Olivia Krishnaswami graduated from DiscoveryBound’s National Leadership Conference (NLC) in 2011. Originally from Seattle, Washington, Olivia currently attends Bates College in Maine and is working toward a double major in Politics and Women & Gender Studies. Judging by her studies alone, one can tell she’s not an ordinary student. In fact, Olivia has done what few graduates, let alone students, have accomplished. She has helped decrease child labor in India with the help of the Davis Projects for Peace Grant.
“There is a pretty cool story about NLC’s influence in my college path so far,” says Olivia. “The annual NLC All-Class Retreats provide an incredible opportunity for spiritual inspiration. I was very impressed with Janessa Gans (now Janessa Wilder), who spoke about her efforts with peace building in the Middle East. When I got to Bates College, I was at dinner with a professor who is in the CSO and brought up something from Janessa’s talk a few years back. The professor suggested I join her club, Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine. That club introduced me to some absolutely fascinating students including one who became a good friend of mine from Afghanistan. This friend is the reason I applied for the Davis Projects for Peace grant (www.davisprojectsforpeace.org), so in a way everything I am doing comes back to NLC.”
“I should also explain the Davis Projects for Peace. This story also starts with NLC. My freshman year in high school, my family took a trip to India. My grandfather grew up in South India and my parents wanted their girls to experience the country of our heritage. When in India, we visited a nonprofit organization that provides rural development in Kanchipuram, India, called the Rural Institute for Development Education (RIDE). I was very inspired by the mission of the organization and the work they had done in child labor reduction, including lowering the number of child laborers in Kanchipuram from about 40,000 when the organization started to 4,000 by 2007.”
“For NLC, I was encouraged to spend hours on community service to satisfy the Congressional Award requirements (www.congressionalaward.org). I decided to raise money for RIDE for part of these hours and began devising a project. A friend helped me design tote bags, which I had printed and then sold. All of the profits, approximately $1,500, went to RIDE’s programs. When discussing this project with a friend, we hit on the idea of having women in RIDE’s Self-Help Groups actually make the bags, so the project would both raise money for RIDE and give a new form of income to these women.”
“As the project developed, the idea that unfolded was to sell scarves made out of saris instead of bags. The Davis Projects for Peace grant allowed me to travel to India this summer and implement this project, which I am working on to this day.”
While a student of NLC, Olivia earned The Bronze Medal level of the Congressional Award. She was presented her award by Congressman Jim McDermott. “He was very welcoming. We talked about my project raising money for RIDE, and he encouraged me to continue with the project.”
NLC was able to provide Olivia with the confidence to make a difference in the world. She didn’t waste any time getting started. “My senior year in NLC, I established the Sammons NLC Scholarship Fund (www.Discoverybound.org/donate) for my capstone project and as a thank you to our fearless class leaders, Ed and Jeni Sammons. The capstone project was a huge turning point for me when I realized that anyone can make things happen. Through experiences like the capstone project, I was able to build my confidence as a leader and a doer, listening for God’s direction and implementing good.” To date nearly $17,000 has been donated to the Sammons NLC Scholarship Fund!
“I could not have been in NLC without financial support, so I am extremely grateful to everyone who supported my experience. A donation is not just about sending someone on a cool trip or even about training a teen to become a world thinker. A donation is a promise of support to the Christian Science movement. It is supporting future generations of healers and giving them the confidence and training to share Christian Science with non-Christian Scientists without being afraid. Donating will empower young Christian Scientists to see the absolute beauty of the world and illuminate the ever-present harmony they begin to experience so others can also see it.”
Olivia’s NLC class chose to help flood victims in Iowa for their Service trip. “Our class worked in a windowless room for a week and still had fun, because it wasn’t about all of the outward circumstances, but building strong bonds of friendship founded on a shared understanding of Christian Science. The special thing about NLC is that all students can be themselves without fear, and that makes for a very supportive and open environment.” She continued, “We also had a lot of fun putting up dry wall, sanding, and painting low-income apartments that had been destroyed in Iowa floods.”
“I think NLC is one of the most crucial programs for Christian Science, giving kids a support group to fall back on when it seems like no one else believes what they believe.”
“NLC was one of the factors that encouraged me to look past human identifiers and truly see another person. Every day, I try not to see labels and stereotypes shrouding the identities of others, but instead to see them for who they are beneath the layers of appearance: children of God. I am still learning, but NLC has helped.”
“Reading Science and Health was the most important event in my spiritual development and easily the best NLC assignment. The period during which I read it was the first time I felt I was beginning to practice ‘prayer without ceasing.’ Others noticed the change as well. My mom said she felt the whole household was blessed by this undertaking, and friends at school were very receptive to CS at that time.”
NLC is open to students in their 8th grade year. Students commit to the program for their four years of high school and learn leadership, ethics, and service based on a biblical model. Olivia tells those students considering NLC, “It’s fun; it will shape your ability to be a global citizen, and you will make incredible friends. NLC will change your life.”
For current NLC students Olivia advises, “Stay with NLC all four years and do your assignments! They are good for you.” NLC students bond in a way that is unique and they consider themselves family. After graduation they continue to work together. “Our NLC class has a Facebook Group, so we get each other’s updates all the time and still answer calls for support when something comes up in our lives and we need prayerful support.”
Olivia has no plans to slow down any time soon, and is continuing to give back to the world through her own business. “I developed Sarifold, the social business that grew out of my community service hours for NLC. I plan to sell scarves made by women in Rural India out of hand-loom cotton saris to raise money for anti-child labor programs in Kanchipuram, India.” You can find the project online at www.facebook.com/sarifoldscarves.