then over dinners is where politics came up, religion came up, but there was a release valve of the football game.
And that's what I love what you're saying about the sports, about the music. That's a release valve that quite frankly many of our communities don't have, because we don't ever intersect with each other. So I don't want to rush past that first stage. That is what we call ... we have emphatic communication, which is pounding the table. But phatic communication is all the side things that seemingly don't matter, but they really set the stage for the big talk. So I love that first stage. We got to find ways of doing this.
Prashan De Visser: Yeah. And the beauty is, even on the sports field ... for us, cricket is our big sport. And all communities play cricket in our country. And when they're playing, now, they may have somebody from their own ethnicity pitching against them, but now they're bating, two batters bat together. And if they try to cut a corner or to cheat against this guy, think, "No, this guy's on my team. I don't care you're from my same community." And then these guys, they're inspired, say, "Wow, this guy stood up for me." They didn't teach us about that, about that community of the willingness is to fight for the other person and not roll over. And then the way that they'll take a sacrifice for the team, the way they're fielding and catching, now you're being inspired by human elements about that person that you're never taught about.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's right, yeah.
Prashan De Visser: These were supposed to be self-serving, arrogant, monstrous, violent, blood thirsty criminals. And now you're like, "This guy's my teammate."
Rick Langer: He's pretty good at cricket. Maybe this will work here.
Prashan De Visser: [inaudible 00:24:50] And for me, it was so beautiful to watch two guys batting from different communities. And they're just coming pounding each other, "Come on, man, let's do this." And they're just killing the opposition together. And they're like, "This guy's as good as me." And we cheat to a certain extent. When they do apply, we try to look at when we're rooming people together, "Okay, here's music connection here. There's a sports connection here." So we give them a chance to succeed, like, "These personality types will work well together. They'll connect," because they already have decades of hate working against them. We need to have something that will work for them. Already, their leadership personalities that work. And so we do this for young men and women, by the way.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's great.
Prashan De Visser: We do netball with the women, and some of the women play cricket as well. But the second stage for us is, "Okay, that's great." So it was like for us, those conferences are the heart of the movement. That's where the hardened heart starts melting. But then we come to the mind of the movement, is, "Okay, now, what are the things we really don't understand or we don't agree with each other?" And so we've created a curriculum which we call it our Sri Lanka Unites Guidebook: A Guide To Transforming the Nation, Starting With Me. And so they go back to their schools now. Once again, they're segregated schools. And they're learning, "Okay, how do we understand our history? What were crucial moments that have contributed to key elements of who we are today? But then how does my friend that I have now from the north, how do they understand history? How is that different? And how does that contribute to their understanding?"
And as a result of that, when they go through history and walk history in another man's, another woman's shoes, they start realizing, "Whoa, that's why they're so strong about this. That's why this is a nerve point for them. It's not a nerve point for us and we just use it as we please, but this pinches." And then they start realizing, "Okay, so then history is just from the different perspectives." Then they move on to, "Okay, so what are some key policy issues that we are struggling with? What are some bills in parliament that we are struggling with? And then what does reconciliation really mean? What does conflict transformation mean? What does character and integrity mean in leadership? How do we build the grassroots movement to bring about that change?" So it's now getting the intellectual substance to catch up with the heart that was melting to want to see change, so you understand what these things mean.
So we have eight modules that they go through. It's five weeks of learning it together as a team. But also, while they're learning here, virtually, they're connected with their partner school on the other side. And they have a Facebook group saying, "Hey, this was a summary of our reflection on this week's lesson." And these guys say, "This was our summary. Your summary is very different to our summary, but the same content. Tell us about it." So they have a conversation on that. So five weeks of that, and then two weeks of, "What does this practically look like, this module? Let's do something in our community to live it out." And that takes it to another level. Then it becomes the hands and feet. So that's the hands and feet of the movement.
Tim Muehlhoff: But boy, I got to jump in and talk about perspective-taking, which is purposely setting aside your perspective and adopting the perspective of another person, and living in that perspective to know intellectually what it's like. And then emotionally, what does it feel like to have that history, that community, those struggles? That that's incredibly important. Now, let me get your advice. What we get hit with is, "Listen, how is perspective-taking not condoning? If I do perspective-taking with a person, how am I not condoning that person's perspective by jumping into it and experiencing it?" I would love to hear your response to help us.
