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Jessica Bailey - Culture & Community, Tsunami Recovery in Sri Lanka

Family at panadura tsunami camp

went to Sri Lanka in the summer with Projects Abroad to work on a Tsunami Care & Community project. My placement was divided between a boys' home and a camp set up following the Tsunami for families who had lived right by the coast. On my first day at the boys' home I knew I was going to have to learn to expect the unexpected during my stay - the previous volunteer had organised for an elephant to come and visit the orphanage! All the boys (and us volunteers) got picked up by the elephant's trunk - a terrifying but amusing experience. On my second day at the home I was really thrown into the deep end - I was the only volunteer there that day, but the boys welcomed me so warmly and were really respectful that it was really easy to relax and just enjoy being there. They automatically got out all the work books, pens and colouring pencils for me and led me to their classroom, eager to learn from a new volunteer. I had taken some books and card games with me from England and I was extremely grateful for them, as 26 boys all wanting your attention and things to do can get very exhausting!

Me with my host family

One of the memories I will never forget is the boys' appreciation of such a simple game as 'snap'. They had never played it before and it provided them with endless hours of entertainment. Every morning at least half a dozen of the children would grab my hand and lead me into the classroom asking for 'snap, snap, snap'. These children have nothing really to call their own but they are constantly smiling and full of high spirits, and even really simple things can keep them occupied for ages. It has really made me aware of how much English children have and how much we take this for granted.

Saying goodbye at gotama

One thing which I thought would be a big problem was the language barrier, but this wasn't nearly as bad as I had imagined. The children are keen learners so they had picked up some basic English from other volunteers: 'naughty boy' was a favourite phrase of theirs! They also soon learnt 'sit down' and 'ssssh' from me, which they would thrive on saying to each other time after time.

The Tsunami camp was also an amazing experience, yet very different. There was less structure in the camp as there were just so many children but all the volunteers who worked there were so badly needed. You could tell that the children loved having volunteers there to play cricket with, to colour in with and to provide basic toys, such as bats, balls, and notebooks. The adults at the camp were equally welcoming.

Sunset at hikkaduwa

A good thing about Projects Abroad is that they really encourage and help you to meet other volunteers in your area. On my first day they got someone to call me and invite me in the evening for a swim at a hotel and drinks. They also introduced me to three boys who lived a few doors down from my host family. It is really easy to make friends when you are away. That was one of my main worries: that I might not meet people and would be really lonely, but it's just not like that. Projects Abroad give out a contact sheet with everyone's names and phone numbers and where they are staying so it is very simple just to give someone a quick text and see what their plans are for the weekend. I had some amazing weekends away with a big group of other volunteers. The best ones of all were watching the Kandy Perahera (the annual Buddhist festival of the Sacred Tooth) and several trips to the unforgettable Unawatuna beach!

Being part of the country's culture for six weeks was nothing like I could have imagined, but was thoroughly worthwhile and the many memories will remain with me for ever. I am still in touch with my host family and am sure I will be for many years. I already miss Sri Lanka and all the smiling children and hope to return again one day in the not so distant future. I would really recommend anyone to volunteer, especially in Sri Lanka!

Jessica Bailey

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