WHO ARE YOU?
Name: Sydney Scherr
Occupation: Programme coordinator, Raffles College
Time in Malaysia: Six years
LOVE FOR JEWELLERY
I didn’t fall far from the tree! My mother’s a jeweller, my father’s a product designer so I grew up in a design house. When I wanted to hang out with mum, I had to hang out in the shop and I’d sit on the floor, goofing around with materials. I actually thought I didn’t want to be a jeweller because of her, and when I tried it when I was a teenager I was just in love; I felt like I was home, it just totally made sense to me. Even when I was a student I was teaching and I like advancing knowledge, so I kind of always thought that that’s what I would be doing.
DESIGNING A HINDU CHARIOT
When I was first told about the chariot, I was just stupefied—I didn’t know that that was normal in Hindu worlds. I kept thinking of Spartacus, you know, with the Coliseum! Then they told me the scale of the chariot and I said ‘nobody does this kind of work anymore; can I document it to make a book about it?’ Then when I was documenting it they invited me in to be one of the chariot-makers so that was unexpected. Working with something so reverential and so deeply spiritual and meaningful around people whose everyday expression exuded that was stunning.
THE VALUE OF WORK
In my lifetime I don’t think I ever thought that anybody’s work was more valuable to me than my own, because that’s my statement, that’s my art and that’s my heart’s centre. But coming here, three things changed. One is that there’s no expression for artistic jewellery in this part of the world, so these kids [at Raffles] became the pioneers, and I found a sense of huge responsibility towards their future and understanding where they will find their expression. The next thing that really nailed me in terms of relative value and meaning was the Alchemy project that we developed through a sustainable design class.
THE ALCHEMY PROJECT
Every term, the students investigate different countries around the world. Every country around the world has a human trafficking issue, and the problem with these trafficked kids is that if they get rescued, they have no skill sets to make a living. So for the Alchemy project students were tasked with doing designs that were iconic for the tourist trade in their researched countries. So take Angkor Wat; instead of kids selling things like a whistle for a dollar, the young girls could set up a little table—we donate the tools, and materials, and our knowledge, and we teach the kids how to make jewellery, without power, without torches, and how to do it with sweat equity and ingenuity. Then they have an economic alternative, and the money is potentially substantial.