M1W1A1: Why I do what I do

Prompt: Create a Draft Mission Statement. Take some time to consider the following questions. Write your answers in your learning space. Explain your idea in terms of “why”. Why is it important? Write it down and spend some time trying to simplify the message as much as possible. Then add the how, and the what.

Response: It’s always a challenge to put the why before the what! I think it still needs some work, and feedback would be much appreciated.

Update 25 March 2016: I’m leaving my long ramble in, because it was crucial to getting me to my shorter mission statement, which you can find right at the end of the post. Writing my ‘About’ page was also really clarifying for getting to the shorter statement.

“What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?”

— Simon Sinek, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”

I’ve told the story of my subjection to playground racism many times, and how being introduced to theatre later in life taught me to look back with empathy at the two little girls and the little boy who tormented me when I was just four. I thought about how they were the result of an environment — nurtured both at home and at school — that told them it was acceptable, even laudable, to single out and bully those they felt were outliers and oddities, to shun them and make them feel unwanted. And where does bullying come from? A place of fear and insecurity. Not having the ability to tell the difference between rabble-rousing propaganda and factual evidence. Not having learned how to think, creatively and bravely, for yourself. Not seeing people treat each other with generosity and love.

Children all over the world are subjected to a spectrum of trauma as a result, from the occasional sly taunt to sustained and vicious bullying. I’ve been one of them. What changed things for me was being given the tools, through my exposure to theatre, to think differently about myself and those who hurt me. In Sri Lanka, our schools rely on methods of rote learning and competitive entry to schools and universities based on letter grades. So how can children learn to creatively solve problems that don’t have a single answer that is located at the back of the text book? How can they learn to critically tell the difference between fact and propaganda? What tools does this system give them to be generous, rather than cut-throat and stingy, in their everyday interactions with peers? Very few indeed. The crucial life lessons I learned that led me to start Building Bridges, I learned in after-school theatre practices at my school that was (thankfully) focused on teaching us to be well-rounded young women.

At present, Building Bridges functions as an after-school arts programme that focuses very specifically on teaching critical and creative thinking, communicating with empathy, and learning to work collaboratively rather than competitively. It brings together children of different religions and ethnicities to learn about and learn from each other. It gives the children space to have fun, to play games, and exercise talents they don’t get to flex in school. My long-term vision, however, is to convince educators to take a long hard look at how our system is structured, and to make necessary changes. I believe there is a chilling argument to be made for the role it played in the lead-up to the Sri Lankan Civil War and our inability to shake the structural racism behind movements like the BBS and Sinha Le. We’re not doing things any differently now, so what changes can we expect for our citizens and leaders of tomorrow? Even if you only care about economic development, take a look at this list of skills that this World Economic Forum article forecasts will be of vital importance in 2020, and think about whether rote-learning, or programmes like Building Bridges, will get you there. What if we can make this system accessible to all school-children, all over Sri Lanka? This dream is at the heart, at the very core, of what I do.

My Mission Statement (as of 25/03/2016)

I use the creative and practical arts (theatre, writing, visual arts, and spatial design) to foster creative, critical-thinking, collaborative and compassionate communities, which I believe are vital not only for post-conflict reconciliation in my homeland Sri Lanka, but also for the global future of work.

(It needs tweaking, I know, but that’s where my thinking is right now.)

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