Personal Reflections

 

Megan Hansen

Even though we were only a six-hour drive north of Colombo, Mannar was truly a different world. There is a certain warmth to this area unlike anywhere I had ever been. This isn’t to say that the people are ‘nicer’ than any other part of Sri Lanka; they are simply living different lives than those in a busy, fast-paced town like Colombo. This warmth transpired into a sense of community and 

So much of my experience in Sri Lanka was fortified by walking, taking public transportation, visiting local markets, speaking to locals and eating their food. Walking to and from the English Medium School in Mannar each day was a cultural experience in itself. Everybody seemed eager to talk to us, learn about our family and our personal stories. I watched kids dodge traffic to run across the street and introduce themselves as we walked to and home from school each day. 

    I was placed in a third grade English Medium classroom and felt like I aged ten years over the course of a week. This isn’t a bad thing, of course. Simply put, my kids were feisty and tireless which overcame me with both exhaustion and tenacity. I spent most days instructing on my own, and through trial and error, learning how to keep order and excitement in the classroom at the same time.

    The Brothers’ tireless work in Manner to provide quality education to children in Sri Lanka has not gone unnoticed. Their presence itself brings a sense of composure to the school ground I’ve never seen anywhere else. Hearing Brother Johan’s stories of life during the Civil War proved what the Lasallian Brotherhood brought to him and the rest of Sri Lanka during that time and afterward. Their hardships and dedication to the Lasallian community transpire in their highly revered presence in Sri Lanka, their community facilities and welcoming nature.

 

Courtney Kroll

During our second week in Sri Lanka, we drove to Mannar, to teach our next week of classes. I had the privilege of teaching at the English Medium School of Mannar. It was here that I connected with and taught second grade students. I was surprised at their ability to speak their own language of Singhalese or Tamil, as well as English. These kids, along with my preschoolers were so bright and eager to learn. They made us students all feel so welcomed and at home. Although the conditions were different, the city of Mannar was beautiful. Much hotter and many more bug bites, but unique and beautiful. We stayed at the De La Salle Brothers home in the heart of Mannar, where we were once again welcomed with open arms. The Brothers we met here impacted me in more ways than one. They expressed themselves and their own personal stories to help us better understand Sri Lanka, and all that this country had endured. 

Understanding the true fundamentals and remnants of the war, along with the history of this unified country really helped me to connect the pieces, and better understand things I was unsure about. After living, dining and teaching with these courageous men, it was clear that what they were doing was out of love and selflessness. They have faith in their students, and they want to continue to expand horizons for all peoples of Mannar. In teaching and guiding their student’s day in and day out, you can truly see a positive future. There is hope in these Brothers hearts, and a will to keep moving forward and putting their rough history of war and corruption behind them. I feel touched by each of them, and grateful for the moments they shared with us.

 

Anna Mendoza

Our time in Mannar was when everything about this trip really clicked into place for me. I think part of it was seeing the was the brothers in this area work dawn to dusk tirelessly to ensure the flawless functioning of their respective kids, and part of it was the time we spent with the hostel boys.  Being in Mannar also really hit home for me because it is a mostly Tamil area. Having learned about the discrimination the Tamil people have faced made these joyful little kids mean that much more because I just hope that they do not face this in their futures. It was very nice to be able to teach preschool in the morning and get to spend some time with these children who are just beginning their education and teach them through play and fun. Then in the afternoon I had the opportunity to spend time with the older boys, get to talk to them and also to engage them in ways that our language differences were not an issue such as music and games, while at the same time encouraging them to practice speaking and interacting with us. Because it is a much smaller community than that in Colombo you can really feel the way everyone supports each other to grow and thrive. They were so incredibly welcoming to us and I really felt as if we became a part of this community, even in the short amount of time we were able to spend there. 

 

Kathyrn Garlick

Mannar was only six hours away from Colombo, about the distance from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, and the drive really put into perspective the smallness of the country but also the incredible impact of the war, for me. It was a blessing to be invited to teach in the preschool, to be invited into more De LaSalle brothers’ homes, and to meet such incredible boys from the hostel next door. While in Mannar, I was able to apply the historical text from our course reader; to the people I met, to the firsthand account stories I heard, and to the road I walked down that had seen so much war. After hearing Brother Yohan’s experience during the war, greatly contributed to the deep and weighted feeling I had the following morning when I walked to school down the same exact road where he had seen many people die.  

One very interesting thing that I noticed in the Mannar preschool was that the Tamil children (a majority of the North is Tamil) were learning Sinhala (the language of the majority Sinhalese) for an hour three days a week with a Tamil woman who spoke Sinhala. Considering the racial conflict and the recent history of war, to witness this and be apart of the lesson was very important! Learning Sinhala, alongside Tamil and English, will open many more doors of opportunity for the children in their home country and overseas. I had a wonderful time in Mannar.

