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  • In the summer of 2010, one year after the Sri Lankan civil war came to a grisly close, I volunteered to build a children's playground out of recycled materials in Chiraddikulam. Chiraddikulam is a Maha Vir village - this means the LTTE 'recruited' youth to be suicide bombers, and in return the villagers were given small parcels of land to reside on and cultivate. After the war was over, a small army unit was posted close to the community, in effect for 24-hour surveillance. I wondered what it must be like for the villagers and army boys (some barely older than myself) to be in such close proximity to the perceived enemy.

    When we began work on the playground that morning, the children were at first subdued and diffident. As the playground began to take shape, however, the villagers and younger soldiers alike became eager to wield a paintbrush. Soon they were working together, making space for each other, sharing paint and brushes. At the end of the day, the improvised playground bore the marks of a group effort.

    We have a long way to go. This week marks three years since the war ended, and it is possible to say we have not come far enough in these three years. In some ways, we have regressed. But when I am disheartened at the snail's pace of my island's post-war progress, I remember this moment.

    My own Leap Year Project was supposed to start in 2011, but bureaucratic delays meant I was only able to begin at the end of April - creating a series of creative arts workshops for the ethnically diverse youth of Chiraddikulam and Kakkaiyankulam. It takes me entirely out of my comfort zone. I travel unchaperoned by train each week to these villages (an unusual but exhilarating undertaking for a young woman in South Asia). I conduct my workshops among children who only speak Tamil, of which I know just a handful of phrases (I hope to be fluent in conversational Tamil by the end of the year). I am the sole creator of each workshop, devised by trial and error, composing of a hotch-potch of theatre games, arts and crafts and creative writing. I scrupulously record my weekly expenses (I have never been so aware of where my money is going in my life) to stretch my funding from Princeton ReachOut 56-81-06 to its fullest extent. I have only just begun, but each leap is more rewarding than the one before, and I am filled with eager anticipation at what the year has in store for me.
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