Caitlin Curnow - Care & Community in Sri Lanka
During December of 2014, I travelled to Sri Lanka with Projects Abroad on a High School Project Programme. I decided to volunteer in Sri Lanka to gain experience in helping less fortunate people and understanding the beautiful culture they have. I have always wanted to travel but to go alone was all too daunting. After hearing about how wonderful an exchange could be by a lovely person who came to my school to talk on behalf of Projects Abroad, I decided I was ready and really wanted to go. My parents were quite shocked that I was going through with my plan but they were supportive and wanted me to have the best time. The exchange to Sri Lanka provided me with plenty of doubts however im proud that i persevered because it was truly a life changing experience.
A few weeks before my departure, I received accommodation information. Projects Abroad also provided so much information on anything and everything to be prepared for the trip of a life time and I am so thankful.
After a long journey on and off three planes, I arrived in Sri Lanka. I couldn’t believe it. My mind was thinking a million and one different things at once. After a long process at the airport I met the Project Abroad instructors Lucy and Aruni. They were both wonderful and very welcoming, which relieved some anxiety. Once meeting up with the other volunteers we headed to Panadura to where our host family lived. The weather wasn’t very pleasant as it was humid and raining.
My Host Family
During my two week volunteer programme I stayed with the Bandara family in Panadura, only a few minutes’ walk from the town centre, in a lovely big house with eight other volunteers. The whole Bandara family was incredibly welcoming; it was also great that the host sister knew how to speak English quite well.
I shared a bedroom with 3 other volunteers who I became good friends with rather quickly. Adjusting to the heat and humidity was the hardest challenge, but I soon felt right at home.
Meal time was always exciting as there were usually different variations of rice, noodles, curries and lentils. Sri Lankans eat with their right hand without cutlery, luckily our host family provided cutlery for us. After every meal we were given a lovely cup of sweet tea and fruit.
There was also time to write in our journals or just relax between the lunch break and our afternoon placement. This was also the time to talk about what we wanted to do with the children if we didn’t make these plans the night before. Every day I tried to write my daily experiences down so I could have something special to look back at and reflect on how truly amazing my time was during the two weeks.
My Project – Typical Day
Our project was placed at a small day care centre where we would help teach every day. The day care centre was called Sandamini Montessori and was in Wadduwa. All 3 teachers were so inviting and friendly. They were always ready to help us, especially with translating languages so the children could understand what they were being asked to do. The children in the morning class were aged between 3 and 7, meaning they were all so little and sweet. The Montessori classroom could get a little overwhelming at times. However, our goal was to improve their English, literacy and early childhood development as well as provide support and care for the children. These were improved by undertaking activities which practiced and developed the skills which needed improvement.
During the morning class’s one of the classrooms were set aside for the mothers (either of the students or villagers) as they came every so often to learn basic English skills from the volunteers. All volunteers worked hard with either the children or mothers in the morning to improve their skills then would leave at 11am to go home for lunch. Around 2pm, we were back at the same Montessori where we were split into groups, three volunteers were teaching the older children and five were outside painting the building. This was to help create a warm and safe environment for the children.
Projects Abroad allowed us to discover the wonders of Sri Lanka while the volunteers helped the children enjoy interactive games, entertain and teach. After each morning session, students would gather outside and the volunteers and staff would sit the children in a circle while we taught typical Australian games such as duck duck goose, eyespy and chasey.
While in Sri Lanka my volunteer group was made up of 9 teenagers. I was so lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a fantastic journey and I was privileged to have met some amazing people, both fellow volunteers and guests. The volunteers I was grouped with were an amazing group of people and it was great to meet them. All 8 girls were from all over Australia and the one boy was from Canada.
The two weeks went by far too quickly and before I knew it I was on the long journey back home, although it was different as I was so much more confident and appreciative for what I have in my life back home.
Not only did I come home with knowledge of Sri Lankan culture, I returned with so many other fond memories. I am so glad I pushed aside my nerves and continued with this trip as Sri Lanka is such a beautiful country and I met some of the most kind and loving people ever.
Saying our goodbyes to everyone at the Montessori day care, host family and to fellow volunteers was so heart-breaking but leaving on a high is the best way to leave. Sri Lanka was certainly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Absolutely everyone was so welcoming and friendly. By the time our placement came to an end I really felt a part of the local community. I managed to meet a lot of good friends who I still keep in touch with and while looking back on my time in Sri Lanka, I definitely hope to return one day to Sri Lanka as it has left me with so many fond memories.
Only being seventeen, when I did my project, it was the most daunting thing I could ever do, going overseas without my family. I have always dreamed of volunteering, ideally with children so this opportunity was perfect. Thank you to my Projects Abroad instructors who made it worthwhile and were beyond amazing making us feel safe and cared for.
I highly recommend going to Sri Lanka to any future volunteer. It is an experience of a life time that will open your eyes to different ways of life. It helps you to become confident within yourself with no pressure. It is an experience and a memory you will never forget or regret. Go to your destination with an open mind as everyday can be a roller coaster of emotions, both in your personal and professional (volunteering) life. Do what you can, with what you have and don’t doubt your ability to help.
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.