Victoria Plume - General Teaching Projects in Sri Lanka
Sun, sea and children!
As I stepped off the plane and Charley, a legend of a man who works for Projects Abroad drove me to the office, I wondered why I had chosen to volunteer in Sri Lanka. It has no Taj Mahal, pyramids or Grand Canyon - so why do I travel to the other side of the world, to a little island nestling in the shadow of India? Ironically, it is now - at the end of my two month stay - that I know exactly why.
Sri Lanka is richly diverse, with its incredible beaches, tea plantations in the hill country, mad tuc tuc drivers, beaming children in the schools and tsunami camps and much more besides. No day has been the same and it has come as a big shock to realise I must say goodbye to the children of the tsunami camps and Molligoda School (a short walk away), who I have been teaching for the last six weeks.
My original plan was to do turtle conservation for one month followed by a month working in a montesorri (nursery), but I found Bundula too far from the other twelve volunteers, who were based on the west coast, despite the lovely people always wanting to help and the beautiful surroundings of the national park.
The Projects Abroad staff were very understanding and efficient in moving me to Wadduwa after ten days, where I joined my fellow lodger, Emma, and my new host family: Jayani, Chandana and their two small daughters - Tharushi and Vadushi. I have been really happy here, with so much laughter in the house, never feeling as if anything is an inconvenience and.'oh my dear' (in Stef's Austrian accent, of course!).Jayani's roti with marmite. I admit, I'm addicted! The food in general is excellent, though I have a suspicion they may go easy on the spices in the curry for the benefit of Emma and I! What will I do when I return to England?!
No fear, our trusty Volunteer Co-ordinator' - Jess - came up trumps again by organising a cookery lesson, so we are now adept with the art of making roti and dahl curry. Jess also organized weekend trips to The Sinhiraga Rainforest, Yala National Park and white water rafting, which were great ways to refresh ourselves before the following week's work. In the rainforest we were particularly refreshed, getting drenched in a thunderstorm - except a very organised Stef, who had the foresight to bring an umbrella, much to everyone else's amazement! Unfortunately, the leeches soon emerged and this seriously hindered progress.what was it Bella? "I want my Mummy!"? Ai-yoh! Never mind, we sufficiently recovered to make the most of six courses from the buffet, and the deluxe cabins which were fully equipped with a washing machine.you can imagine our excitement!
I've been to Kandy and Adam's Peak too, where I learnt a lot about Buddhism; both from the temples and talking to local Sri Lankans, who are always willing to test their English on an inquisitive white person. However, most weekends I've spent snorkelling, surfing and sunbathing in Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna. How could you not, when paradise is only a few hours bus-ride away, at a cost of 50 rupees (25p)?!
I got on really well with my school children and it was so satisfying to see their English progress I decided to continue here, rather than transferring to the montesorri - which, again, was no problem to Projects Abroad. To fill up my day, I went with other volunteers to tsunami camp three times a week and garden school on Wednesdays (all in the afternoon); here, we taught English and did fun activities.
All three groups of children have been so energetic and eager to learn it's been good fun, although motivating yourself in the heat can be a task sometimes! To be honest, when first confronted with the prospect of teaching - as opposed to conservation - I was honestly apprehensive: where do you start? But with the friendliness of the teachers and children alike I soon learned to love it, even if my voice goes into meltdown every time we play 'Simon Says'!
So, in hindsight, I realise Sri Lanka is a perfectly logical destination. A beautiful, small country but not without its problems: beggars on the street, littered and hectic towns, houses still demolished from the tsunami, an upturned train carriage as a ghostly reminder. Jumping into a packed bus with the other guys, anticipating the weekend. An elephant amidst cars and lorries in Wadduwa. Emily's birthday 'feast' at Charley's. Dave, our very own cameraman. Eating roti with Emma. A night at Mambo's beach party. A Buddha statue. A smiling child. By being faced with all these images each day you not only begin to evaluate Sri Lanka's strengths and weaknesses, but also your own.