 

Kayla Leduc

I think that in Mannar was when I really started to link the pieces of biography, society, and history, that we constantly talked about in class, in a more concrete way.  I learned so much here through the lives of my fourth graders at English Medium School and through the Brothers. Brother Yohan told us extremely personal stories, his own biography, explained to us the social structures that were in place, and gave a description of how he experienced the civil war in a way that helped me to make better sense of the recent history of Sri Lanka.  

    While listening to his talk, I was constantly thinking about how the history of Sri Lanka connects to the children that we were working with in the schools.  Towards the end of his talk, when discussing what is needed in the future for Sri Lanka, specifically within the Tamil community, Brother Yohan stressed the importance of education as a transformative power.  Education has the power to give children opportunities that might not have been available to their parents and grandparents.  Simply by going to school and by learning English these children are expanding their horizons and they are setting themselves up for more job opportunities in the future.  

    At first, I was shocked to hear about how the children, especially the young children, do not even know about the war for the most part.  Though the world that they live in has obviously been heavily shaped by the war, they themselves have not been exposed to it.  The children’s perception of their world is and will continue to be much different than their parents.  To me, the children that I got to work with in the schools represent a bright and promising future for Sri Lanka. 

    I am very thankful for Brother Yohan sharing his story because it is a story that cannot be ignored because to ignore it would be to deny the history that has shaped the lives of an entire country.  It is very clear to me why the Brothers are respected so much.  They are the ones who have taken charge of providing education to children in their community.  Despite the horrific things that they may have seen in the past, they have dedicated their lives to developing the next generation with love and joy.  The intelligent, funny, crazy, and amazing children that I had the privilege to get to know in Mannar are the future of Sri Lanka. 


Andee McKenzie 

Mannar was such an eye-opening and exciting place for me. With the previous knowledge that this is where Cynthia has taught the most and the knowledge of the history of the war, I was extremely curious to see how our service would be both similar and different to that of Colombo. Driving to Mannar was a painting of pure, natural beauty. I really have never seen grass so tall and green, wild peacocks nesting, and beautiful pools of water. As hard as I tried staring out that bus window, I could never really grasp that this was my life right now, looking out onto such beauty. It was definitely a silent moment of reflective gratitude. 

When I was first told that I would be teaching at St. Xavier’s, I was beyond thrilled! This is where Cynthia taught and I had heard nothing but wonderful things about the students, staff, and Brothers. Brother Mano really made a true impact on my experience at St. Xavier’s. He was so kind and helpful, literally every question we threw at him he answered with a genuine smile. The man, I am convinced, is Clark Kent. He wakes up early, works at St. Xaviers, goes straight to work at the hostile, finishes up all the paperwork at night, and somehow gets food in there and maybe a little sleep. The admiration and respect I have for him as an educator, Brother, confidant, and true friend is remarkable. 

Working at St. Xavier’s was a real treat. My grade 6E, whom I loving call my "babies" now because while they were well beyond their years in terms of academics, they truly captured my heart. It gave me such joy to watch them compete with one another in spelling competitions, sing It’s a Small World, and grow more and more confident with their ability to speak English. I also had the pleasure of working with the 10E and 11E boys and man.. are they smart. A little sassy sometimes, but they never ceased to amaze me with their perspective on Sri Lanka, the world, human behavior, and the existence of higher powers. I think what Mannar taught me the most is the power of sheer determination. Though the memories of the war still bear pain and suffering, the people in Mannar continue to live their lives and try to make the most of life. They find joy in little things and are so happy to share that joy with others. 

 

Reuben Delay

If the young men at St. Xavier’s were any indication of the character found in Mannar, I would have no hesitation recommending Mannar to any volunteer searching for a fulfilling experience. My own experience was nothing short from memorable. We felt welcome not only in the brother’s residence, but also in the classroom and at the hostel. I cannot say enough good things about the clever and respectful students at St. Xavier’s. I only hope to return someday soon.

The overall experience has left me in awe. In such a relatively short time, I have learned so much about what genuine goodwill looks like, how to quickly adapt to a given classroom, and most importantly: how to properly scrape a coconut. Each individual and their stories have made such a profound impression on me, I cannot imagine staying away for long.

