23 Jun ’14
By Stefanie Froelich
On June 16 and 17, our team traveled from Moratuwa to a small village, Wijayabura, nestled in the jungle of the Northeast region of Sri Lanka. At our arrival, we saw a crowd of villagers that at the time seemed so foreign but by the end of our stay were considered family. From a distance, the people of the village greeted us with waves and smiles and as we walked closer children gracefully placed flower necklaces around us. Five young men dressed in “Ves,” or traditional costumes, led us down the dirt road while Kandian dancing.
This encounter was a fitting introduction to the first day of the Shamradana project. According to Winsor, one of our assistant coordinators, the practice of Shamradana is, “Sharing your work, labor, knowledge, experience and even your wealth. By participating in Shamradana, you build up your personality and strengthen your abilities so you can promote your loving kindness and commitment to people. Without commitment and loving kindness you cannot do anything. By being a part of the project, you’re building all these things up in yourself and in others.” For the 2014 21st Century Studies cohort and for the people of this village, our Shamradana project would finally begin with the renovation of the local preschool.
Over the past two days we dug up the compacted ground, carried sacks of rocks and sand, made cement mixtures, painted the interior and exterior walls and even planted mango trees. It took the entire village to renovate this building, however despite the sweat, blisters and aches, the process of the project was more than just a project– it was an ongoing celebration. It was a celebration that involved lunch breaks, duck-duck goose games and interactions with people of mixed cultural backgrounds.
This Shamradana project covers one of the keylines from the C21 curriculum –Tradition and Modernity. This project provided an opportunity for two groups of people from different backgrounds to cultivate one vision. One group exemplified more traditional practices in which natural elements and ways of thinking were implemented. The other group was used to a more modern and fast style of labor. For the group with a more modern mentality, it broke the stereotype that tradition does not always evolve from a set of laws but rather it takes advantage of given resources and uses historical accomplishments to form a clearer understanding of culture. Tradition is the capability of a culture to adapt to challenges using their known intelligence and previous knowledge. This introduces the idea that modernity and tradition are not separate ideals but that they in fact coexist. This concept was displayed as a bunch of Americans walked off the bus into a sea of villagers that radiated their traditional culture. The laughter, smiles and sentimental emotions we all shared during the Shamradana project proved that this concept is ironic yet beautifully suitable. This blending of modern and traditional values set the tone for the three days in Wijayabura but it also sparked the beginning of a revolution for those who were willing to share the inclusive parts of their minds and their hearts.