For years, Sri Lankan native and Yale parent Bernadine Anderson has worked to establish early education in the public school system of that country. Little did she imagine that only after the Southeast Asian tsunami in December 2004 that left 30,000 Sri Lankans dead and over 1 million homeless would her latest project find support: when the Sri Lankan government gave her three acres of land to found a school in the devastated southern coastal region of Hambantota.
This summer, at least four Yale students and recent alumni plan to travel to Sri Lanka with Anderson and her new nonprofit organization, Links of Love. The Yalies will work to establish a Montessori school that will serve as an early education model for the Sri Lankan public education system, which currently does not provide education for children before the age of five.
“I was thinking about going off and to find some way to make money next year,” Ayehlet Cooper ’05 said. “But I thought that this would be a good thing to do. I found this as an opportunity to grow myself, but also to give back to other people.”
Anderson said she believes Montessori schools, which encourage children to learn at their own pace and stress independence and individuality as part of the their educational philosophy, will work well in the Sri Lankan culture. Anderson, who currently works at a Montessori school she founded in Farmington, Conn., established a similar school in Ratmalana, Sri Lanka, some years ago that is still thriving today.
“[Links of Love is] a dream, a dream that I have had for many, many years, to initiate early education as part of the rural school agenda,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s daughter, Nientara Anderson ’06, was born in the U.S., but was lived in Sri Lanka until high school. Nientara Anderson told her Yale friends about Links of Love, and managed to gain enough interest in the program that the summer trip to Sri Lanka was planned. Primarily, the students will be helping to found the new school, but they also plan to tour the country’s historical and cultural landmarks.
When the Yalies reach Hambantota, the work will be hard. They will do many tasks, from helping to build the physical school, to setting up a newsletter concerning child education, to planning vocational curricula and even organizing a self-sustainable organic farm, Anderson said.
“I think that [the Yale students] will bring all of the experience that we do not have,” she said.
Erin Donar ’05, who plans to travel with the group to Sri Lanka this summer, said she looks forward to the challenge.
“After a disaster, people want to help, so they will give money,” Donar said. “Most people can’t fly to Sri Lanka and do something there.”
Donar, a former Yale Daily News city editor, said her experience in journalism will help work on the newsletter in Sri Lanka.
“It wasn’t something I sought out on my own,” Donar said. “But how could I turn something like this down?”
Cooper also plans to use her areas of expertise to help Links of Love.
“I do a lot of photography,” Cooper said. “I will keep a photo-journal to help them with the Web site and fund raising. I would also like to get some of the pictures published.”
Cooper said she believes that public interest and concern has faded in the aftermath of the tsunami, and that photography can remind people of the tragedy.
Anderson said the presence of Yale students and alumni will provide some hope to the region.
“It would be a big moral build up for the people of the area to see college students coming,” she said.