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Character Education

NextGen Interns Promote Character Education in Sri Lanka

Carrying out its mission to challenge and empower the next generation to create lives of authenticity, abundance, and altruism, the US-based NextGen Academy sent students to five Asian countries in the spring of 2008 to serve as interns in UPF's Character Education Initiative.

Interns Elysa Thalheimer, Tesia Bobrycki, and Audrey Martin were struck by the war-like aspects of Sri Lanka. Everywhere they went, they saw officers with rifles stopping cars and checking everything. They learned that if you are Tamil, it is especially difficult. Tamil students said that just walking through the streets could be challenging for them. They are subject to inspection of their IDs at all times, and they are afraid to go out after 6 p.m. for fear of harassment or arrest. Most Tamil students yearn for peace, but they don't know how it will come about. The idea of a peace sports festival inspired them, as did meeting their first Westerners. The interns felt the impact of war on society in a way they had never felt before.

A new form of charity giving, micro financing, where small loans are given as seed money for enterprising local people, was engaged in the by interns from money they had earned themselves in the United States, and from money donated by Mrs. Hak Ja Han Moon. Nine selected Sri Lankan housewives received micro loans. The interns also did a painting project at a school for orphans or single-parent children and a beach cleanup service project as well as teaching character education.

Intern Audrey said, "None of the words really mattered. It meant so much to them that we would come so far to do this for them. We gave them hope of the future, hope for a better life for their children. It's amazing how so little can mean so much." Encountering the joyful play of Sri Lankan children, so much like the play of children all over the world, intern Tesia exclaimed, "All I can say is EPIC! It was epic!"

She went on to say, "How can I possibly explain the way these people embraced us like family? How can I show you the phenomenon of loving my host mom as much as I love my real mom? How can I truly share the moment of departure, when every person was in tears and each heart was broken? To tell you how over the course of two days, this little village became my home? I will forever remember standing in the rain outside my little house, gazing over the paddy fields to the mountains beyond and thinking of the simple beauty of the lives of these people I have come to love so completely."

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