Leaving for the independent study was a lot weirder than I expected. We have all been thinking in terms of this project for virtually the entire semester, and we were all psyched to go. But talking to a few of my other friends on the program, we all agreed that it was one, really weird leaving our host families in Kandy and two, unexpectedly lonely. Regardless, I know I am really enjoying the bizarre whirlwind that is an independent research project, and I think everyone else is too!
Although I am doing my project on education, I have yet to see a normal school day because of the Diwali festival earlier this week. Diwali is a Hindu celebration and since the area I am in is primarily Hindu (although there is a Church, Mosque, and Buddhist Temple all within a 200 meter radius of my house) the schools were closed for the celebration and the streets were PACKED with frantic shoppers. It was madness, not only were the permanent stores entirely full but there were temporary “shops” and stands popping up everywhere. I didn’t realize how normal the streets of Hatton actually were until all of this was over and cleaned up. This festival apparently is pretty notorious for the amount of alcohol consumed, and so one of the programs PREDO was advocating for was to celebrate without liquor. Their hopes were that this extra money would go towards educational funding in the form of books and other materials. I helped a children’s club in Kottiyagalla (an estate in the area) hand out cards with this message on it and made live announcements via loudspeaker to the towns of Maskeliya and Hatton to help convey this message. It was really refreshing to see how enthusiastic the members of PREDO were when it came to this campaign!
Another day I went to an awards ceremony in Kotogala. The ceremony was a celebration for children on the plantation who scored high on their national exams, such as the Grade 5 Scholarship Exam. I was expecting a nice, organized, quiet award ceremony for this but when we arrived we were given a special welcome and seats of honor were reserved up front for us (myself and the head field coordinator of PREDO). They actually asked me to sign some certificates as “Chief Guest” and I presented some awards to the students. Before we left, they also gave me a small trophy, which I was not expecting at all. It was just a trophy for community service, and I think they were giving them out at random to people who they thought deserved a gift, but it still was entirely unexpected. Overall, the ceremony was very loud and chaotic, with everyone squished into this small shed-type building. It was adorable, though, when they had the preschool children dressed in traditional clothing doing Hindu dances. Some just stood there and some cried, but some were actually impressively good dancers with rhythm and even a little bit of sass. It was really great to see a community so invested into honoring the educational achievements of students and others involved.
On Monday I begin my work in the actual schools, which I am really looking forward too! Only four more weeks in Sri Lanka, ah!!