Vigil honors victims of Easter Sunday attack in Sri Lanka

Thursday, April 25, 2019 - 11:16pm

Public Policy senior A’ndre Gonawela discusses his Sri Lankan heritage at a vigil for the victims of the Easter Attacks in Sri Lanka on the Diag Thursday

Public Policy senior A’ndre Gonawela discusses his Sri Lankan heritage at a vigil for the victims of the Easter Attacks in Sri Lanka on the Diag Thursday Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Despite pouring rain, about a hundred students and community members gathered around the Diag Wednesday evening to pay their respects to the lives lost from the recent terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka this past Easter Sunday.

According to CNN, on Sunday, suicide bombers targeted hotels and churches in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa. An additional attack occurred later in the day at the zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia. Reports have detailed that about 253 individuals were killed with countless more injured. It still unclear who was responsible for the attack.

Public Policy senior A’ndre Gonawela opened the event by discussing how his own Sri Lankan heritage moved him to take action after the terror attacks. He told The Daily after the vigil he organized the event with friends to commemorate the lives of the victims and to bring awareness to the tragedy.

“With a couple of my friends, we decided we needed to do this,” Gonawela said. “We don’t really have a formal University of Michigan Sri Lankan association here … I know people who are from Sri Lanka who have ties to the country, so we just felt it was necessary to do this today to commemorate those who were lost, because it was a mass casualty event.”

The event began at 8 p.m. with a series of speeches from Sri Lankan students and members of the Ann Arbor community. Each attendee reflected on their ties to Sri Lanka and how the attacks had personally impacted them.

Afterward, all attendees were invited to share their thoughts in an open forum. Students from various backgrounds offered their perspectives in the aftermath of the attack while also reflecting on larger themes of unity through all religions.

Engineering senior Tharindu Caldera spoke during the open forum. In an interview with The Daily following the vigil, he discussed how events like these allow him a sense of optimism in the midst of tragedy. In the darkest of times, he said, he is inspired by students coming together in remembrance of the victims.

“I have a personal connection to (the tragedy) because I am Sri Lankan,” Caldera said. “But, coming to this, I realized that it doesn’t matter where you come from, people should be striving for the better. I think all the people who came here shows a lot about how people can come together. That’s why I came. To feel that sense togetherness.”

Gonawela went on to discuss that while the primary goal of the event was to honor the victims of the tragedy, its peripheral purpose was to foster a sense of unity among individuals which, he said, the world is sorely lacking.

“I hope people take away a message of unity,” Gonawela said. “These are not Christian problems, these are not Muslim problems, these are not Bhuddist, Hindu problems — these are problems of humanity. We need to really come together and unite this country and this world. We are seeing this happen all over the place now, so we need to eradicate this with our generation.”

After the open forum, a silence swept over the crowd as attendees lit candles in remembrance of the victims. Amid the glow of the flames, attendees reflected, prayed and honored the lives lost in complete silence.

LSA junior Bhavana Garapati discussed how she felt a connection to the Sri Lankan community after visiting an orphanage during a trip to the country. In an interview with the Daily after the vigil, Garapati said she attended to show solidarity to the nation of Sri Lanka as a whole.

“I came here because I got introduced to an orphanage in Sri Lanka called Grace Girl’s Care,” Garapati said. “Meeting those girls was one of the most impactful moments of my life, and I wanted to come here just to support the Sri Lankan community as a whole. It’s important to just take a minute and remember and honor those who lost their lives. Also, it shows a sense of solidarity and unity among people.”

In closing, Gonawela implored vigil attendees to practice kindness. In doing so, he said he believes humans can change the world for the better.

“Minor acts of kindness can really change the world,” Gonawela said. “Make kindness a habit.”