Nushelle de Silva ’11, center, with children from the Building Bridges program. (Courtesy Nushelle de Silva)
By Jeanette Beebe ’14
Nushelle de Silva ’11 grew up in Sri Lanka. In 1983, before she was born, the country erupted in what would be a 25-year civil war.
“My parents, who were fairly young at the time, saw the horrific violence that erupted on the streets,” she says. Then, she pauses. “I don’t want to provide details that run the risk of flattening what was a very complex conflict.”
Sri Lanka is a country that de Silva’s parents left and returned to — despite the civil war. After a stint in Sydney, Australia, where Nushelle was born, the family moved to Colombo, the southwestern capital, when she was 7.
In 2004, during a ceasefire, de Silva’s K-12 all-girls’ school visited a sister school in Jaffna, the country’s northernmost city. “It had a huge impact on me as a young girl,” she remembers.
“My childhood was certainly filled with bomb drills and curfews and explosions that took the lives of many — my school was damaged by a bomb a few years before I enrolled — but none of us saw the kind of violence these girls saw on a daily basis,” she says. “It was a sobering visit for a 16-year-old to make.”
Last year, de Silva earned a master of science in architecture studies, a two-year research degree at MIT. Now, she is a first-year Ph.D. student.
In December, de Silva was honored with the Queen’s Young Leader Award for “Building Bridges,” a series of arts workshops for ethnically diverse children and youth in “recently rehabilitated communities” in northern Sri Lanka.
De Silva founded Building Bridges in 2012, with the support of a Princeton ReachOut 56-81-06 grant. She launched the program after graduating from Princeton with an A.B. in architecture and certificates in urban studies and theater. Continue reading