Volunteer Review: Elisa M., Medicine in Sri Lanka
When I arrived in Colombo and was taken to meet my host family in Panadura, I was very nervous. The Rodrigo family greeted me with open arms and extreme generosity from the get-go, making me feel more at ease. My host mother is one of the kindest women that I have ever met, and she did whatever she could to make me and my housemates feel at home in her house. Her English was not that good, but in contrast her sense of humor was, and we enjoyed a lot of laughs together while trying to communicate. My host sister Oshini was so precious, and her smile cheered me up whenever I saw her. Learning to navigate the differences between my home in America and my home in Sri Lanka was very interesting and an experience that I will cherish forever!
Volunteering in Sri Lanka
I was able to shadow in three different hospitals. At the first, I spent time in the emergency room, general medicine, pediatrics, and physiotherapy; at the second, I spent time in the labor room, the postnatal ward, and the premature babies unit; and at the third, I spent time in the female ward, the pharmacy, the manufacturing center, and the outpatient diagnosis area.
Each hospital was different, and I liked each of them differently. I enjoyed the emergency room the most. I have shadowed in the emergency room at a local hospital in America, and being able to compare the differences between the two countries proved fascinating to me. I was first surprised to see how patients had to share beds and that medication was kept in unlocked cabinets, but by my third time there I was more used to it.
In the labor room, I got to see the birth of two babies. It was my first time ever seeing a live birth, and it was one of the most beautiful things that I have ever seen. At first it shocked me that all of the women were laying right next to each other without curtains separating them and that their husbands were not allowed to be there with them, but seeing them hold their babies for the first time and the look of happiness and relief on their faces made me so happy I could barely stand it.
I was exposed to a type of medicine that I had no previous exposure to at all. I was intrigued by the differences in treatment and diagnosis in comparison to western medicine, and I plan to explore holistic medicine further while I am back at home. All of the different places that I got to visit gave me a very well rounded experience in Sri Lanka and very extensive knowledge of the medical scenario in Sri Lanka. It has made me even more excited to pursue medicine in the future!
My absolute favorite parts of my time in Sri Lanka were the medical camps that we helped put on. We went to 4 different areas and were able to help around 200 people each time. The other volunteers on my project and I helped to take weights on intake, take blood pressures, blood sugars, and shadow the two doctors and the pharmacist that came with us to all of the camps. Patients that normally had a very hard time receiving medical care were able to come and see a doctor and get medication for free. Just getting to take the blood sugar of a patient and know that I was doing my part to help them was the reason that I decided to volunteer abroad in the first place.
My advisors and the Projects Abroad staff made the trip a lot easier and made me feel very comfortable so far away from home. Since my project was for high school students, everything was planned for us and we were supervised at all times.
My advisor Kait made sure that we got whatever we needed, as soon as possible. We were able to call her at any time of day with anything that we needed to talk about, and she made time for us. Everyone has a bad day once in a while, and the support that the staff gave us made it a lot easier to get through everything so far away from home and our parents.
My favorite part of each day would be when we all met at one of the host houses near the hospitals and talked about our days. We would go through our highs and lows of the day, getting the chance to learn about each person’s experience in the hospital and more about their personalities.
Our group decided to do a community project during the last two weeks of our trip. There was a girl in my group from Japan, and she always made origami for the little kids in the pediatric ward and the kids who came to medical camps. Since everyone thought it was really cute and we all enjoyed giving it to the kids, she told us about the 1000 Cranes Project. It is believed that if someone makes or receives 1000 paper cranes, they are granted a wish. We decided to make 1000 paper cranes and string them together and make mobiles and give them to the patients at Kethumathi Women’s Hospital, wishing them and the babies good health and a long life. It was an amazing journey to make all 1000 and then string them together, and seeing the women’s faces as we hung them up is something that I will never forget.
Overall experience in Sri Lanka
Overall, I thought Sri Lanka was an amazing country and the culture was beautiful. Every day was something new and exciting and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I can’t wait to go back one day and visit my host family and all of the doctors that I got to meet and work with.
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.