Volunteer stories : Lucy Edwards - Care & Community in Sri Lanka High School Specials
I am currently a 17 year old school student studying for my A-levels in Wales. I have completed numerous placements for work experience in a variety of places but I was desperate to complete a placement that was completely different from the rest. I had always wanted to volunteer abroad and after a lot of research and review reading, I decided to contact Projects Abroad in provision of organising a short trip abroad.
Arriving in Sri Lanka
I travelled alone to Sri Lanka from Heathrow Airport (the busiest airport in the whole of Europe) to Colombo Airport - one of the smallest airports I've ever stepped foot on! I have always been a pretty confident person and although a busy airport can be a challenging prospect, as long as you jump in with confidence the flight will be the least of your worries.
My placement was a Care & Community project at the Tsunami housing centre 'Bosco Pura' in Negombo, Sri Lanka. We stayed at the wonderful home of Seetha. Seetha was one of the most welcoming, caring and selfless individuals I am yet to meet, and I was soon to understand that these traits were of a common nature in the Sri Lankan people.
It took us just a few days to settle in to Seetha's house and begin to understand Sri Lankan culture. The culture is very different to that of Western ways; however I think that this makes the experience so much more intriguing and fulfilling. Learning about and indulging in Sri Lankan norms was one of the most interesting parts of the trip, stimulating a passion for learning and understanding more Asian cultures.
My Care & Community placement
Our days tended to start with an alarm of 7.30am, followed by a quick cold shower (essential after a 30°C+ night) then settling down for breakfast at around 8am. Breakfast varied, but usually consisted of toast and a very popular strawberry jam, pancakes, omelettes and of course the unforgettable fresh fruit and juices. Seetha would take a trip to the fruit market almost every day in order to collect the most incredible produce including watermelon, papaya and passion fruit.
We would leave to walk to our placement at around 8.30am. The walk was short and usually took us 10-15 minutes. We would arrive at Bosco Pura to an army of excited children every single morning. They would greet us with huge smiles and hugs and beg us to play with them and communicate in any way possible. We would play for up to an hour and then complete a morning activity.
Morning activities included arts and crafts or an educational activity such as learning English words and numbers. We would then return for lunch at around 12.30pm. Lunch almost always consisted of a curry and boiled rice. I thoroughly enjoyed tasting many different curries, all consisting of various ingredients and spices. Most of the curries were mild and contained chicken, potatoes or prawns.
After lunch we would have a small amount of social time then return to Bosco Pura. Yet again greeted with huge smiles and welcoming hugs we played games for a while before the afternoon activity. This was usually a little more relaxed such as a group game or watching a film.
We returned back to Seetha's at around 4pm with the excitement of an evening social activity in mind. Almost every night we had something planned whether it was going for a late swim, eating dinner on the beach or getting a henna design done.
Weekend activities and trips
For the middle weekend of the two week trip we took a visit to a local city, Kandy. This weekend was one of the most remarkable weekends of my life and I'm sure I will never forget it. The weekend consisted of visits to a tea factory, botanical gardens, markets, Perahara festival and finally the Temple of the Tooth.
Amongst my most memorable moments would be visiting the Perahara Festival in Kandy. This is the largest Buddhist Asian festival which I think demonstrates the sheer size of it. It lasted hours and consisted of amazingly choreographed Sri Lankan dances and flame throwers. The Temple of the Tooth was an astounding visit where we offered lotus flowers to Buddha, prayed to the Tooth relic and wandered around the temple observing the many, many amazing Buddha statues, paintings and embroideries. Although the temple was overflowing with visitors the temple still retained a certain peacefulness and serenity.
One of my proudest moments of the trip would be organising English lessons for the mothers of the children who attended the summer camp at the Tsunami Housing Centre. The empowerment of women is an act that needs to be pushed in Sri Lanka. Female influence is often ignored and it is important to give these women the tools enabling them to advance in their lives and not have to rely solely upon their husbands.
The most empowering thing we can give them is an education. English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world and speaking it is a prized skill in Sri Lanka. Helping these women better their language skills was one of the most self-satisfying things I have ever done.
I am quite happy to admit I shed many tears when leaving this amazing country. I cried at our last day at Bosco Pura, I cried saying good bye to Seetha - the most amazing host mother ever - and I cried saying good bye to all the amazing volunteers I shared this experience with, because I truly made some amazing friends.
I absolutely loved my time in the weird and wonderful country that is Sri Lanka and was extremely sad to be leaving Bosco Pura, Seetha and the group of friends I had just made. I would encourage anyone thinking of going on a trip with Projects Abroad to go for it - it'll be the most inspiring experience of your life.
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