FIRST PiA FELLOWS ON THE GROUND
In June of 2013, thanks to the generous support of the Barry Metzger Fund, Princeton in Asia sent its first two fellows to Sri Lanka, a tear-drop shaped tropical island off the coast of India which was marred by a long and bitter civil war that ended in 2009. Our special thanks to Abby Waldorf, our honorary PiA Fellow in Sri Lanka last year, Ashanthi Mathai, our Country Safety Advisor, and Arj Wignaraja, a great PiA Friend in Sri Lanka, who helped PiA launch there.
We selected veteran PiAers Harry Glynn and Lucie McGurn, who proved in their first fellowships that they could thrive in remote rural areas without many other foreigners in sight. Harry, who taught at a university in Can Tho, Vietnam last year, is working with a business aiming to kickstart the economy through locally-led projects. Here what he has to say about working and living in the island nation.
I have been in Sri Lanka for approximately one month. Since I have only been here a short time, I feel tempted to use the old adage, “so far, so good.” However, I don't feel that phrase does justice to my experience thus far. The most difficult task is narrowing down what is the most valuable and enjoyable part of my experience: the work, my colleagues, the country, or my personal development.
I am working with BIZ+, a project funded by USAID and operated through the International Development wing of Land O' Lakes. The goal of the project is to distribute grants to businesses in areas of Sri Lanka that have been affected by the civil war, the 2004 tsunami, and general ethnic marginalization. The end goal of the project is to create employment opportunities, raise household income, and create long lasting economic efficiencies in these regions. After reading through many of the proposed grants and going on site visits, it is amazing to be able to see exactly how our project is affecting the local economic landscape. I have been involved with several aspects of the project so far, including grant implementation and monitoring and evaluation. I have also been collaborating on developing a viable way of calculating the project’s indirect job creation. I can see first hand the fruits of the project's labor and the influence it has on people's lives here. I am truly humbled to work on a project of this nature.
I am also working with wonderful people. My boss, Michael Parr, is in the running to be the best boss I have ever had. He is a very approachable and kind person and has done a great job of giving me the tools to make an immediate contribution. Everyone else in the office is extremely friendly and welcoming and everyone gets along very well. I could literally go through the entire roster of employees and share a good memory about each of them. My colleagues in Vavuniya especially have really made me feel welcome and often invite me to join them on evenings out.
As for the country itself, Sri Lanka is probably the most beautiful and interesting place I have ever visited. I get to see elephant crossings, giant lizards, mongoose, and mobs of monkeys rolling through courtyards. The people here for the most part are very friendly, outgoing and polite. I share an office with a man named Sugumar and he is quickly becoming one of my good friends; we often discuss subtle cultural differences and life in general. It is a fascinating place and I have a long way to go to better understand the history and current situation in which the country finds itself.
Working with BIZ+ has given me an amazing opportunity to develop my professional skills. I am working closely with many different departments, including due diligence, procurement, implementation and relationship management, and am learning so much from the expertise and experience of my colleagues. There are so many perspectives and organizations who all have very substantial and unique interests in this work, and the challenges inherent in satisfying such a diverse group of stakeholders and the relationship management involved is something I am trying to learn about as much as possible. I am going to learn so much this year, so I am doing my best to absorb all of the knowledge and lessons I will encounter along the way.
Harry Glynn (Vietnam ’12 and Sri Lanka ’13)