Campus & Community

Treating the soul

5 min read

(McCravy helps tsunami victims restore order, confidence, joy)

Since 1994, Tucker McCravy has made Sri Lanka his second home, first as a Peace Corps volunteer and then as the catalyst for several educational ventures there. So when areas of the nation were devastated by the December tsunami, McCravy knew just what children in refugee camps needed.

Through games and expressive arts, McCravy worked with Sri Lankan educators to help address the psychosocial needs of young tsunami victims. (Staff photo Justin Ide/Harvard News Office)

Water balloons.

McCravy, who will receive the M.Ed. from the Graduate School of Education today, traveled to Sri Lanka this past January to help the nation rebuild itself after the tsunami. As an educator and founder of Serendib, a nonprofit organization that fosters educational development programs for disadvantaged students in Sri Lanka as well as Thailand and Benin, McCravy visited two dozen refugee camps to distribute school supplies to about 600 children.

“In the wake of this tragedy, the predominant feelings were of disorientation and sometimes defeat on the part of the parents. That communicates very quickly to children,” says McCravy. “Schooling is a signal of some sort of normality, some sort of restoration of order in a society.”

While Serendib’s donations gave children the physical tools they needed to return to school, its programs helped to restore their confidence. Through games and expressive arts, McCravy and Sri Lankan educators who work with Serendib addressed the psychosocial needs of young tsunami victims.

“These children had, in many cases, witnessed a great loss and devastation the likes of which they had never seen, and [as] a result of that they had a lot of fears,” says McCravy. A water balloon toss – its original purpose to help students practice English – helped children overcome a newfound fear of water, which in some cases prevented them from even bathing. “We put the context of water in a very different light … there’s a great deal of mirth, merriment, enjoyment involved,” says McCravy.

Skills for the global economy

Founded in 2001, Serendib’s roots go back to 1996,when McCravy and fellow Peace Corps volunteers launched an English education camp for children in Sri Lanka (the island nation was once named Serendib). These Peace Education Camps, 10-day extracurricular camps in August, now form the core of Serendib’s work. The camps aim to teach underprivileged students skills for success in the global economy, specifically English and computer technology skills.

Alongside these academic goals, says McCravy, are loftier ones of peace, tolerance, respect, and reconciliation – crucial lessons in this nation that’s been torn by a brutal civil war for the past three decades.

“We use education, and specifically English, as a link language, as a vehicle for bringing students together from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds,” says McCravy.

McCravy describes Serendib’s educational model as unique in Sri Lanka, where government-run schools are effective at providing schooling to all children who want it but employ a top-down pedagogical style that comes up short on skills like creative problem-solving, cooperation, and leadership.

“We bring together teachers for training in very innovative pedagogical techniques revolved around what it means to transform a classroom into a student-centered learning environment, and one that focuses on the needs of learners in the context of a global society,” he says.

Serendib’s Peace Education Camp model has now been adopted by the Sri Lankan Minister of Education, and McCravy has seen some of the camps’ earliest alumni go on to train for jobs as engineers, doctors, and lawyers. The organization has taken its educational philosophies to programs in Thailand and the African nation of Benin.

At the Graduate School of Education, McCravy embraced the opportunity to step back from the ground-level implementation of educational projects and look at the broader theoretical and philosophical picture. He also valued the connections he made with peers and professors.

“That community of support and of dialogue has been one that’s been essential for me,” he says, adding that he’s tapped peers as well as “the movers and shakers of the Ed School” to help him advance Serendib’s mission.

Creating compassionate leaders

Returning to Sri Lanka this week, McCravy took several fellow students who will help him with Serendib’s next venture, a Global Learning Center that will bring Serendib’s educational philosophies to a K-12 school environment. While Serendib’s overseas projects are entirely run by local teachers and administrators, McCravy – still volunteering his time – is working on raising his own salary from donations. He’s got plans to extend Serendib to more countries, and he’s confident that he can do so.

McCravy is even more confident of the need for Serendib’s mission and educational philosophies in Sri Lanka and beyond. The complexity of globalization and ethnic strife mandates leaders with critical thinking skills as well as a deep compassion, he says.

“That fundamental understanding that the ties which bind us together as human beings are far stronger than the ties which pull us apart: that is something that every effective and compassionate leader in the history of mankind has had,” says McCravy. “That in many ways is at the heart of everything we do.”