Mja Wilson - General Care Projects in Sri Lanka
When I arrived in Sri Lanka, Aruni Jayawardane, from the Projects Abroad team, took me to meet my host mom and I recall her remarkable enthusiasm. She told me and the other volunteer who was travelling with us to pay close attention to the route we took, because we would have to give the driver directions at a later stage. After leaving Negombo town, in Northwest Sri Lanka, Aruni quizzed us to see if we could find our way back home. Aruni’s attempt to make us aware of our surroundings was later appreciated, because when she was not around I had to find my way home on my own and I was able to do so.
My Care placement
I was at Sigithi Pre-School. I taught English to 55 students ranging from 3 to 5 years old. I also worked at Prasanna Children’s Home, an orphanage with 16 boys ranging from 7 to 15 years of age. While at the pre-school, I assisted in teaching the children English skills and as a plus I had the opportunity to learn some Sinhalese. These children were so young and it amazed me how keen they all were to learn.
The structure was nothing like I had expected and I admit I felt uneasy, because I was given very little direction and left to figure things out on my own. Fortunately for me, another volunteer had started at the placement before me and offered a few tips. This placement is ideal for those who can think fast on their feet and have a hat full of ideas. I definitely found it challenging, which I enjoyed and I did come prepared with ideas: games, songs and learning tools.
Language was a problem though, but I learnt so much about the diversity of others. As an outsider looking in, many would view these children in a depressive light; I mean it is heartbreaking to see their circumstances, yet it is outstanding to see how the children cope with their current situation. My host mom told me that donations to the school allow some children to continue their education.
I noticed that there were not many toys for the children to play with. I quickly became aware, that the toys that were available were very old looking and many had missing pieces. Many children in Canada have a variety of toys, yet never seem content. At Sigithi Pre-School the children have no time to be bored, majority of their time is spent learning in class and small amounts of free time to play.
A moment that truly warmed my heart was during the Poya Celebration at Sigithi Pre-School. The children were so young and so well mannered during this performance. Furthermore, their seriousness in their performance told me how important this Buddhist holiday was. I was asked to wear white for this ceremony and I felt uneasy to dress in this attire, but obligated to comply since it was customary dress for the Poya event.
Being a Christian it felt wrong to me, but I was there for teaching as well as learning and it also felt right to see how pleased my host mom was to see the volunteers participate willingly. Later, I shared this experience with one of my support mentors in Sri Lanka and I was told that I did not have to dress in the white if it bothered me to do so. I soon felt liberated for being open to doing such an easy task, which was of extreme importance for the Buddhists.
Prasanna Children’s Home really opened my eyes, because I could afford a lot more than these children were provided with. I felt paralyzed since I could not change the boys’ situation. I soon found out that my mere presence in their lives changed their situation. I could definitely tell from day one, how my being there helped them. There was one boy who had not been in the orphanage for as long as others and his English skills was not as advanced. I could tell that he had trouble learning English, so I would joke and say his English was better than my English and soon he would be able to teach me. This particular boy did not smile much and to see him smile at my joke was a blessing.
There was a time when I gave one of the boys a break from his English homework, because he was clearly frustrated. When I started playing a card game with him another boy told me that they are not allowed to play unless all homework is done. I said it would be a quick game for a break, but he told me “no”, it was not allowed and they would get into trouble if staff came. The boys and I all kept our eyes and ears peeled, because this one boy really needed a break. A few minutes meant the world to this boy. Soon after, he was ready to try again.
When it was time for the preschool children to wash hands, a bucket was placed in the corner of the room and all the children gathered around to wash their hands before eating. Since this is not what happens in Canada, it forced me to think about many things in my life – money, poverty, how obsessed Canada has become towards new advancements and ways to make life more sustainable. I recall as a young child that germs were not such a big issue, but sanitary practices are more and more prevalent in developed countries and seriously over done in my opinion.
I really learnt a lot about the differences in Canada verses Asia when comparing life in both countries. Again, At Sigithi it was absolutely impressive to see how hard the young minds worked and how eager they were to learn and teach. Moreover at Prasanna Children’s Home the boys continued to bless me with their tender hearts; living without either parent present. Amazing children and young men of Sri Lanka; these boys would ring out their clothing after washing them outside and shower outside in this same area afterwards. I was in awe of how hard working and zealous the boys were; very diligent in everything.
Living in Sri Lanka
I resided at my host mom Malike’s place, in Demanhandiya, Sri Lanka. This lady's family was warm and welcoming. Another added bonus was that Malike taught at the pre-school. My placements were both right across the street, in fact only a few feet away. Malike’s daughter Nilmini was in town. I worked with Nilmini a few days before the end of my placement, as she filled in for her mom.
By the end of my two week placement I was feeling more at ease and more confident on the direction to take while there. If possible I encourage others to stay longer than two weeks. I participated in Sinhala songs and games and taught some English songs and games. I had a good time. Everything we do in life counts and we need to be thankful for each moment given in life. To sum up my overall experience -breathless I say!
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.