Sulwe Project: A Valentine’s Day Filled with Diversity and Inclusivity

Two volunteers from JCU’s Africans in the World Cultural Club (AWCC) participated in the launch of a new project called “Sulwe,” inspired by the children’s picture book by the same name written by Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o. The event was organized by the Office of Community Service, Religious Life & Multiculturalism on February 14.

Picture-book "Sulwe"

Picture book Sulwe

The fiction picture book follows the story of a young girl who wishes for her dark skin to be lighter. Thanks to a magical journey in the night sky, she becomes aware of her own unique beauty and comes to love her skin color. The story is ultimately about colorism, self-worth, and inner beauty.

Based on an initiative of student Selma Coleman, President of the AWCC, the aim of the “Sulwe” project is to read and discuss Sulwe with elementary and middle school students from the Lazio region. In a time when discrimination and racism seem to have re-emerged in our society, the ultimate goal of the project is to help educators expose children to diverse cultures in the hopes of instilling values that celebrate diversity.

The launch of the “Sulwe” project took place at the public middle school “Istituto Comprensivo Don Milani,” in Terracina (near Rome). JCU alumna and English teacher Maria D’Alessandro welcomed JCU volunteers along with a group of 30 middle school students. Young learners, divided into three groups, read Sulwe together and commented on the importance and universality of the message of self-love and acceptance.

Megan Dhlamini, student-volunteer and Social Media Coordinator of the AWCC, said, “The day was memorable and educational, as I had not realized how some schools in Italy are not exposed to much diversity. I am pleased with how the book inspired children to speak and ask questions in a safe space.”

Selma Coleman said she was very impressed with how students “were so eager to learn.” After the book reading and the discussion, the song that Lupita Nyong’o wrote to accompany Sulwe was played for the children, who all sang along to the lyrics. Selma commented, “Seeing such big smiles on their faces was the peak of the day.”

The class was gifted with a copy of the picture book Sulwe, and the volunteers, in exchange, received a letter and a drawing of Terracina, both made by the children.

Julia del Papa, Director of Community Service, Religious Life and Multiculturalism said, “it was incredibly touching to watch young learners engaging with such enthusiasm, deeply grasping the meaning of Sulwe.”

The volunteers are looking forward to visiting the next school and meeting students to further spread appreciation and understanding of diversity.