Ivan Paul - Medicine in Sri Lanka
I spent two weeks in Sri Lanka as part of the High School Special programme with Projects Abroad. I found the experience enlightening, interesting and certainly something that I will not forget for the rest of my life!
Arriving in Sri Lanka
Going to Sri Lanka was a very daunting experience as it was the first time that I had ever gone abroad without my parents, and I was astounded that I was halfway across the world by myself. However, as soon as I arrived at Colombo airport, my heart lit up when I saw the Projects Abroad staff member waiting for me. After a long trip to my host family in Panadura, I was already feeling more positive about the idea of volunteering abroad due to the incredibly helpful and approachable staff who made my first day more comfortable than I could have ever dreamed.
To be honest, the mosquitos and the heat were a combination that I despised and for the first few nights, I was stuck between the unpleasant scenarios of sleeping without a mosquito net and waking up with every part of my body itching or wearing the net and feeling even hotter in the sweltering heat of Panadura. These issues however, became mere inconveniences in the two greatest weeks of my life thus far.
The traffic was intense. The vast flurries of tuktuks, trucks and three-wheeled cars using every inch of land as a road whilst continually blaring their horns was interesting, to say the least. The food was a stark contrast to the English cuisine I was used to, as rice was the base for close to every Sri Lankan dish. My host family provided us with fruit and meat specialities that seemed odd at first, but I quickly got used to.
My Medicine Project
At the hospital, I was fortunate enough to be able to shadow healthcare professionals in paediatrics, the PCU, the labour ward and the surgical units. I spent around 4 hours getting to know the doctors and various procedures that took place throughout the hospital. It was extremely enlightening to consider the difference in the standard of equipment in government-funded hospitals in Sri Lanka compared with the UK - the hand sanitiser I was used to was replaced by vodka and the large door separating myself from patients was replaced by a thin curtain.
The highlight of my experience shadowing doctors at the hospital was, without a doubt, in the surgical ward where I was lucky enough to witness a surgery. The surgery took around an hour and the entire procedure was explained by the helpful doctors and nurses involved with the procedure, which made this experience both memorable and useful to my career aspirations in healthcare.
Community outreach programmes
One of the activities that I found the most enjoyable and uplifting was helping others during our medical camps set up in remote areas and disadvantaged communities of Sri Lanka. I was able to perform BMI tests, blood test and blood pressure examinations whilst also gaining the knowledge to perform basic diagnoses, which was an incredibly helpful experience for me as I pursue a career in medicine. Working in these camps helped me develop my teamwork skills and I was able to form friendships with fellow volunteers all the time.
We also help at a local primary school in Panadura where we educated the kids on basic health and safety such as preventing mosquito bites and crossing the road safely. Despite the language barrier, it was easy to tell that the children were incredibly excited and willing to join in on our activities.
Leisure and weekend activities
Whilst in Sri Lanka, I was lucky enough to have breaks in order to relax and delve into the interesting and vastly different local culture of the country. In Panadura itself, we had the opportunity to walk through the local market as well as view the beautiful temples in this densely populated town. I was sure to take a picture at every available opportunity to save my memories forever and share them with my Mum.
For me, the unique national culture in Sri Lanka was encapsulated during our fantastic weekend trip to Kandy. Despite a 5am wake-up time making me rather grumpy on Saturday morning, my mood was instantly lifted as I began to witness the majesty of the temple of the tooth festival that we were fortunate enough to experience. Our second day involved a brilliant opportunity to find some souvenirs for my family and friends as well as having the chance to witness the magnificent, famous temple of the tooth alongside the elephant sanctuary near Kandy.
Saying goodbye to Sri Lanka
Before my project in Sri Lanka began, I never imagined how hard it would be to say goodbye to the country and return home. I reluctantly got in the taxi to the airport, after emotional farewells with my fellow volunteers. I was noticeably feeling a new sense of passion and commitment to studying hard so I could achieve a highly esteemed job in the medical profession. Whilst recounting the experience to various family and friends, I was frankly astounded at how many incredible activities I was provided within the short two weeks that I was in Sri Lanka. I recommended all my friends thinking of medicine to look at Projects Abroad and perhaps embark on a life-changing experience abroad like me. I cannot thank Projects Abroad enough.