Prashan De Visser: So we also do this thing that might help answer the question, where as a part of this exercise, we have debates, but this team is supposed to take the side of the other. So now you're debating for perspective of the other. So now because you want to win, you're going to look at all the strong points there. So we call it an intellectual exercise on empathy where now you're just trying to find a way to say why they are right or why they can be persuaded. And then the whole process is like while you're getting to it, is you're not losing anything here. You're finding common ground and you're understanding where there is hurt. And the reason empathy is you start feeling what the other person's feeling. Other person didn't manufacture that and create it in your heart. You started feeling what they're feeling because of your common humanity. That is you. That's what you felt. But then compassion now is us acting together to write the pain that's in your heart. Empathy is me feeling what you're feeling, seeing what you're seeing.
And so the problem is when I don't have the capacity to empathize with you, I am at risk of hurting you constantly because I don't care. I don't want to take the time. Intellectually, I have a set of values, and that's good. This is who I am. I'm strong, I'm a good person. I've now convinced myself I'm a good person, but I don't want to go there to empathize with you. And that's the danger when we come to a place ... And not everybody, but people who want to be part of the process of being bridge builders and peacemakers and really want to see a change in our polarized societies, we have to go on deep cycles of empathy, because that's the beginning of us becoming bridge builders. And it's not a risk of losing who you are, it's actually gaining or rediscovering who you really are.
Tim Muehlhoff: Let's get to three and four.
Rick Langer: Yeah, tell us about three and four.
Prashan De Visser: So we have the heart of the movement, the mind of the movement, and then we go to the stage three, which is the heart, so the hands and feet of the movement. And so we call that the champions of change. So now that you've understood some of these concepts, then how do you put change into practice, and how do you do it together across ethnic lines, across religious lines? You find a social challenge, you find a problem, and then you say, "What could the solution look like, and how do we work on it together?" And that's where the beauty of ...
For example, some of these students, they found a community that didn't have access to healthcare. They didn't have a hospital for miles away, a very rural community. So now this Tamil group and Sinhal group, they partnered and they said, "Okay, we'll bring doctors from the north. You guys bring doctors from the south. So we'll have about 10 doctors who will volunteer their time. And you guys raise money there, we'll raise money. And we'll buy all the medicines that we could. And we're going to go to this community and we're going to live there for a week, and we're going to do health clinics."
So now these doctors are working together. Not only the kids are coming together, doctors are coming together. And now they're sharing insights: "Hey, in our community, yes, we've had some shortages in these medicines, but this is what we have found out out." They're sharing medical insights, what they've been learning together. They're serving together. And now the donor base of what they've got, of, "Okay, I got our community to donate this much medicine, we got this" ... They could have never done that by themselves, but now they're realizing, "We were" ... And then they're like, "This is just one clinic. This is not good enough. How do we keep this running? How do we work on this?" And they're coming up with solutions, like, "Can we do some rotation, or can we do some teleconsultation for this community? How do we get some devices here? I can give these hours on these days to check and follow up on the patient." They were solving problems that even their local elected officials had no clue how to do it.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's right.
Prashan De Visser: And literally, these were 15- to 16-year-old boys and girls.
Tim Muehlhoff: Amazing.
Prashan De Visser: And with very little money, with very little time. They were able to come up with solutions. So that's when champions have changed. Not only have you now understood something, you're putting it into practice and you're solving the issues of our country and you're coming up with ways-
Tim Muehlhoff: This is a bad day for the freshmen in my class, Rick.
Rick Langer: You're upgrading your expectations.
Tim Muehlhoff: This is a bad day. We're rewriting the syllabus this afternoon. I'm telling you. How old are these kids?
Prashan De Visser: The group that I was talking about, they're 15- and 16-year-olds. And that's the project they did. And to see it continue to have that impact is absolutely inspiring for us.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's awesome, that's awesome.
