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 Scholarsclass 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.”
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
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.”