Rocio Irisarri - General Care Projects in Sri Lanka
I arrived at Colombo on 3rd June 2009 after a very long journey all the way from Spain. I confess being a bit scared and nervous, I could not know if I was prepared for this huge experience. I felt it was too diverse to be able to anticipate or explain exactly how I was going to feel.
When I arrived at the Indra hotel (volunteers in Sri Lanka spend their first night in a hotel before being introduced to their host family) I was able to meet up with Nicky, another volunteer, and organize a couple of days of touring around Colombo. We used a tuk-tuk- the traditional taxis, to move around during the whole day while visiting the capital city.
We went from Slave Island were we saw it's beautiful temples, to Viharamahadevi Park,where the gardener gave us a tour that allowed us to give a glance of how Sri Lanka is entangled in a mass of florid vegetation teeming with strange animals and flowers. From the very first moment you could feel the Sri Lankan people's warmth and willingness to help. They were always keen to help and offer you a sincere smile.
After two days of tourism, where I also got to meet Gishan (Projects Abroad Desk officer); who explained my stay and resolved any doubts I could have before Charlie the Projects coordinator came to pick me up. My home would be located in Demanhandiya, Negombo, approximately 44 km away from Colombo. It is a coastal town situated in the west, famous for its abundant supplies of wild cinnamon, and the Negombo lagoon which supplies the island with juicy and large prawns.
My entire host family was waiting for me and Roxy, the volunteer I was going to live with, when we arrived on Monday morning. They showed us around making us feel as if we were home. We were very fortunate in a way for the orphanage and the Montessori center we were going to work at was situated just in front of home, for Malike my host mum runs both places.
After the day of our induction we started to work. Anxious to give and teach what we thought could be of great value and help for the children as well as the staff. We would wake up at 8:00 and have a typical Sri Lankan breakfast which gave us quite a lot of energy for the rest of the day.
We would start working in the Montessori where 72 children were divided into two groups, the baby class (ages three and four) and the grown up class (ages five to six). The girls and boys would start the day with a song and would later have a few minutes to play and run around the patio. When class started the tasks I could do were very varied. My work consisted in going around helping the children with their English alphabet, making sure the class was clean, helping the baby class cut and glue their little pieces of art. Whatever it was I was able to do, it felt extremely fulfilling to be part of something so important as their education. Knowing that in one way or another you're are helping them to evolve, and trying to give them everything your progenitors gave to you. It is a one in a life time experience.
When school finished we would go home and have a huge lunch. Most of the days, or even all, we would have a huge plate of rice and have little condiments to mix it with: Chicken, coconut with chili, cooked vegetables and potatoes with curry. Eating with my hands as they do was far more complicated than I thought, but as with everything else, it was another great experience.
Around 15:30 we would go the Prasanna Children's home to help the 22 orphans with there homework or organize them some fun activities. On a daily basis we would try and help them with their English even while playing cricket, which they absolutely loved. Many times the children would show you their few possessions with a huge smile.
I have probably learnt more from their day to day lifestyle, than they could have learnt from mine. From an object which seems so insignificant, they are able to construct a new opportunity. They wash their own clothes in a small well they have, they plant and take care of their own crops and clean their own bedrooms. They are true survivors and heroes.
Apart from my family and the children I worked with, meeting the rest of the volunteers was exceptional. We were all able to meet up nearly every weekend which added a different taste to the week. I did not expect to have great fun on my month abroad for my main goal was to work hard, and it really surprised me how good our free time ended up being! Our first weekend was spent in Hikkaduwa, a coastal town where we met to relax and have some fun. Corals, diverse fish, turtles, good bars and shops, are some of the many things we got to see when coming down to the beach. Most of us were from different countries which meant we had much to learn from each other.
My host family gave so much to me, and allowed me to introduce myself into their culture and religion. I now feel as if I have a family in Sri Lanka whom I will always cherish and love. The devotion and generosity they showed me has made me grow, not only as a volunteer, but especially as a person. Giving me the chance to understand their way of life and culture has been an opportunity I believe not many times comes to you in life. Malike would let me go with her to the Buddhist temple to pray and offer to Buddha, as she also took me to a girls orphanage situated in Tumbantota which was one of the best days of my life.
I consider myself extremely lucky for I have had the fortune of traveling a lot, but I must admit Sri Lanka has something I have never seen in other countries. It's magical. Its people, its views, its history…I felt as If Sri Lanka was my home, Malike, her sons and grandchildren - my family, and the other volunteers - my friends. Change is complicated, too complicated for it to happen in one month. But I tried to make a difference in those children’s lives because they deserve it. They are the sons of hunger and poverty with little opportunities in life. Thanks to projects like these, their future has more possibility of changing. Big and small gestures can make change possible. Thank you Sri Lanka for everything.