Center for Politics Staff Members Selected for U.S. State Department Exchange Program to Sri Lanka

July 7, 2009 — Two staff members from the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, Margaret Heubeck and Daman Irby, have been selected to participate in a three-week trip to Sri Lanka in August as part of a State Department effort to increase civic engagement in the fragile democracy.

The trip is a complement to the center's new Global Perspectives on Democracy initiative, launched in March.

Heubeck is the director of instruction for the center's Youth Leadership Initiative, and Irby is the center's director of operations and deputy director of instruction for the Youth Leadership Initiative.

"Teaching Sri Lankan citizens the value and promise of democracy is a crucial step toward moving their country beyond war," Heubeck said. "I am honored to be a part of such an important program and I am grateful for the support of the State Department, Relief International and our other partners."

Larry. J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics, added his enthusiastic support for the initiative. "I believe that civic education holds real promise for citizens in every country," he said, "The mission of the Center for Politics has always been to show people that promise and make it a reality. This is one more step in that direction."

Funding for the trip will come from the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, with Relief International implementing the Professional Exchange Program.

In Sri Lanka, the main partner is the Business for Peace Alliance, which leverages professional networks to promote peace in the war-torn country.

The trip to Sri Lanka is an offshoot of a four-day series of seminars with a Sri Lankan delegation of 17 young professionals working with marginalized groups, held at the University in late March.

"Our Sri Lankan guests were highly motivated and held a great desire to improve their nation's democracy," Irby said. "We are thrilled to have the opportunity to reunite with them and take our message of the importance of civic engagement to a broader Sri Lankan audience."

Sri Lanka is a south Asian island nation in the Indian Ocean, located southeast of India.

Tensions between Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted into war in 1983; the Tamil are the country's largest ethnic minority group. Tens of thousands of people from both sides died during the conflict.

After two decades of fighting, the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam formalized a cease-fire in February 2002. However, the violence re-intensified in 2006. In January 2008, the government officially withdrew from the 2002 ceasefire.

The Sri Lankan civil war finally came to an end in late May with the death of the Tamil Tigers' leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The leadership of the Tigers admitted that their 26-year long fight had "reached its bitter end."

About the University of Virginia Center for Politics

Founded in 1998 by political analyst and politics professor Larry J. Sabato, the University of Virginia Center for Politics[link to:] is a non-partisan institute that seeks to promote the value of politics, improve civics education, and increase civic participation through comprehensive research, pragmatic analysis and innovative educational programs.