Prashan De Visser: And so hundreds of these kinds of projects continue to happen, so that becomes the hands and feet.
Tim Muehlhoff: So let's go to the fourth step, the final step.
Prashan De Visser: Yeah. And the fourth step is definitely now looking at, all right, so then now we've had this experience. We are students who have been selected. But how do you now take it and make it mainstream? How do you have more people have this experience? Because otherwise it just becomes another elite group of people who get it and the others don't. So then what are the barriers that they have in their community to have this experience? And how do we make it possible for the masses to experience it? Because when you have more and more people not only acknowledging that this is a way to go and being critical of this divisive, polarizing culture and wanting to do it right, that's when you start seeing change.
And so what they'll look at is, "Okay, how do we make it mainstream? How do we take it to the masses? How do we communicate this more effectively? What are the misconceptions they have?" So then they'll get on creating content, whether it's on social media, whether it's getting on mainstream media, whether it's doing street theater, whether it's doing poster campaigns, whether it's doing whatever, to get the masses to understand that this is the truth. You don't need to be deceived anymore. We have to find a way forward.
We have a campaign that the fourth stage, it's called Think. There's a statement in our culture. It says that regardless of how somebody tells you something, the person who's listening needs to be intelligent enough to process it and figure out what's true and what's not. You just don't jump the bandwagon and get emotional immediate. You got to figure out, "Is this true? Is this accurate? And then how do I respond? What's the appropriate response to this? And what questions do I need to ask before I start responding and reacting to it?" And so the whole thing of Think: "Think. Here are the narratives that you've heard, but think. And here are the amount of times that these narratives have been wrong and false and manipulative. And here's what happens when you don't think, and here's what could happen if you think," and that whole thing. So these kids are realizing if we don't influence the masses to think differently, then we'll just become a minority of people who build bridges to come together, but the rest of society hasn't caught up. And so that becomes the fourth stage.
Rick Langer: Yeah, it'd be a sad thing if you built a bridge and no one ever crossed it.
Prashan De Visser: Exactly.
Rick Langer: That's the difference [inaudible 00:35:18]-
Tim Muehlhoff: But it seems to me these steps could be done by a church, even reaching out to a church that may be different from them politically, socially, theologically. But this could be a nice template of communities reaching out to communities. The one thing is the conference, but I wonder if we couldn't have an event that would bring people together, that could serve as what the conference is trying to do. But it's so good to hear stories of hope. That's what we hope this podcast does, is we hear the bad stories in America 24/7, how divided we are and things like that. And it's true. But man, to hear hope of seeing this work, I think is a great gift to our listeners. Thank you so much for sharing your vision.
Rick Langer: And we really are grateful for having you join us here, Prashan. We'll have you for another podcast as well. But we are grateful for that, for your willingness to come and join us and, as Tim mentioned, to give hope.
Prashan De Visser: Yes. Just to conclude, one thing I want to say is that we believe that this model can be contextualized. And that's how we created Global Unites. And now we're in 13 countries from Afghanistan, to Congo, to Kenya, to Colombia, and now here in the States.
Rick Langer: Great.
Prashan De Visser: We're creating opportunities. And so anybody wants to learn more about it, they can go to www.globalunites.org.
Rick Langer: Perfect.
Prashan De Visser: And USA Unites launched last year, and now it's going nationwide, the summer of 2023. And would love for people to learn more, especially for college students and high school students. We really believe they have a crucial role to play in healing the nation.
Rick Langer: Perfect.
Tim Muehlhoff: So would you come back in a future podcast with us? We'd love to pick your brain about maybe some of the things in the American context, and get your thoughts on it.
Prashan De Visser: I'd love to. Thank you.
Tim Muehlhoff: That would be great.
Rick Langer: Well, thanks for joining us for the Winsome Conviction podcast, and we will make sure that we put the website information that Prashan just mentioned there on the website. And we really encourage you to subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or Google Play, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts. And we're really grateful for your interest in being part of a solution to a problem that's becoming ever more prevalent and ever more dangerous in American culture and, as we've seen today, all around the world. Thanks for joining us.