Claire Blakemore - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Sri Lanka
I must start by saying that if you're contemplating going to do a project in Sri Lanka, stop thinking about it and just do it. My 3 months in Sri Lanka were some of the best moments of my life and it was truly a special and fulfilling experience.
Why did I go?
Throughout my university degree I wanted to travel abroad, I felt as if there was a whole world out there that I wasn't seeing. There was no specific process I went through trying to choose where I wanted to go apart from an instinct and the fact I had heard about how beautiful Sri Lanka was. It seemed a colourful country filled with colourful people and boy it certainly was!!
Each part of the experience in Sri Lanka had its own special significance for me. My host family made me feel very welcome, and I feel I will always have a special connection with them and their home. The school kids and orphanage children also had a profound effect upon me. I don't think I will ever be able to forget their smiling faces and their voices in my ears saying 'Claire Miss, Claire Miss!' in an insanely high pitched tone. Then there were the weekends; every weekend was different. Some weekends were spent at the beach where I spent most of my time in the sea or playing volleyball, other weekends included visiting ancient cities, white water rafting, water sports and climbing a mountain. The weekends were a time to relax and catch up with all the other volunteers I made friends with out there.
Mosquito bites and sweat are a staple diet of life in Sri Lanka; ideas of keeping white clothes clean quickly fly out the window. Television and magazines become a distant memory, there were times when I was so engrossed in life out there I actually forgot the year I was in. The normal things that you think about at home disappear and you become completely engaged in whatever is happening right there and then. I think the best way to explain the difference is that at home you tend to continually think about the past or future, like worries such as what job shall I do, how are my exams going to go in June etc. But in Sri Lanka you live in the present moment and each moment is precious and unique. Some days we would be celebrating one of the host family's birthday, others were spent making masks with the orphanage children and some days I was trying to conduct an English lesson with a snake dangling on the roof above me.
I was placed in Demanhandiya, which is a village twenty minutes away from the tourist resort of Negombo. I taught at Kondagamulla School, which was quite poor and chaotic. At times teaching can be a little frustrating as there was a lack of order and discipline at the school. However the children were extremely charming and had beautiful smiles. Some tried to engage in conversation with you asking you about your family at home, others just liked playing clapping games with you. You find yourself becoming a minor celebrity, with most of the kids wishing you good morning as you walk into the school. I don't think it would be wise to say teaching is easy and I think you have to be sure that you are willing to put some effort in terms of planning lessons. At times you can feel tired especially in the heat, but despite this it is well worth the effort. Every time I look over my photos of the schoolchildren I can't help but smile.
The people and the places
The scenery in Sri Lanka is breathtaking. I'm sure that many countries have beautiful beaches and mountains that rival the landscapes of Sri Lanka but what makes the country so unique is how the natural environment can change in just a few short hours. You can start off on the coastline marvelling at the beautiful sandy beaches, palm trees and sunsets, then in a few short hours you can find yourself in the hill country looking over at stunning views. It really is a little piece of heaven. The country is so green and walking to school I would be greeted with so many different kinds of wildlife, insects and plants.
As for the people, they are definitely a friendly bunch. A lot of them will stare at you like you have grown an extra arm but that is just because they are interested in you and most will be very grateful to you for volunteering to work in the country. A bizarre characteristic of life out there is that everyone seems to be in a rush, the traffic is manic, buses are packed and everyone seems to be in a great big hurry to get somewhere. The ironic thing is that once they seem to get there everything seems to slow down a little. But that, of course, is part of the charm of the place!
On the plane home from Sri Lanka, the airline I was travelling with played a montage of different scenes including pictures of school kids in their crisp white uniforms, and some of the astonishing views you can find in the Sri Lankan countryside. The short film was accompanied with a song called 'Welcome to Sri Lanka', it was a song my host family would sing some evenings with one of the fathers drumming on the bottom of a saucepan. I didn't cry when I left my host family, but when I heard that song as the plane took off it finally hit me that I was leaving behind a country that had taught me so much and given me wonderful memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.