 

Carly Muir

It was really nice to experience Mannar in between our time in Colombo. One thing that I did notice was that the Brothers we are staying with are a lot busier than the Brothers in Colombo. Don’t get me wrong, the Brothers in Colombo work just as hard, we just happened to see them more frequently. People in Mannar, I found to be more polite and welcoming. I would walk to and from school, with a group of girls, and young boys and girls would say hi to us. They were friendly and wanted to get to know us. What I learned in Mannar was, how grateful I am for this experience and just for being able to make an impact on the children.

The last night in Mannar, we sang with the boys in the hostile and it made my night and made my whole experience so much better. I came to Sri Lanka to touch the lives of people who are different from me. To experience a city with more nature gave the trip a whole other meaning. I feel like I walked away from the pre-school leaving them with a strong understanding of their numbers and a mind full of imagination. Despite the language barrier, I feel like I played a part to help them grow and learn. The Sister that I worked with really helped me in the classroom and supported what I was teaching the kids. I would tell her what my lesson plan was and she would translate that to the students.

I learned how important it is to bring your own understandings and knowledge because in one way or another, we are leaving an impact on the students, teachers, and the Brothers. Mannar was more rural than Colombo, so I was able to experience the difference of the two different cities.

 

Judy Alanzalon

One lesson that I learned from Mannar, is that Nescafe is an effective external medicinal treatment for open wounds. Brother Nelson assured me that jamming Nescafe and placing a bandage over my sea bath foot wound would help me heal. I believed him and had faith in this Sri Lankan solution. The quick healing wound reinforced my surprisingly, not skeptical belief in Eastern medicine. Nescafe is an outstanding beverage and treatment. Tell everyone.

    Mannar is a Northern gem. The rural and natural, yet broken aspects of Mannar remind me of a dream that my puzzles my brain: is it reality or an illusion? What truly happened in Sri Lanka? The ever-corrupt Sri Lankan government had the audacity to cover up an entire era of tyranny, oppression, torture, rape, and gruesome death. The LTTE once controlled this piece of Sri Lanka during the tumultuous time of Civil War. Brother Yohan courageously expressed his sentiments of wartime during his youth. He had two paths to choose from, the LTTE or the Brotherhood. He spoke highly of the LTTE, and called them war heroes. However, he also acknowledged the negative impacts of the LTTE, as they operated in a ruthless fashion and in general used their political power inefficiently. Their extremist attitudes clouded their judgment and guided them away from progress, they refused to compromise with the government and only wanted to secede from the Sinhalese nation. My heart aches for the Tamil people, who have faced discrimination and injustice for simply existing. Although my situation is entirely different, as a child of Filipino immigrants, I do understand what is like to feel like a perpetual foreigner in one’s own home country. The contention of identity politics and socioeconomics frustrates me immensely. How can human beings treat others so poorly, without compassion, dignity and respect? I admire and respect him deeply for his authenticity, graciousness, and resilience. During his discussion, I could feel him cringe and wallow in sadness as he recalled old memories of the war. I can’t imagine the pain he still endures today. I will never forget Brother Yohan. I am so grateful that he decided to choose the Brotherhood over the rebel forces. I love the Sri Lankan spirit. Despite the deep wounds instilled in the people of this country, they still smile, laugh, and accept others. These people who have lost so much actively choose to persevere and flourish. Their lives have brought me so much clarity and understanding. I want to be with them again in solidarity forever. I want to match the work ethic of Brother Yohan, Mano, Nelson, Annai Joseph, and Santhi. The De La Salle Brothers inspire me to change, to grow into a better person. I love and miss Mannar dearly.

 

Sarah Finn

Mannar will always hold a special place in my heart thanks to all of the things that working at St. Xavier’s and with these Brothers has taught me. While working with any De La Salle institution always shares so much I really felt like my time in Mannar taught me a lot about service and what it means to give yourself 100% to the benefit of a community. 

    I want to become a teacher here in the USA, but I was hesitant at first because I did not know if I was qualified enough to be the authority figure, mentor, and educational source for a classroom of students all looking to me as their ‘teacher’. It is a daunting task with so much responsibility, and I just didn’t know if I was qualified enough to take on that position. But what I learned most from my time in Mannar is that sometimes, just being in the classroom and giving your all to the students means more than any planned curriculum or wise words from years and years of experience. The care and dedication to the students speaks volumes, and the Brothers here in Mannar definitely live up to that example. They work tirelessly for the students as administrators, teachers, housing leaders, and role models. When these boys have so much care to surround them, you know that they are getting the absolute best support that they could. It has really taught me what it means to be a valuable teacher in Sri Lanka, America, or any location. It has renewed my passion and drive to become a teacher, and I hope to be able to bring that same dedication to my own classrooms in the states. It doesn’t take a master of the arts to be a good teacher, as some would like you to believe. It just takes heart, dedication to your own constant learning in your field, and giving your best to your students. Because when you care so much, you can only hope that your students will care that much as well.

