DeKALB – Shaivi Dharmadasa, 17, said that in her home country of Sri Lanka, lecturers are not as actively engaged with students, nor are the sports facilities as nice as they are in America.
“The people here are really friendly, and it’s so cool to talk with lecturers,” Dharmadasa said. “I just love how relaxed you are.”
Dharmadasa was one of the 25 coaches and young athletes from Sri Lanka and the Maldives welcomed to the Northern Illinois University campus this week through an international exchange program known as Empowering New Voices through Education and Sport Training.
The program, funded through the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, has a goal of harnessing the power of sports as a teaching tool to increase the mutual understanding between people of the U.S. and people of south and central Asia.
Paul Wright, a presidential engagement professor in the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, said that all the NIU visitors have a commitment to using sports as a means to teach life skills. This is especially important in Sri Lanka, which ended a decades-long civil war in 2009.
“In a post-conflict environment like that, sports can be a great way to bring people together and build bridges,” Wright said.
Guests participated in NIU classes, toured athletic facilities, visited the Girls Boxing Club after-school activity at Clinton Rosette Middle School, met the NIU Archery Club and visited West Aurora High School to meet with physical education leaders and sports coaches.
On Friday, the program coincidentally aligned with an NIU visit from Clinton Rosette Middle School students. This allowed the coaches and athletes to showcase the leadership and teaching lessons they had learned throughout the week.
“It was kind of a coincidence, but we just decided to throw them into the mix and be a part of a team,” Wright said.
The middle schoolers participated in a number of activities led by the young athletes, including cricket and archery.
Dharmadasa, who practices archery in Sri Lanka, said sometimes there are things you know about but have a hard time teaching to other people, but her time at NIU has allowed her to improve her leadership skills and become an effective instructor.
Sahan Nonis of Sri Lanka said the week was one of the best experiences of his life.
“I love the culture,” Nonis said. “The people here are really friendly and open. I’d prefer to stay here.”