Anna Freeborn - General Care Projects in Sri Lanka
Hello! I’m Anna. I stayed in Sri Lanka for 8 weeks which were the most memorable, enjoyable and amazing wee of my life! I spent 4 weeks in Panadura assisting the teachers at the local Montessori in the morning and in the afternoon at the tsunami camp. I spent the other 4 weeks in Galle at Ruhunu Children’s Home.
Arriving in Sri Lanka
It took me a couple of days to get used to the climate, food and getting bitten by mosquitoes (for some reason they found me particularly attractive!). The climate is very hot and humid with the occasional heavy downpour. Transport was very different, and I enjoyed riding in the tuktuks. Buses are a must-do experience whilst in Sri Lanka but prepared to come out with darker faces from the dust on the roads.
Never once did I walk down a street without having locals saying ‘hello madam’, asking if I wanted a tuktuk or trying to sell me goods. This was very strange and nerve wrecking at first, but after a week I learnt to ignore them and have a laugh about it. I also had fun bartering tuktuk prices down as they would double them for foreigners, but you just have to learn to put your foot down and say ‘but I’m a volunteer and I have been here for months’. This worked well in putting prices down and for guest houses as well. The exchange rate in Sri Lanka is very good as I often stayed a night in a guesthouse for less than £5 a night.
Food in Sri Lanka certainly has flavour, and lots of it! Both of my host families put out spreads and spreads of food like they were cooking for 10 of us; you shouldn’t go hungry. Both of the homes I stayed in had good facilities such as a toilet, shower and a washing machine. The families are always happy to accommodate you and help you with any questions or problems.
Sri Lanka is a very diverse country with many different religions. It is a beautiful country with wonderful landscapes and scenery whilst in the built up areas it is very noisy and crowded.
My weekend activities
I spent the weekends meeting up with other volunteers and travelling around Sri Lanka taking in the sights and enjoying all experiences. I had many great weekends such as Uda Walwe Safari where we saw wild elephants, Worlds End complete with extraordinary views, and during our 9 hour long train ride, Bentota for water sports, Sinaharaja rainforest, Unawatuna for the beautiful beach and the legendary Kandy town for the elephants, temple, elephants, Buddha parade and more elephants!
The weekends gave us time to relax from our placements and socialise with the other volunteers. Even though I was there for 8 weeks there was still more of Sri Lanka that I wanted to explore, as there are plenty of sights to see.
My placement in Panadura
My placement in Panadura at the Montessori school was lots of fun; helping out the children with learning English, doing art and crafts and writing skills. I had a lot of input into organising activities for the children and it was rewarding when it went well. I did animal masks with two other volunteers and this worked very well, and the children loved them. The children are all well behaved and only had the occasional tantrum which can be quite amusing at times!
In the afternoon I would go to the Tsunami camp with the other volunteers in Panadura. I really enjoyed the camp as the children ranged from 7 to17 years old and they could speak English. We would spend about one hour teaching them English and each week we would cover a topic. These children were always eager to learn and were proud of their work. Afterwards we would have fun and games which was mostly very active. The main games that we played were ‘it’ and cricket as they never seem to tire of them.
The placement where I felt I got the most out of, and enjoyed the most, was at the Runhunu Children’s Home in Galle. I was also joined by another Projects Abroad volunteer, Natalie, which was great as we could do more with the children and it meant that the children had two volunteers to play with! We spent hours helping out with the older children at the school, playing in the playground, keeping them amused and giving them much needed affection.
My experience working with children
The babies always needed comforting, cuddling and feeding. We also helped out changing nappies and cleaning them. The hygiene standards at the home were very poor, but hopefully should improve. I quickly made bonds with all the children as they are all so lovable and I always wondered why their parents would want to give them up. Whilst I was at the children’s home, three children were put into the home mainly because their families could not afford to look after them and thought that they would have a better up-bringing in the children’s home.
The children called Natalie and I ‘white aunty,’ which made us feel very special to them. I looked forward to every day there, and especially in the morning, when we would first come in as all the children would run up to us; they were excited that we were there.
Saying goodbye to Sri Lanka
It was heart breaking saying goodbye to the children and very emotional but I will remember them forever. My whole experience in Sri Lanka has been very special and life changing for me. Working at the children’s home made me realise how fortunate and lucky we are and that is something I will never forget.
I’ve met lots of friendly people, made lots of friends and made a significant difference to the children. Projects Abroad were always there for support and guidance and without that back-up system I would have felt lost. Nothing is ever a problem with the Projects Abroad staff as they are always willing and eager to help. Without a doubt, I will never forget my time in Sri Lanka and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who is thinking of doing volunteer work; it’s truly the most rewarding, challenging and amazing experience I have ever had.
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.