Sally Parsons - High School Specials, Care & Community in Sri Lanka
I chose to visit Sri Lanka with Projects Abroad just as I found out I wouldn’t be going to university in 2013. I jumped into action and decided that instead of just re-sitting my exams, I would do something amazing and out of my comfort zone with my year. I looked through all of the destinations and Sri Lanka seemed like paradise. It was almost too easy to book my place on the High School Special program, and in December 2013 I suddenly found myself on a long flight half way around the world.
My Host Family
When I first arrived in Sri Lanka I was taken straight to my host family’s house (Dr Arjuna’s) in Panadura by Elle, a Projects Abroad staff member, who picked me and another volunteer up from the airport. My host parents were both doctors in Panadura, and they were without a doubt some of the loveliest people I have ever met.
Whilst the volunteers I would be staying with were out for the day, I was shown to my room where I slept off my jet lag until 3pm when Sayumi, the youngest daughter of six, promptly woke me up to play scrabble and have some lunch. I tasted my first Sri Lankan curry and rice whilst she taught me how to eat with my hand (a habit which I successfully maintained throughout the two weeks!) Staying with my host family really was so special - myself and the other volunteers I lived with just couldn’t thank them enough!
Care & Community in Sri Lanka
On our induction day, we visited all of the placements that the volunteers would be working at, and Aruni, a member of the Projects Abroad staff, gave us an introduction to Sri Lankan culture. I couldn’t wait to start my placement the next day. At the community center where 4 other volunteers and I were placed, we worked with a number of kids, ranging from ages 7 to 14 years old.
On a typical day, we were picked up by a minibus from our host family and taken to Malamulla for 9am (although we were never on time - you learn to get used to ‘Sri Lankan time’), and until about 10am we played some English activities and simple word games with our groups. For the rest of the morning we usually did some arts and crafts activities and played outside, until we were taken home for lunch.
After lunch (curried vegetables and lots of fruit!), we went back to the community center to do some renovation work, which included painting all the walls and play equipment outside, painting a mural and gardening outside to make it safe for the kids to play.
Although my group of about eight boys were difficult at first, I grew to love them so much and couldn’t bare to leave them at the end of the two weeks! On our last day at the placement, we had a party with all 70 kids who visited the community center as a thank you and goodbye. A few of them sang songs in front of everyone and we all ended up dancing together - very emotional!
Travels in Sri Lanka
At the weekend in the middle of our project, all 20 volunteers and the supervisors travelled to Kandy in the center of Sri Lanka by coach. The journey took longer than expected, but looking out of the window the whole way compensated for that! I couldn’t get enough of the scenery, the coconut stalls on the side of the roads and the busy towns we passed through.
We stayed in a hotel close to the center of the cityand after visiting the markets and eating a lot of food, we went to see a traditional Kandyan dancing show then went to the Temple of the Tooth. I had visited a local temple with my host mother in my first week, but the Temple of the Tooth was totally different. It was so beautiful and although crowded and noisy with tourists and people lining up to give offerings to the tooth relic of Buddha, still surprisingly peaceful.
The next morning we ate pineapple, mangoes and toast for breakfast while watching monkeys hop between trees. We set off for the spice market where I tried my best to haggle, then on the way home visited a tea factory where we had a full tour and bought a lot of the delicious Ceylon tea.
My time in Sri Lanka was literally life changing. Being my first time out of the country alone, two weeks was an ideal amount of time to be there but if (when) I go again, I will have to stay for longer. The experience made me so much more mature, taught me to be independent, I made some wonderful friends, and so much more. I definitely have the travel bug!
For our last night at our host family’s house, we made spaghetti bolognese for everyone. The volunteers I lived with and I all dressed up in our new Sarees with the help of Manori, our host mother, and we had a farewell party to thank them for their amazing hospitality. I completely fell in love with the country and the culture, and am incredibly thankful for being able to be a part of the project and make a difference at the community center too.