Lisa Maynard - General Care Projects in Sri Lanka
I am a 52 year old primary school teacher from Australia and the destination I chose for my volunteer project was Sri Lanka. In 2001, I had travelled with my sister and nephew throughout this beautiful country to show my nephew the country of his birth. It was time for me to return. I chose to volunteer on a Care Project for one month, and was placed at Prem Nivasa, a ‘Missionaries of Charity’ Children’s home. Where do I begin to describe what a wonderful experience this was!
Arrival and Host Family
On my arrival I was taken by taxi to Rawathawatha Moratuwa on the West coast south of Colombo where my host family lived. This is where I lived with fellow volunteer Celina from Denmark. We shared a room in our family’s beautiful home. Three delicious traditional Sri Lankan meals a day were served up and we were 5 minutes’ walk from the children’s home. A highlight for me was how quickly we became a part of the community. We were in a highly urbanised non tourist area and soon felt at home and welcomed with nods of recognition from the shop owners and workers on the streets on our daily walk to the Children’s Home. We felt so welcome and shared in many of the cultural activities with our host “mother” Shobha and her husband Rohan. We joined a range of activities with them, from attending their local Buddhist temple where I was introduced to, and conversed with the monks, to watching Indian soapies on telly in the evenings with the family! I now consider them to be good friends.
The support network was amazing. The beautiful Aruni, the Projects Co-Ordinator from Head Office in Colombo, met us and “inducted” us straight away, taking us into the community and helping with the organisation of mobile phones, location of the supermarket and how to catch a tuk tuk (and also how much we should pay!) Emergency numbers and contacts with other volunteers in the area were provided and soon we were meeting and travelling with fellow volunteers in our precious spare time and on weekends. I felt like the “matriarch” as most were young students from all over the globe, but I was included in all of their activities and travel.
Weekends were spent choosing a destination, packing a backpack and jumping on public transport to beautiful places such as Galle, or hiring a driver to take us to the World Heritage sites such as Sigiriya and Dambulla caves.
Early in the placement, Aruni organised a working- bee day painting the entire interior of a building in a Home for Young Disabled Women. This was a great way to meet other volunteers as well. As a group representing Projects Abroad, we also attended a fundraising concert in Colombo hosted by The Girl Guides Branch for The Disabled, a beautiful concert of singing and dancing performed by girls and boys from all over the country. Aruni was in constant contact as we travelled to and from these activities always providing advice on safe travel and checking that we had reached our destinations.
But the highlight of course was working with the children at Prem Nivasa. I chose to work with the disabled children. Very few of the carers spoke English, so through observation, lots of miscommunication and ultimately laughter, I soon learnt what my role was to be; playing, playing, singing, hugging, taking the children out to the playground to engage with the able children and helping at mealtimes.
One particular little boy Taruse suffered from cerebral palsy and had no control of his speech or limbs. He spoke with his eyes. He particularly loved mealtime. This was his opportunity to communicate! He would laugh and giggle as I tried to feed him in the traditional way, mixing and rolling rice and curry into a ball and hand feeding him. The carers too would laugh at my clumsy Western ways but they would demonstrate over and over again with great patience and humour!
We also helped with taking the children to hospital appointments. The children in my section were severely disabled but the dedication, love and care they were given with so very few resources astounded me.
Unfortunately I had to cut my trip short by a few days as my elderly mother became gravely ill while I was away. The Projects Abroad team in Colombo could not have been more helpful in organising emergency transport to the airport. I was in no doubt that the welfare of the volunteers is their number one priority. I am so grateful to the team for organising and supporting me in a most amazing experience and I am looking forward to participating in further projects in the future.
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.