A Legacy of Help in South AsiaVolunteer Ministers rushed to aid survivors of the south Asian tsunami. Freedom tracked the experiences of five whose help continues in a myriad of ways.
In 2003, while a student at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Alissa Sears heard from a friend how decades of brutal civil war had decimated Sri Lanka. The friend, a native Sri Lankan who fled the island nation with her family, also told Sears that one of the consequences of the conflict was more than 60,000 orphans—each needing education and care.
Sears was stunned at the magnitude of need—and this spurred her to act. The next time she saw her friend, Sears announced she was going to Sri Lanka to help.
No ordinary college student, Sears, then 21, was a Volunteer Minister of the Church of Scientology, armed with helping and organizational skills that would allow her to accomplish her objective. Raising the needed funds for a one-month stay during the summer vacation, she arrived in the war-torn country in July 2003 to begin her personal mission.
During that first journey to Sri Lanka, she found that the long years of civil strife had isolated communities to such an extent that schools lacked qualified teachers, with untrained local volunteers frequently filling the gap. The result was widespread illiteracy and a breeding ground for discontent, criminality and more conflict.
"I visited orphanages and refugee camps, schools and universities, and cities and towns on both sides of the war and what I learned was that people had pretty much given up on the idea that things could get better," she said. "One of my goals was to change that and the first objective was to help establish better schooling for the kids."
She connected with teachers from three schools, four universities and eight orphanages, helping them to improve education standards. "We brought interactive teaching and learning methods," Sears said, "focusing on communication between students and teachers, getting students involved, and, most importantly, allowing them to find a purpose in their education."
Returning home to California, Sears took time off from her studies to raise funds for the Sri Lankan children she had just visited. She sold photographs from her trip and organized benefit concerts with local bands in Santa Barbara and San Diego — with the proceeds going to the orphans.
Graduating from UCSD in June 2004, Sears returned to Sri Lanka, devoting additional months to the training of more teachers and students.