 

Jessica Bravo

The drive up to Mannar was exhausting and long but worth every single minute. We got there in the nighttime and the Brothers gave us the warmest of welcomes. That’s what I always admired about them. Even through their exhausting schedules and endless work for their communities, they somehow always found the energy to provide for us. The Brothers’ incredible resilience and positivity paired with the students’ warmth and energy made my experience in Mannar one that I will hold dear to my heart for the rest of my life. The opportunity we had to bond with our students created a dynamic between us that allowed us to be active in their lives rather than feeling like temporary volunteers. It was incredible that for this moment in time, though we are from very different places, our paths met. 

I worked in the La Salle English Medium School down the road where I got to teach first grade. A small band, and a Tamil welcome ceremony met us at the gate of the school. The children’s and teacher’s absolute dedication to making us feel special and welcomed almost brought me to tears. The next few days I got to experience the discipline, organization, and high quality education that the teachers and Brothers use to mold their students. I truly admire the teachers I work with in my first grade classes. They allowed me to observe their work and their methods of teaching, and they were very open to seeing mine. They were so supportive and inclusive that I felt like I had been teaching there for months. The students in Mannar are taught well by their teachers to be polite and respectful. Everywhere I went I was greeted with handshakes and “Good morning, teacher. God bless you, Teacher.” Their eagerness to learn and be active with their studies at such a young age inspired me to be more thankful of my education. The work put into creating these relationships is evident in the dynamic between the teachers, Brothers, students, and volunteers. 

    Perhaps the most life changing moments for me in Mannar were the ones in which the students, teachers, and Brothers shared the stories of their lives. I have learned so much from them and have been humbled by the resilience they have exhibited in their lives. I hope I made clear how much I admire them and how thankful I am for their kindness and openness. My friends in Mannar cracked my heart open and taught me more in one week than I could’ve ever imagined. I am truly thankful for this experience and everyone who was a part of it.

 

Gabby Petersen

While in Mannar I taught at Saint Xavier’s Boy’s College mostly in grade 7. I had a hard time getting the attention of 30 12-year-old boys, but by the middle of the week I finally was able to harness their energy into productive English games. I had to realize that not all of them would want to learn from me, but if I could make a few really interested in English, then I would have done my job. I feel like I was able to reach a few of them, but I also was able to visit with boys of all different grades. Because I was able to sing, play my guitar with them and be silly, I was able to overcome the language barrier easily. One of my favorite moments at the school was singing the international, ever-mushy hit “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion with a large group of11th grade boys. My experience with the boys at the school, with Brother Mano, and with my co-teachers at Saint Xavier’s was so phenomenal and utterly irreplaceable. 

I also loved spending time with the hostel boys after school. Playing volleyball, racing, and taking pictures of them was a fantastic way to get to know them without having the pressure of having to teach them something. They are resilient, competitive, hard-working boys who showed me how fun playing games, singing and laughing could really be. 

I did not realize how much all my boys had touched me until we began to leave Mannar. A fellow traveler asked me where I would like to travel next and I responded with Chile, for no good reason. Now that we have left Mannar, I feel like I have no option but to return there the first chance I get. The Brothers work so hard to give the best opportunities possible to the boys and the boys return the favor by being thankful and focused for their studies. The message, the work ethic, and the struggles the Brothers have faced and continue to face daily have really resonated with me and influenced how I believe I will now have to live my life. I have never been so humbled in my life as I was in Mannar and I am thankful for the chance to live in with the Brothers and teach such genuine, wonderful students.

 

Sam Columbus

Mannar was incredible, and I am so happy we were able to experience both places. Mannar had a different feel to it than Colombo. In my opinion, Colombo had life, but Mannar had such a spirit and soul to it. The Brothers here are so dedicated to their schools, and helping the youth become good and intelligent people. I visited the De La Salle English medium school, but mostly taught at St. Xavier’s boys college. The De La Salle school was so well organized, and looked fantastic, they even had a welcoming ceremony for all of us!  This school consisted of grades pre-k through 5th grade. St. Xavier’s school had grades 6-12. I taught a 6th grade class for a day, and then co-taught other grades with Professor Ganote and the students who were assigned to this school. I feel as though I came to teach them, but it was the students at this school who taught me! They are so smart and so kind and really try to help their peers learn and do well. The children at these schools are so enthusiastic towards their studies and to learning as much as they can, it was so refreshing to witness. Teaching at these schools and living in community with these Brothers was a wonderful and joyous experience and something I will always keep with me, and when I return to Sri Lanka I will absolutely come to Mannar again!