Kirsten Macdonald - High School Specials, Care & Community in Sri Lanka
I traveled to Sri Lanka in the summer before my last year of school with one of my friends. We were the first group of High School Specials volunteers in Sri Lanka, but it was one of the most amazing fortnights of our lives!
From the moment we stepped off the plane in Colombo, we were hit by a wall of heat and a totally different way of life. During our first evening we were met by Emilia, our Projects Abroad supervisor, and taken out to dinner. We were made to feel so welcome that any worries were put at ease and we were given a great introduction to Sri Lanka. There were four of us that were there for the two week special and we were in the same placements and accommodation throughout our stay.
Our first placement was in Prasanna Boys home and Singithi Preschool and we stayed just over the road with our host mother, Malika. In the mornings we helped out at the pre-school; doing arts and crafts with the children and teaching them songs. Although there was a big language barrier, with the children understanding extremely little English and us not speaking a word of Singhalese, we became very good at the simplest of sign language over the weeks! I’ll never forget their huge eyes staring at us as if we were crazy during our desperate attempts at getting them to stick sequins onto a paper plate! They really enjoyed singing songs with us and reacted very well to any praise. We were given the opportunity during the first week to make lunch with some of the local mothers, giving us an insight into Sri Lankan cooking – involving huge quantities of chillies in everything! Also some rather tasty milk packets (yes, milk....in a packet) which I am desperately trying to introduce to Britain!
In the afternoons, the boys from the orphanage came home from school and we spent this time playing games with them and giving them the individual attention that they were desperate for. They were absolutely adorable and appreciated us being there so much. They had better English than the younger kids, and constantly screamed “Miss! Miss! Cam-er-a! Me! Me!”. They were fascinated to see pictures of our life at home and loved to take pictures using our cameras, although they consistently failed to understand the concept of pointing the camera at the object that they wanted a picture of, leaving us with many pictures of feet, floors and leaves! They badly showed us up at kite making - something that seems to come completely naturally to Sri Lankan boys and showed us the proper way to play cricket!
At our house we were given three great meals a day. The food was lovely, although having curry and rice three times a day took a little bit of getting used to! Malika, our host, did everything she could to help us. She was really amazing in helping us settle into the Sri Lankan lifestyle and any requests for food were well catered for. Projects Abroad staff visited us many times throughout the week and made sure we were happy and well, and helped us with any problems!
Our weekend was spent in the jungle with lots of other Projects Abroad volunteers from around Sri Lanka. It was really one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. We had a BBQ in the evening and, on the Saturday, went white water rafting which was an amazing experience! It was great to meet up with all the other volunteers and relax for a while.
Our second week was similar to the first, but working in a different orphanage and preschool. The children there desperately needed loving attention, and it was very humbling to hear what they had all been through. We also helped to renovate their kitchen facilities, something that was greatly needed and the transformation was incredible! Our host family was amazing again, taking us out on their family ‘tuk tuk’ and calmly removing the few spiders and the giant fly that decided to take up residence in our bedroom! We did need the help of Ligaya from the Projects Abroad office to help us convey the fact that we preferred our fresh pineapple and mango without the crust of salt over the top!
The two weeks passed far too quickly and before I knew it we were back on the plane home, but with so much more confidence and a new appreciation of everything that we have in our lives. I would highly recommend going to Sri Lanka to anyone. It is a beautiful country with some of the most kind and lovely people I have ever met. From the emergency rush to a Sri Lankan hospital after fellow volunteer Charlie got the famous cotton bud stuck in his ear, to the ants in the sugar bowl, to saying goodbye to the most beautiful and polite children I’ve ever met, the two weeks I spent in Sri Lanka are filled with memories that I will treasure forever.