Elliot Ainslie-Miley - Care & Community in Sri Lanka
I always knew I wanted to do volunteer work overseas before I finished high school. So at the beginning of this year, I began to do some research into a company that could give me this opportunity and that’s when I found Projects Abroad. With such a vast range of programmes and different countries to volunteer in, it was hard to choose. Eventually, I narrowed it down to a High School Special placement in Sri Lanka. One of the things that interested me most about this programme was the opportunity to stay with a local host family.
Arriving in Sri Lanka
Finally it was time to say goodbye to my family and fly to Sri Lanka. Honestly I didn’t feel nervous at all, just very excited. We arrived in Sri Lanka very late in the night (2am) and were driven by the Projects Abroad staff to our new home. When we arrived we were immediately welcomed by our host mum. The house I stayed in met all my needs with a nice bed, fan, mosquito net, bathroom, laundry and Wi-Fi.
In the morning, we woke up to beautiful Sri Lanka. There was a balcony that overlooked trees with monkeys swinging around, cows and dogs walking in the streets and a beautiful tropical warm climate… it was perfect. When we came downstairs, breakfast was already on the table. There was more than enough food (like fruits and sweet breads).
I stayed in a house with two other volunteers and we got to know each other very well. Settling in was very easy, as our host mum became my mum away from home. We were also given enough time in the next few days to go and meet the other volunteers and travel around the area with our supervisor.
Then the 11 other volunteers and I were picked up and taken to our placement where we were greeted by all the children’s smiling faces. It was hard at first to know what to do and how to work with the kids, but within a few minutes I found myself playing with them and helping them with different activities.
Volunteering in Sri Lanka
I mainly worked with the children who had intellectual disabilities. I found it difficult at first trying to find the best way to communicate with them, but within the coming days I became great friends with them - learning their names and knowing what they like and don’t like. It truly was an eye-opening experience to see children who had much less than I had when growing up, but still smiling and laughing constantly. There was such a strong atmosphere of joy and happiness in the school and I had never experienced anything like that before.
After school was finished we would go back to our host family where we would have lunch and time to relax. We had delicious bowls of curry, rice and vegetables and ate plenty. After lunch we would go back to the school and for the next two weeks we painted a mural on the outside of the school. Even though it was quite hot painting in the Sri Lankan heat, seeing it finished and all of the teachers grateful for our work was very rewarding.
Our final day at the placement was my favourite. We all sat together with the children and teachers and participated in a morning prayer ceremony and then later had some fun with a goodbye cake for the kids. It was hard leaving all the gorgeous children, but I knew it wasn’t a ‘goodbye’, it was a ‘see you soon’ because I definitely knew I would go back again in the future, but instead for a three month programme.
As the first week passed, I became very close with the other volunteers and found out a lot about their different lifestyles. On the weekend we all got together and went on a road trip to go site seeing. This allowed us not only plenty of time to bond and to have great fun but also to see what beautiful Sri Lanka has to offer. We went to markets, a temple, traditional dancing and many other great sites. The weekend trip overall was a great opportunity to see Sri Lanka’s culture and have some fun times with the other volunteers.
Leaving Sri Lanka
On our last night we had dinner with everyone where we learnt how to cook Sri Lankan food. It was hard saying goodbye to the other volunteers. We had become so close with each other and to know we wouldn’t see each other for a very long time was quite sad. It was also very difficult saying goodbye to our host mum who had provided us with everything and more, and gave us a home away from home.
But I got on my flight and returned to Sydney. I have to say it was strange not waking up to my normal routine of having sweet Sri Lankan bread for breakfast and then seeing the other volunteers and going to the school. I did feel a bit home sick when I got back home, wanting to be back home in Sri Lanka!
I still keep in contact with a lot of the volunteers to see how they are. Eventually I settled back in and told my family and friends about this amazing experience and one that I highly recommend because I cannot explain the joy it gave me, it is something that you have to experience. I also can’t explain how grateful I am for this opportunity.
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.