A Look At 2017
2017 was a learning experience for all of us at Sunayra. We came to Sri Lanka with the best of intentions and some misconceptions. We initially assumed that we had to tackle post-war trauma, and that our students would be living in a past that exists vividly in the global imagination.
Instead, we learned that our students were looking forward. They wanted good jobs, meaningful lives, equality, and hopeful futures. It is true that their lives have been deeply affected by war and natural disaster. They have lost family, homes, ties to the past. Yet, these young people are more than just what has happened to their families and communities. They are interested in being drivers of change in their own lives. They are also apprehensive because many of them do not have a family member who has pursued higher education or has a professional job. But these students want something more. They want careers they love, strong communities, and to feel like they have a voice.
Because of this, we decided to change our logo, website, and outlook to reflect this new, hopeful, forward-looking, way of thinking. Some of you may have noticed that our website became brighter, our pictures more optimistic, and our tagline changed from "Art. Healing" to "Moving Forward". Young people want resources, opportunities, and support to follow their dreams and we realized it was important that Sunayra's programming and outlook reflected this. We went from looking backwards to moving forward.
Once we recognized this, we were able to create an even more tailored curriculum. We addressed the issues that these students faced, many of which are the direct outcomes of war and trauma - alcoholism, depression, abandonment. Unpacking these issues allowed students to put a voice to their fears, and develop the personal and communal tools to collectively lay the foundation for a better future.
One of our key takeaways from last year was that substance abuse is a much larger issue than we had previously anticipated. The students discussed just how much substance abuse affects their lives—from the financial aspects, to violence, leaving education, and much more. As a way to engage in this issue, the students designed a banner that outlined the many unfortunate outcomes of substance abuse. We were so proud to see them work to identify the problem and determine what they wanted to communicate, and how to go about doing that. When we finally got to present them with their banner, they were overjoyed to see their hard work displayed for the community to see. In fact, our partner, St. John's Church, asked to keep the banner in order to discuss substance abuse with the young people and adults who come to them for other classes.
We also realized the importance of discussing mental health, exam anxiety, and how much young people need each other’s support. We expanded our group activities and discussion activities, which helped students listen to each other’s experiences and become more empathetic towards each other.
Additionally, we put more emphasis on Social Media, which is becoming the regular mode of communication between young people. While it is a great tool, it also poses a unique set of problems. We have built a Social Media and Media Literacy lesson into our 2018 curriculum in order to help young people understand the media they come across, and to act responsibly on social media.
One of the most gratifying things for us was seeing just how capable these students were - in both traditional education, but also in creative problem solving and critical thinking. During the course of the pilot year, we introduced students to art analysis, film analysis, complex social and civic issues, and Rubik's cubes. The students not only engaged with all of these activities, but genuinely blew us away with their deep insights, their ability to pick up soft skills, communicate nuanced ideas, and even solve a Rubik's cube!
If we were to name our biggest lesson from 2017, it would be realizing that this type of creative curriculum is necessary and sought after in Sri Lanka. That is why we are putting down the foundation to scale our programming to other regions of the country over the next few years, and build Sunayra Lanka into a sustainable organization. We hope that you continue with us on this journey!