Volunteer Review: Ela N., General Care Projects in Sri Lanka
During my 4 weeks stay in Sri Lanka, I experienced so many emotions. From the moment I stepped off the plane into the furnace-like heat of Colombo airport, to meeting my host family to working at the orphanage and when I went on adventures at the weekend. I felt excitement, nervousness, enjoyment, tiredness, happiness and at the end of my journey I felt a sense of achievement.
My host family in Sri Lanka
I stayed in the small village of Halpatota, near the beach town of Hikkaduwa, in the district of Galle. I could not have been placed with a more welcoming and comfortable host family whose house overlooked beautiful paddy fields, where you could often see buffalo grazing.
My host mother’s name was Shaymalee and her husband was called Srilal (Lal for short), and they had three children. I became good friends with one of their sons and his wife, as I would often visit their shop - situated outside the house – on an evening and sit, chat and watch the locals come to buy various necessities. My host family made me feel welcomed by offering me an abundance of fruit including the tasty rambutan and coconuts from the trees growing in their garden.
My host family supplied breakfast, lunch and dinner all of which were substantial meals. Dinner was usually the biggest meal and was often Sri Lanka’s most famous dish, rice and curry. I found my first few nights challenging as I was feeling slightly homesick, however, after sitting round the television with my host mother and father and after having a small chat I was made to feel much more at home. I was also looking forward to two other volunteers coming to join me at the same host family and placement.
Volunteering on the Care Project
My placement was at the Halpatota Care Home, which was only a five minute walk from my Sri Lankan home. I was slightly apprehensive at first; however, this was soon diminished. I was placed in one of the morning classes, which was a class of seven children who were soon to become very close to my heart. The teacher’s name was Mrs Yasawahtti, a very gentle, thoughtful and kind person. Her English was very good, so I was able to communicate in English with her. I was able to teach the children English through some activities I had brought from home, and also from some activities I had made while at my host family’s home.
These included learning about colors, fruit and vegetables, parts of the body and making trinket boxes from a net made of cardboard. Morning class took place from 8:30am to 12:30pm. In the afternoon I had a choice of doing an activity with a group of children from 2:00pm until 4:00pm, or I could play sport with the children from 4:00pm until 6:00pm. I was soon very close to the children at the care home and I was so appreciative of how the children would bring me some tea and a biscuit at break-times.
Leisure time and weekends
I stayed at my host family’s house during my first weekend and I explored the surrounding area. I went on a short stroll and experienced a Sri Lankan Christian mass on Sunday. My host family were Buddhist and it was so interesting to experience the customs of a new religion. My host family took me to their nearby Buddhist temple; a very calm and beautiful place with different areas for prayer and worship adorned with flowers, candles and incense. I also noticed how Shaymalee would diligently light an oil candle, pray and offer flowers to Buddha every morning and evening.
I was nervous about traveling around Sri Lanka on my own so a member of the Projects Abroad staff, Bianca, offered to take me to Hikkaduwa. This was an exciting trip as we took a busa a new experience in itself as the buses were very different to those in England. They had brightly colored flowers and flashing decorations at the front of the bus, swift and fast driving and loud, joyful Sri Lankan music playing from speakers. The first sight of the beach and the sparkling blue Indian Ocean was a breath-taking moment.
A week into my Sri Lankan adventure two new volunteers joined me. I was so happy to meet them as now I had companions to travel around with at the weekend. Their names were Jade and Joaquim and they were both such lovely people. Jade was from England and Joaquim was from Brazil. They were great company and it was nice to have someone to go to my placement with. I also enjoyed the sports at the care home in the afternoon tremendously as we all played with the children, often volleyball, which the children were very good at playing. They would often give me pointers on how to hit the ball.
Traveling in Sri Lanka
My three remaining weekends were full of activities. After going to a social event, organized by Projects Abroad for all the volunteers in Sri Lanka, I met two American girls, named Katie and Grace who became fantastic traveling friends. We visited Kandy town together and watched a Kandy dance show, visited a tea factory and visited the majestic Temple of the Tooth. Kandy town was a beautiful place, surrounded by green and lush vegetation, which I saw on the train journey.
The third weekend we spent at the beach in Bentota, where we relaxed on the beach but also did a bit of exploring as we visited a turtle hatchery where we saw a variety of turtles including an albino turtle. They were such beautiful creatures to see up close.
Traveling around Sri Lanka was very nerve-wrecking at times as you had to get used too many people staring; many residents were not used to seeing Western faces, especially when trawling though the busy streets of Colombo in order to find the correct bus. We were often called by tuktuk (a Sri Lankan taxi) drivers to see if we wanted a lift; the trick was to remain calm and we soon adjusted to a culture completely new to us. A handy piece of advice is to always negotiate the price with the tuktuk driver before setting off. The Projects Abroad staff were always there to call and this put my mind at rest as I felt they would look after me no matter what.
In my last week we decided to go surfing in Hikkaduwa! This was a very exciting experience but it was also hard work, although we all managed to stand up once or twice by the end of the session. The sea was warm and the small waves were perfect for learning to surf. At the weekend we decided to go to Unawatuna, a beach widely recommended for its beauty. Roshan, one of my host parents’ sons also kindly took us to a beautiful waterfall which we climbed while we took lots of photos of the serene views.
Saying goodbye was very sad. I threw a small party for the children at the morning class on my last day at the orphanage. It was a lovely day and I took some photos with the children and the teacher I had worked with and spent so much time with during my four-week stay. I hugged and thanked my host family for everything they had done for me, and then was taken in a Projects Abroad car to Colombo airport, the same place where I had arrived four weeks earlier. I took one last look at this fantastic place full of fond memories which will remain with me forever.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.
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. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.