Holly Ovens - General Care Projects in Sri Lanka
First Impressions of Sri Lanka
When I first arrived in Sri Lanka I felt very excited and overwhelmed at the same time. The taxi ride from the airport into Colombo was during rush hour, so I was able to experience the busy Sri Lankan roads straight away! I was amazed at the contrast between the greenery on the side of the road and the many bustling vehicles driving on it. We even saw an elephant travelling on the back of a pick-up truck!
When I was met by the Projects Abroad staff at the hotel I was taken out for dinner and had my first ever ride in a tuk tuk. I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed it straight away, unfortunately the first one I got in broke down! But I grew to love travelling in them by the end of my trip.
Living with my Sri Lankan host family
My host family consisted of a son, daughter, mother, father, grandfather, maid and occasionally the grandmother stayed with us aswell. Although the father stayed away during the week for work, it was still a lot more people than I was used to living with!
At times it was difficult to communicate but the daughter spoke English very well and I learnt a few words of Sinhala during my stay, although I’m not sure how great my pronunciation was. I felt very safe in my host house and had the whole top floor and balcony to myself if I wanted some time on my own.
The food I had at my host family was really good. When I left the UK I was really worried about the food because I didn’t like curry or spicy foods at all! But the food I ate in Sri Lanka was so varied and I even found myself missing the spices in food when I came back home.
Other people I know who have volunteered with companies have stayed in a large house together, however, through talking with them I am glad I decided to go with Projects Abroad and stay with a host family as it lets you learn a lot about the culture you are living in and what family life is like.
My Care Placement
I worked at Ruhunu Children’s Home in the orphanage with babies and toddlers. The placement was very rewarding and I am so glad that I did it, however it’s not a placement that would suit everybody. The orphanage was very upsetting as there were far too many babies to staff and many of them were left crying in their cots, it was also very dirty and low on resources.
You also have to be confident in yourself if you choose to work here as although some of the staff are friendly, some don’t talk to you or tell you what to do. Despite all this it is a very rewarding placement, you can really see the difference you are making to the children’s lives and how badly you are needed.
As a care volunteer I helped with washing, changing, feeding and playing with and comforting the babies. After I had been there for a while I was also able to help take a few of the babies to the local hospital so that they could have their physiotherapy session which was great. I am so glad I volunteered here, even though at times it was hard.
Travelling in Sri Lanka – Galle and Unawatuna
My host family was situated just a short bus ride from Galle town which was perfect for me to travel in after work. In Galle there is an old fort which is really nice to walk around and the views of the sea and the city are beautiful. There are also lots of cafes where you can get good food or just a milkshake and plenty of shops to wander round; however these are quite touristy and therefore more expensive.
Unawatuna was a short bus or tuk tuk ride out of Galle and I spent many afternoons and weekends here. The beach is beautiful! There are lots of bars for you to eat in and it has great nightlife on a weekend. There are lots of cheap guest houses to stay in if you want to spend the weekend and plenty of clothes stalls - I bought lots of clothes and presents here all for a really good price!
Yala National Park
On one of my weekends I went on a trip with some other volunteers to Yala. We got up very early to go on safari and were so lucky to see a leopard, elephants, crocodiles and many other animals. We had such a good day and it is definitely one of my favourite parts of my trip, although it has to be said that other volunteers have gone and not really seen anything, it depends very much on luck.
I met up with some friends to go to the elephant orphanage in Pinnawala. Here we were able to see the elephants feeding and bathing in the river across the street. At the river the handlers would let you touch the elephants and some people were able to wash them. Although I enjoyed my day, I have been to other elephant centres where the elephants were not in chains, and I felt that some of the handlers would exploit the elephants to do tricks to get more tips, so I didn’t really like that aspect of it.
The accommodation in Colombo was more expensive than other areas we had been travelling in and we stayed in the YMCA. It was ok because there was a group of us there and all we were interested in was having a bed for the night, but if you like clean and less budget hotels then it would probably be worth paying more to stay somewhere else.
On the first night we went out for a nice meal and then to a casino which was really good fun, although not like anything I’d been to before. During my stay in Sri Lanka they were hosting the 20-20 Cricket World Cup, and so on the second night we had tickets to see England vs India. Our tickets only cost 15 pence and we were sat on large concrete steps, it was very hot and crowded but the atmosphere was amazing. I’ve never been into cricket but I had such a good time and the reaction of the Sri Lankans and Indians was well worth going for, they completely loved it.
My time in Sri Lanka was very memorable and I would recommend it to anybody. I went as part of a nursing degree I am studying for and the experience in the orphanage has definitely equipped me with skills that I am able to transfer to my practice here in the UK. Everything about the trip was worthwhile, and although not every single experience was completely enjoyable, I wouldn’t change anything about it.
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.