First impressions of Sri Lanka
I’d already completed a Projects Abroad teaching placement in 2016 and was looking for something different. I’m not the youngest volunteer in the world and I guess I’m trying to make up for lost time and I’ve been taking my year out/sabbatical about 28 years later than originally planned.
I’d been told that Sri Lanka was India’s ‘chilled out brother’ and I was expecting some sort of country escape. However, Colombo and the Galle Road are certainly not chilled out. I was hit in the face by the noise and the heat and the crazy driving experiences and impressive use of the vehicle horns, but you do grow to love these irritations.
Day to day life
My host family were wonderful and they are worth their weight in Sri Lankan gold. I ate some fantastic food and there was always plenty available, even if I kept saying I preferred a small breakfast. You are advised to build up your tolerance to spicy food and at least try and eat your food without the safety of a knife and fork.
Kalutara is a busy, but extremely friendly place. The school is amazing and I immediately fell in love with all the staff and children. My hands were bright red and this wasn’t due to the sun, it was because of the hundreds of high fives you are offered each morning. I lapped up my fifteen minutes of fame each day and signing autographs was a pretty unique experience.
The teaching was difficult at times, but I believe you should use this experience to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. I think if I go back to Sri Lanka, I will try and learn more Sinhalese and try and prepare more activities for younger children. However, you can still make a huge difference to these children and you can always think of different English activities to get their attention. I managed to learn various nursery rhymes and ‘The wheels on the Bus go around and around’ will be in my head forever!!
Take a ten-minute stroll to the beach and you’re sure to get into a conversation with some local people, even if they are trying to sell you a tour or a tuk tuk ride in any direction. The beach was always quiet and a great place to sit and contemplate your next meal, or even tomorrow’s lesson activities.
The staff at Projects Abroad always try and create a family type atmosphere amongst the volunteers and we always got together on a Wednesday to complete workshops and social events. I can fondly remember a litter clearing workshop on a beach near Colombo. We cleared a massive amount of rubbish from the beach, but had to work in 30-degree heat and my bald head and neck got very sunburnt.
One of the best things about the weekends, were the excursions that we organised amongst the other volunteers. We eventually realised that everywhere worth seeing in Sri Lanka is a seven-hour journey, whether you take the bus, train or a car. However, if you want to get to Ella, Horton Plains or Adam’s Peak, you’ll be rewarded by some spectacular sights.
I learnt a valuable lesson regarding my age and fitness levels, during our excursion to Adam’s Peak. I was determined to climb the 5000 steps in two hours and get to the top before sunrise. Whilst I achieved that aim, my legs were not happy with me and I struggled with stairs for a full week.
The train from Kandy to Ella is a wonderful experience, even if you get caught in the stampede for the train and don’t get a seat! The views are breath taking, even if it does take the obligatory seven hours to get there! I travelled to Ella independently, but it’s the sort of place where you can make new friends. I shared a drink or two with a lovely couple from Australia and I also talked to a man with ripped shorts and eventually realised he went to school with my cousin in a small school in Wales!!
I also valued the opportunity to spend some time with an organisation called Embark, who offer help to sick and homeless animals all around Sri Lanka. This country does have some challenges with street dogs, but Embark do a wonderful job and we enjoyed our time at an adoption event.
My thoughts about being a volunteer
I would recommend volunteer work with Projects Abroad to people of all ages. I was surrounded by lots of younger volunteers and I really admired their ability to adapt to a different county and to work hard at their different placements. In my view, you can travel around Sri Lanka and have a good time and this is a truly remarkable country. However, being a volunteer allows you to immerse yourself into the local culture. I feel so lucky to have stayed with my wonderful host family and to have had the opportunity to put smiles on the faces of the children at the local school. You still have plenty of opportunities to travel around the country and you soon get used to six-hour bus journeys, when you know you’re guaranteed to be arriving at a worthwhile destination
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. To find out more about what you can expect from this project we encourage you to speak to one of our friendly staff.