Traveling with a purpose

Students hold a 2-day environmental conference in Sri Lanka, film and conduct research

Marlena Chertock

FEB. 6, 2011

Senior Natalie Lampert teaches Malmi the lyrics to “Lean on Me” at Panangala Mahabodhi School. The Sri Lankan school children taught the scholars lyrics in Sinhalese. Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Leman.

Fourteen seniors walked through tea country, rolling green hills of tea all in lines on hills. They were in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka.

“The word that kept coming to mind was lush,” Elizabeth Leman said. “Everything was so lush and colors were so vibrant.”

The Periclean Scholars class of 2011 traveled to Sri Lanka from Jan. 7 to 26 to conduct research, produce a documentary and hold a conference. The class of 2011 focuses on environmental issues in Sri Lanka.

They visited the schools they’ve been working with for three years, donating supplies and books. They also held a two-day conference called LEAF, Leaders in Environmental Advocacy Forum, at the University of Colombo.

“People can’t be expected to act sustainably unless they’re informed,” Jesse Lee said.

That’s where LEAF came in. LEAF forged a partnership with experts, professors, non-profit organizations and people, Lee said.

“We tried to invite a lot of academics, students, businesses, non-profits, to get everyone together and foster conversation, build relationships between the people there and us as well,” Leman said. “Hopefully that will be something sustainable after we graduate.”

Documenting environmental issues

Lee, Chas Smith and Jack Dodson, multimedia editor for The Pendulum, took on a separate documentary project during their time in Sri Lanka.

“The documentary is looking at the environmental issues for Sri Lanka as an example of what the rest of the world is facing,” Lee said. “While it’s all shot in Sri Lanka, the message is global.”

They looked at waste management, water quality, deforestation, mangroves and the human-elephant conflict, Lee said. The human-elephant conflict is due to overpopulation of both humans and elephants in Sri Lanka, according to Lee.

Some scenes in documentaries unfold spontaneously, according to Lee.

“There’s a scene that I didn’t expect to get at all, it wasn’t really on our radar,” Lee said. “We were on an island with Charith Senanayake, a director of Rainforest International.”

Nuwara Eliya, rows of tea in Sri Lanka. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Leman.

The island is home to a school for young boys to learn to become Buddhist priests.

“We were walking by a building and there are no doors and no handles on the outside,” he said. “And as we go by, the doors open up and we go inside and take off our shoes,” he said.

The group had ended up inside a Buddhist priest’s mediation room.

“Without any prompting from us, this priest just begins speaking about how connected his faith is to the environment and how important it is for them to have that as a part of their religion,” Lee said.

The documentary is in the editing stages. Lee said they hope to have a feature-length documentary finished before the semester’s end.

Researching the effects of war

Leman researched international humanitarian law. She is researching three case studies: the Nuremberg tribunal, the Rwanda tribunal and the Sri Lanka war crimes situation.

Even though the situations are different, Leman said she is trying to find common threads between them.

“Overwhelmingly, what I’ve found was that people want to move on with their lives,” Leman said.

“They want to rebuild; they’re more worried about having enough to eat and sending their kids to school than they are about finding out who killed their loved ones (in the war).”

Leman came away feeling more pro-government than she said she thought she would.

“The government feels like its been singled out,” Leman said. “For having defeated terrorism, it feels like it should have a pat on the back instead of being pointed fingers at.”

Sri Lankans are ready to talk about and work through the issues surrounding what happened with the war, she said.

Researching water quality in Sri Lanka

The students at Panagala Junior School and Elon painted a mural together at the Panagala Junior School. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Leman.

Senior Julia Crowley researched water quality in the country. She focused on discrepancies between urban and rural quality and availability. She conducted a survey in English and Sinhala, a language in Sri Lanka.

People in Sri Lanka are starting to realize the impacts that development will have on their water, according to Crowley.

“I’m just hoping that my survey, as small as it was, can add to that body of knowledge as they start to gather more data,” she said.

She also said Sri Lankans come from a Buddhist culture and have a different relationship with nature than Western people.

“They view themselves more directly a part of nature as I feel we view ourselves in Western culture as above nature,” Crowley said. “We view ourselves as stewards, which sounds nice but is actually patronizing. It reduces the importance we put on nature.”

OPINION: Do we even need grades?

Looking at alternative education methods

Marlena Chertock

FEB. 3, 2011

Your professor hands back an essay and you flip to the last page to see your grade. The page is full of comments in red but lacks a grade. What if this wasn’t a mistake but rather the usual circumstance?

Students at high schools and colleges around the country experience this alternative every day. Elon should consider the benefits of this alternative to grading.

Continue reading OPINION: Do we even need grades?

OPINION: PR attempt by BP

Marlena Chertock

The surface of the water glistens at the site of the spill, as oil continues to flow from the wellhead some 5,000 feet below. Photo and caption by Dave Martin-AP, courtesy of The Washington Post.

After the oil spill on April 20 BP had their reputation to look after. A cover-up or public relations stunt had to be employed. BP spent millions on commercials to send out a message to the public, keep up their positive image and ensure people would still buy their products.

BP has even directed Google searches for “oil spill” back to the company itself, making sure that only a BP-approved version of the story gets to readers. This monopolizing of the news is bordering on unethical. News that journalists work hard to report on must get to readers in a clear, fair, accurate and unbiased story. Journalists adhere to these ethical values of objectivity, fairness and accuracy in reporting that BP does not need to follow. By controlling where readers are getting their information, through directing Google searches, BP is in effect manipulating and distorting the news.

Continue reading OPINION: PR attempt by BP

OPINION: Consequences of interference

Questioning the heart of journalistic altruism

by Marlena Chertock, February 2, 2010

A journalist covering a story about an insane asylum witnesses a male patient escape. Should he stop him? A fundamental rule of journalism prohibits interference.

Journalists are taught to keep a separation from sources, to not befriend them or become emotionally attached to those they cover. This constitutes a conflict of interest. Physically intervening in a story is also strictly off-limits.

When Anderson Cooper came to visit Elon last year, no one could predict he would be traveling to Haiti in 2010 to cover a devastating earthquake, reporting in the throes of looting and dangerous riots.

Continue reading OPINION: Consequences of interference

The heart behind the lens

by Marlena Chertock, December 1, 2009

Do we have the power to create good in this world? Photojournalist Dave Labelle believes so.

On Nov. 18 Labelle came to Elon to speak about his professional journeys. The first half of the speech was mostly techniques, guidelines and how to improve photographs. Labelle suggested a few minutes of break before he set in on the next part. He needed that time to truly switch gears.

Labelle explained why he became a photojournalist and why he and his family have been on the road since early September.

“I believe good begets good,” he said.

Continue reading The heart behind the lens