Natalie Pagdiwala - Care & Community in Sri Lanka
Ayubowan! In July 2015, I travelled to Sri Lanka, where I volunteered in Colombo at a pre-school for two weeks and it was definitely the most surreal and wonderful experience of my life. I went with a friend, so I wasn’t as nervous as I would have been if I was travelling by myself! When we arrived in Sri Lanka, we were taken straight to our host family by Gishan Perera, a Projects Abroad staff member. We were always with a Projects Abroad staff member during our two weeks in Sri Lanka (normally it was Zack, our group supervisor) to ensure our safety and comfort during our travels around this amazing country. The next day, we were given a tour of Colombo and saw landmarks like the gorgeous Vihara Maha Devi Park (where they have a beautiful huge Buddha statue), Galle Face Beach and a Buddhist Temple and we also got to know the other volunteers who we would be working with during our time there.
I stayed with the Hathurusinghe family in a town just outside of Colombo called Kolonnawa with my friend and another volunteer. They were absolutely amazing and immediately made us feel welcome; within a few days we were already calling our host mother ‘amma’ (which means ‘mother’ in Sinhalese). Amma regularly made us delicious fresh fruit juices (which were so refreshing after hours spent at the school in the humidity) and also prepared a variety of wonderful typical Sri Lankan dishes for our meals, including curry for breakfast! They even invited us to play badminton with them one evening at their local courts and gave us a tour of their small workshop where they ran their family business: creating hand-made musical instruments. Our last night spent with them was one I’ll never forget: sitting in their garden and singing songs with our host sister and brother while he played his hand-made guitar for hours.
Teaching and Playing with the Students
I was placed at Thakagishi preschool in Colombo. The students would start the school day at around 8:30am when they would carry out their daily prayers and eat their breakfast. We would then help the students with an arts and crafts activity that we had prepared the day before; the students especially loved it when we made cardboard binoculars and they got to decorate them with glitter – the kids went absolutely nuts! All the students and volunteers were covered in glitter by the end of the day and we kept finding glitter on ourselves for the rest of the two weeks. We would follow up the arts and crafts activity with some English lessons: teaching them the alphabet, numbers up to 20, colours and the parts of the body. The day would always end with some games like ‘What’s The Time Mr Wolf’ or ‘Duck, Duck, Goose’ or nursery rhymes like ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ (they were pros at the actions by the end of the two weeks) or ‘Ring Around The Roses’. The students were absolutely wonderful and mischievous and always so full of energy and the staff at Thakagishi were also very caring and incredibly patient with us even when the school tables were covered with glitter!
Landscaping at the School
After our lunch we would come back to the school to work on the playground outside. Over the two weeks we made a small tyre garden by painting several tyres and planting flowers in them. We also hosed down the tired-looking walls before painting the English alphabet with small illustrations as well as a tree on one section of the wall where we had the students, staff and volunteers put their handprints down as colourful leaves on the branches of the tree. It was hard work, but entirely worth it to see the delighted looks on the teachers’ and students’ faces when they saw the completed walls and garden on our emotional last day.
Weekend Trip To Kandy: The Best Weekend Ever
The weekend trip was absolutely marvellous and there are so many delightful memories that I’m sure I will never forget from that eventful weekend. Our trip consisted of visits to the Millennium Elephant Foundation, Kandy Market for some fun souvenir shopping and bargain-hunting, a Kandyan Dance Show which ended with an unbelievable fire-walking performance as well as visits to a tea factory, batik and woodcarving workshops, an eccentric hotel called Helga’s Folly and of course the Temple of The Tooth. I can’t pick a favourite moment because it was all so enjoyable, making new friends from the other groups and becoming even closer with the girls from my group, experiencing new things and having the best weekend ever.
It was so unbelievably hard to say goodbye to all the other lovely volunteers, my wonderful host family and the incredible staff and students at Thakagishi. It’s amazing how people turn from being strangers to friends to family in such a brief period of time. I still keep in touch with everyone from my unforgettable trip and I hope to return and visit my host family and school one day. I want to thank Projects Abroad for this life changing opportunity. This experience has made me more independent and I can’t wait to go on another volunteering trip with Projects Abroad. I urge other people to sign up for the Care and Community Project too because it truly is an inspiring and eye-opening experience!
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.