Session III saw the students set out to different locations around Sri Lanka to pursue their independent study projects (For a complete list of the Independent Study Titles of this year's group, go to this page). The students returned to share their findings with the rest of the group and the ISLE faculty.
Whittier College student, Angela St. Pierre (above) started things off with her presentation titled "The Right of the Child in Sri Lanka: Children and Conflict in Sri Lanka." For her field study, Angela traveld to Colombo and attended an NGO workshop dedicated to sharing strategies and developing best practices for helping children in post-conflict environments. The focus, Angela found, was on strengthening family networks to prevent child abandonment in the aftermath of violence.
Kallie Nixon of Bates College followed Angela with a presentation titled "Education and the Role of the Children on Sri Lanka's Tea Plantations". Kallie traveled to Nuwara Eliya, the region of Sri Lanka known for its tea plantations, and lived in a tea plantation community for three weeks. She observed classes and spoke with families about their perceptions of the importance of education. Kallie stressed the importance of shifting definitions of "success" from outcomes to process and hoped that, however these children turned out, they remembered their own dreams and never gave up on the idea that they can always strive to achieve.
Rachel Spence, also a Bates College student, followed Kallie with a presentation of her project titled "Elements of Yaktovils and How They Produce Healing". Rachel studied the history around the ancient practice of Yaktovils in Sri Lanka and sought to understand how they work and why they continue to exist even when modern medicine is an option for most Sri Lankans. Their power, found Rachel, lies in the Yaktovil's relationship to the community in which they are performed, as the whole village joins to witness the healing spectacle. Said Rachel, "I'm amazed by these people, their knowledge, the complexity of their rituals."
Molly Work, a Carleton College junior, continued the presentations with her project titled "Sexual and Reproductive Health Services Available to the Plantation Sector". Molly traveled to Nuwura Eliya with the goal of learning about sexual health services in the remote Tea Plantation sector of Sri Lanka. She worked with the Family Planning Association in the area and discovered that the most effective means of improving sexual health services in the area was by investing in the programs already in the region. On a subject rife with stigma, the best way of encouraging healthy reproductive behavior, argued Molly, was to work through avenues people were familiar and comfortable with.
Eva Metz, a junior at Grinnell College, presented her project, "The Effects of Relocation and Development on the Vedda Community in Henanigala". Eva sought to determine the impact of government work projects and forced relocations on the indigenous community in Sri Lanka known as the Vedda. She found that the Vedda are increasingly marginalized by broader Sri Lankan society and have been forced to give up certain cultural practices due to government regulation. Still, the Vedda continue to identify primarily with their own community, even if the definition of what it means to be a Vedda is rapidly changing.
Sam King, a student at Bowdoin College, continued the proceedingsl with a presentation titled "Perceptions and Actions of Sri Lankan Buddhist Monks in the Context of War". Sam approached his project with the intent of discovering how certain Buddhist monks reconciled their involvement in the war and in politics with the classica Buddhist texts. He traveled to three different regions and spoke with Buddhist monks about their role in the war and interviewed people of different religions and ethnicities about their perceptions of these Buddhist monks.
After a quick break for lunch, Maddie Klett, a Holy Cross junior, continued the day with her presentation titled, "Political Imagery and Public Perception in Sri Lanka". She focused on the ubiquitous image of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and wanted to determine how Sri Lankans reacted to it. She put together a photo book of various signs, posters, and billboards with the President's image and showed them to different groups of Sri Lankans. Maddie noted that, although many of the men and women she interviewed claimed that the images had little effect, they succeeded in politicizing everyday activities. According to Maddie, few took issue with the presence of these political images at temples or on roadsides, showing a desensitization to the political images in her photo book.
The day continued with Emma Rapperport (above, center), who presented "A socio-economic study of Kandyan Home Gardens". She wanted to discern the viability of the home garden in light of economic and environmental development. She discovered that, although there is a market for organic/fair trade farming, there is little incentive to maintain a diverse garden like the typical Kandyan home garden.
Alex Szwyd (above with host parents) of Bard College presented "Divergence and Development: Sarvodaya, Community Work, and Conflict Mediation on the Local Level". He wanted to understand more about an organization dedicated to economic and social development and founded on Theravada Buddhist thought. He discovered that, at a local level, Buddhism played a minor role in the organization's operations. According to Alex, Sarvodya's model focuses on village empowerment and relies on a united community. He sees this as a viable development model not just in Sri Lanka, but globally as well.
Amiya Moretta (Whittier College) presented next with "A Study on War Tourism". Amiya traveled to the war torn northern region of the island and visited a number of mounuments and sites built to commemorate the Sri Lankan Civil War, which ended in 2009. She sought to understand the role these monuments played in the public interpretation of the war and the messages the sites conveyed.
Charlie (above, with host parents) followed with his presentation, titled "Sarvodya in and at the Crossroads". For his study, Charlie traveled to Colombo and worked with Sarvodya, a local development NGO founded on Buddhist principles. He learned about the history of Sarvodya, which was founded in 1958, and tracked the expansion of one of Sri Lanka's most important non-governmental development models. He noted that a lack of funding has forced Sarvodya to reevaluate its model and focus on development as a social movement. They encourage involvement in local politics as a way to achieve and sustain development at a local level, in the hopes of spreading it nationwide.
The day concluded with Sarah's heartfelt presentation of her project, "Women in the Aftermath of War: Jaffna's NGO Community". Sarah discussed the challenges of being a women in the isolated and war-torn northern city of Jaffna. While working with a local NGO called Women in Need, Sarah found that there are over 89,000 widows in the region, many of whom have neve had a job and were completely reliant on their husbands. The NGO is dedicated to empowering these women through education, and creating a safer environment by involving men in their efforts. Despite the very real challenges facing women in a male-dominated culture, Sarah was encouraged by the fact that there are at least some men who care as much about the well being and futures of women in the region.
The semester concluded with the Final Tea, where students and host families gathered at the ISLE Center to say goodbye and congratulate each other on completing the semester.
Above, Angela poses for a photograph with her host family.
The students pose for a final photograph along with the Program Assistant, Emily Dunuwila, and the Sinhala language instructors Chamila and Konara.
Congratulations to the Fall 2012 ISLE students!