Christopher Lovings - Teach IT in Sri Lanka
In 2014 I felt stuck in a rut. That clause summarizes how I ended up with Projects Abroad. I had graduated from my university about two years prior, and had a decent job upon graduation. Yet, I felt that something was missing. I had coffee with a friend, and after hearing about my conundrum, she challenged me to go volunteer somewhere. From that conversation, I began my research and Projects Abroad was one of the first organisations that came up on Google. After more research, and looking at the different volunteer opportunities, I decided to volunteer on the IT Project in the country of Sri Lanka.
From the moment I indicted my interest in volunteering, I was given guidance at every step by staff members. First was the General Information Session, then speaking with Volunteer Advisors and even assistance from the Visa team. Through each step of the process I was given advice, and assistance. This all culminated into landing in Sri Lanka on the evening of August 30th, after a total flight time of around 24 hours stateside from Charlotte to Chicago, then international flight to Hong Kong (plus a 10 hour layover – yes, I went into Hong Kong and it was beyond amazing!), and Hong Kong to my final destination of Sri Lanka!
My host family
I was picked up at the airport by a staff member from Projects Abroad, and taken straight to my town in Panadura, roughly an hour south of Colombo. Weeks before, I’d been notified I’d be staying at the Bandara’s (called PHI, since he’s a retired health inspector). From the moment I arrived, they made sure I felt welcome, and treated me as their own son. I arrived at their home early (1 AM) on a Sunday, and Mr. Bandara welcomed me with open arms.
He took me around the city, and I got my first taste of the Sri Lankan cuisine from a local food truck in the form of egg hoppers. Throughout my experience with the family, they treated me as one of their own – in fact, one of the first things Mr. Bandara told me was “you are like my son.” Mrs. Bandara cooked some of the best food I’ve ever experienced, and I also met their two very gracious sons!
Uncle and Auntie (called as a symbol of respect) gave me many valuable insights into the Sri Lankan culture. They taught me about some of the history of Sri Lanka, about some of the basic food dishes, and the cultural things that I would see in the country. I’m very grateful for all that they told and for cooking coconut rotis in the morning, they are amazing!
The I.T Project
My orientation for the country was conducted by Malsha, one of the Projects Abroad staff members. She took me around town and showed me where all the useful places were for example supermarkets, clothing stores, phone services, and Internet café. She also took me to the phone store so I could purchase a phone with a local SIM card I would advise bringing an unlocked phone with you, makes life so much easier!
During the orientation, I was taken to my job placement and met the wonderful supervisor of the IT Center – Kaushalya – and some of the students I would be teaching over the next couple of months. As an IT teacher, I had no clue exactly what I would be doing, but Kaushalya helped me to understand the work.
My role would involve teaching secondary school students in the morning and primary school children in the afternoon. The lessons varied, from Microsoft Office software (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Access), to basic computer skills. Each day meant something new, and it was very rewarding to watch the students grow in their computer prowess!
My greatest memory of teaching the children was the last week I was in Sri Lanka. We had a graduation ceremony for most of the students I had spent the previous two months teaching. We all gathered on a Wednesday morning, and awarded over thirty certificates to the students who had worked so hard to achieve them! Many of the students were shy, so another volunteer and myself would “pose” for pictures with the children – much to the delight of everyone in the room!
After my first week in the country Malsha , one of the Projects Abroad staff members, asked if I’d be willing to teach advanced English to some doctors and nurses at the Maharagama Cancer Institute. I happily obliged, and every Thursday was able to attend there for the remaining six weeks of my stay.
On those days, I left from Panadura and travelled to the Projects Abroad office in Colombo, where I had lunch from a local canteen with the staff members before taking a long tuk-tuk ride with Malsha (and sometimes Darshana) to the Cancer Institute. At the hospital, I was able to teach the students some American/English culture and also learn more about the Sri Lankan culture.
The trip wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t been accompanied by a tremendous group of volunteers. From my housemates (one from Germany, the other from the UK – for the first month, and a girl from Australia my last two weeks), to the volunteers in my town (as many as twelve when I arrived!), to the volunteers around the island, everyone was friendly and we all had so much fun meeting each other and experiencing the wild and wonderful country of Sri Lanka!
In Panadura, we would gather together after work and do all kinds of things. We visited temples, played pool at a local lounge, travelled to a local park and played Tag, ate at some of the restaurants in town, swam in the river near the town, swam in the ocean south of the town, watched the sunset over the river, and generally just had a great time!
During the weekend, we explored different parts of the island and go on weekend adventures. We climbed mountains, walked along beaches, and traversed through a rain forest (…beware of the leeches!). Knowing that someone else was going through your experience – being in a new country and culture bonded us together. I’ve made lifelong friends, and I can’t wait to go visit (and volunteer) with them in a different country!
The two months I spent in Sri Lanka changed my life. It ignited the “travel bug” in me, and showed me a different way of thinking and seeing my personal world. In short, my Sri Lankan trip was the adventure of a lifetime!
I can’t wait to see what happens next!