Katy Lavender - General Care Projects in Sri Lanka
Hi, I’m Katy and I volunteered for two months in Ruhunu Children’s home in Galle. I had been teaching at a primary school in England for a couple of years but decided to take a year out to do some travelling. I had always wanted to visit Sri Lanka and decided that a different way to see the country would be to live with a family and work there. I’m so glad I made the decision, as I can honestly say that the work at the orphanage was the most rewarding experience that I have ever had, and the people I met (other volunteers, Projects Abroad staff and my host family) were the icing on the cake!
I was nervous before I left home, despite having travelled on several occasions in the past, but I felt completely secure from the moment I arrived due to the support from the Projects Abroad team in Sri Lanka. They were frequently visiting and telephoning to check that everything was ok, and arranged several activity weekends. I felt I could call them at any time, about anything, not that I ever needed to.
I was also very fortunate to have arrived at the same time as a few other volunteers, from various countries, and to all be placed at the same orphanage. We became very close, spending every day together at work and also during the weekends, when we endeavoured to see as much of the country as we could (using as many different forms of transport)! The weekends were certainly a welcome ‘holiday’ and we made the most of every second, but we could also say that we enjoyed the work in the orphanage and were all very sad to leave.
Living with a host family allowed me to see the country from the inside. They were more welcoming than I could have imagined and took very good care of us (I stayed there with another volunteer – we were both working at Ruhunu). In fact, they worried more about me and my whereabouts than my own parents!! They took us on days and evenings out, and even to Yala National Park for a weekend where they were happy for us to bring our other volunteer friends. They enjoyed finding out about our lives back home and how we were getting on at Ruhunu, all the while providing us with more food than I think one person could eat in a lifetime!
Even the tuk tuk driver who took us to the orphanage every day went out of his way to be kind – on my last day he took a detour to work via his house. His whole family were there and he had made several dishes for breakfast (bearing in mind he had just picked us up and we had just had the huge breakfast that was prepared for us by our host family!) – sandwiches, fish cakes, fruit – you name it, it was probably there! I couldn’t get over his generosity – he hadn’t even spoken much English, so we were unable to ever chat with him properly, but still he’d gone to all of that effort.
As for the placement itself, it was challenging but gratifying, tear jerking and heart warming. The ladies who worked there didn’t speak much English (unlike the general population who we managed to make conversation with wherever we went) and so we were unable to find out very much about the children. However, it didn’t take us long to get to know the routines within the orphanage, and for the ladies to understand that we were there to help. The children loved having us there to give them the attention that they needed, to play games with and to give them cuddles.
The lovely woman who did the washing every day appreciated us helping her with this very hard work, cutting down her workload by a few hours. Our main duties were hand washing the clothes, nappies and sheets in the mornings, entertaining and playing with the children, changing nappies, feeding babies and working with the slightly older children in the Montessori. However, they were very flexible about what we did and who we spent time with each day. The children were fantastic; especially the toddlers who I felt needed the most attention and stimulation.
I could talk for hours about my time in Sri Lanka – I had so many great moments and would happily repeat the experience tomorrow.
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.