Category: Schools and Students

Archive for the ‘Schools and Students’ Category

Jan 21 2011

actions speak louder than words

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Yo, it’s Shelly again.

I’m still blown away by how fearless the school children were on our trek through the Sinharaja rain forest (which means KING lion by the way). Hence, the several Disney songs we sang together on the way up and down and across slippery rocks and uncarved paths through the jungle. Kids were passing me with ease – I felt not only old and lame but American as well. Especially after hearing Merrill’s experiences with the hospitals and in some recent discussions about waste management, water quality, and food preparation, not to mention the cultural norm of eating with your hands, it becomes more and more apparent that though I as well as everyone on this trip are well traveled young students, I can’t help but be reminded of how we aren’t nearly as in tune with our surroundings as the people I have encountered are. The trouble I see is that post tsunami and post war – which have brought a big recent boost in investment and economic conditions – the push and pull between environmental advocacy and development may become more a push than a pull. We are all very proud, excited, and are anticipating the findings that three of our four boys are documenting on and off the group’s schedule.

After Adam’s Peak, I’m surprised we even made it to lunch at Chaminda’s house, which was a whole ten feet from our guest house atop a hill in Nuwara Eliya. It was the second time we had been invited into the home of the Sri Lankans we have befriended. Riza took us into his home in Colombo back in the beginning of our trip, where we were served biryani – rice and curry with meat – and other dishes of mostly spicy concoctions (which I personally love). I’ve been nicknamed “Red Chili” from our dear and extremely environmentally-savvy guide, Chaminda. Other nicknames for our group members include Slender Loris, after the rare nocturnal marsupial we went seeking and saw in the Kennelyia Rainforest during a really exciting night hike. Anyway, it’s easy to conclude that Sri Lankans are both generously welcoming, and have great senses of humor!

I’ve also observed that here, actions speak much louder than words. Chaminda and Riza have both told us that it is not necessary to say “thank you” here, that it is a formality brought by the British and that appreciation is usually just expected and acknowledged through one’s time spent with the giver/host and through physical gestures of thanks. We have been giving thank you cards and small tokens of our appreciation, though (Elon water bottles, umbrellas, etc), helping to share our university, country, and Periclean identity. Nothing, however, compares with the large strides that have come from our partners on the ground who are grateful for our initiatives and projects here.

Three instances pop out in my mind. We quickly got used to the bowing for thanks, receiving, and giving with both hands of any object since the moment we set foot on this lovely island nation, but I doubt anyone except for Dr. Crista was prepared for the processions and series of prepared cultural dances, flower giving, and organized cermonies the grade school children preformed for us on our first day at the junior school. The photos below are fabulous, and we have more coming, but I don’t think any rendition can do it justice. The children, in their little white uniforms with red ties, and the teachers lined the stone stairway that led to the two room school nestled in a comfy little nook in the middle of the rainforest. It seemed like most of village was there, with family members crowding around as well. Our single file line through the children signing and handing us flowers concluded with with one girl wearing long braided pigtails handing Dr. Crista the key to the library extension that our Periclean Scholar class had funded. A plaque noting our donation from Elon University was posted above the door, and an array of flashes went off as this single key, tied with a ribbon, opened up new possibilities for this small rural school.

Number two would be a similar welcoming, maybe minus the cute little outfits and dances, given by the environmental club at the Mahabodhi school two days later. Refreshments were given once again – they’re meant to be consumed alone by us guests, but we always insist on sharing and eating with those we visit. It is in these instances we feel okay to cross cultural boundaries of the places we visit. We are here for the kids. It feels uncomfortable sometimes being regarded as “higher” than we actually are, since we are here for the partnerships! The children still gave us plaques, or little trophies really, to thank us for our donation of a computer and for our helping bring the ranger program into their school (which Miss Katie Dirks shall expound upon soon!)

Last but not least, and something Natalie mentioned, are the fireworks. We were eating at a long table lined with a red tablecloth and candles (kind of romantic, I know!), chairs and toes sinking into the sand. A little man walked up and set up some fireworks by the water, which happened to be a whole five feet from us. Next thing we know, we are finishing our dessert of grilled pineapples and Riza stands up to make a speech thanking Dr. Crista for her hard work. “Now, Crista, you can light the rockets,” he says. Yes, rockets. A series of five different kinds of likely illegal fireworks were set off within a very close distance to our faces, and all of us burst out into laughter, in that unexpected happy wow kind of way.

We have just returned to Colombo to begin the long preparation for our LEAF summit. Elizabeth Dobbins (a fellow Periclean), Zach’s father, and our wonderful director Dr. Tom Arcaro have arrived and joined the group! A lot has happened in the past few days while in Nuwara Eliya and Kandy, including tea factory and estate visits – where we were welcomed into the beautiful home of a class of 2013 Periclean Scholar’s grandparents (thank you so much, Tatiyana!) We were lucky enough to visit the very holy Buddhist Temple of the Tooth in Kandy on a poya, or fullmoon day, as well. More on all of that later!

So, back in Colombo and preparing for LEAF, which after so long, becomes a reality tomorrow. Julia said to me earlier, “It’s funny… it feels nice to be ‘home.'”

Periclean love,