To aspiring and current Fellows and readers: Want to be involved with an exciting and inventive opportunity for involvement in the arts and international service? Interested in discovering what it's like to collaborate with a non-governmental organization (NGO)? Read on!
First, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ruth and I am pursuing a double major in international politics and sociology with a minor in linguistics. As a junior Fellow, I enjoy learning about a broad range of topics but I'm especially taken with classes/research/activities that address the intersection of conflict, culture, and development. Belonging to a family of refugees from war-torn Sri Lanka, it could have been predictable that I would aim to work in the international conflict and reconstruction scene. This wasn't the case. It took considerable time and reflection, especially because I was very young when we fled.
These interests have led me to help out with an NGO called SJC 87
, a scholarship initiative that uses art as a rehabilitative tool for war-affected students in Sri Lanka. I had offered to sell calendars for their Art of Hope
project which used art-work made by the youth, organized them into a calendar, and sold them to the Sri Lankan diaspora around the globe. I took a different trajectory by suggesting the expansion of the project to college students. Penn State was the trial run, which unfortunately did not work out as well as I had envisioned. And while it wasn't mind-boggling letdown--Sri Lanka, after all, is a small, remote country that is thousands of miles away and Penn State has hundreds of organizations that are advocating for their own significant issues every day--it motivated me to find more engaging and creative approaches of raising awareness in a legitimate and representative manner.
I am now spearheading a project called Paalam
(a Tamil word meaning "bridge") in collaboration with SJC87, Oxfam at Penn State, and the PSU Theatre Department. At its core, the project uses playwriting and theatre as a tool for self-reflection, rehabilitation, and community-building among Sri Lankan youth. The website
goes more into it but basically, we allow youth to write plays and monologues through which they share their experiences and their hopes for the future. These plays are then performed here at Penn State and the money we raise goes to the youth's education. This project is truly a bridge; it'll bridge internal emotions to external expressions, unspoken hopes for the future to cultural conversations on rebuilding. It is capable of bridging the chasm between two completely different countries and cultures, if only by a strained thread.
What excites me more than anything is that this project is no longer just an idea that is bouncing in my brain and between extremely supportive friends and family. It's finally an active collaboration.
During the summer, Paalam was enthusiastically approved by principals in northern Sri Lanka and things have been rolling ever since. On Sept. 18th and 25th, workshops for playwriting were held for all interested youth (photos here
If you've stuck around this far and if anything here sounds like something you'd want to learn more about and get involved with (we'll be meeting this upcoming Thursday), contact me at RLC272@psu.edu
. This project is looking for ambitious self-starters, compassionate cosmopolitans, and idea-generators.