This summer, I spent four weeks volunteering in Sri Lanka. Needless to say, it was an experience and a half.
My trip there was arranged by SLV, an organisation that runs a number of projects for students and graduates to volunteer with. They have a various placements for volunteers to choose from and I went on the one that focused on psychology. That being my degree and all.
The work involved a mix of teaching English to underprivileged children and youth, running activities (mainly arts and crafts) for people with special needs and those with mental health disorders. The various projects took half a day each, so we got to help at a whole range of places, with a whole range of people. It was fantastic getting the exposure to so many different disorders and circumstances, and seeing the how much they enjoyed us being there. I don’t think there was one day when I did not get a warm greeting.
The work wasn’t all of it either. From arrival, I was fully immersed in the culture. We stayed with locals, in their houses, and the work was well away from the touristy zones. We braved the buses and the tuk tuks (all great fun when you get used to them) and even survived crossing the bustling road. Food was a problem for me, given my intense dislike for all things spicy – dinner was an ample serving of rice and curry, as was lunch if you chose to have it. But as with the transport, you get used it. Well, most people do. I never did.
For the psychology placement and graduate mental health scheme, there were some added extras. Working with Samutthàna and local psychiatrists, SLV organised talks, workshops and fieldtrips that involved shadowing a psychiatrist at work. Each of these helped develop skills and knowledge about mental health in Sri Lanka. I really enjoyed the extras, even if you did have to pay for a few of them (the currency in Sri Lanka is amazing – so many notes and so cheap when you convert to English costs!).
As much as I enjoyed it, there were some downsides. When it was hot, it was very hot, and that was most of the time. The showers were cold though, which was both good and bad. And I did find myself missing home, particularly since there were so many stray dogs about. They just made me miss my dog even more. I did find that after four weeks, I wish I could have stayed an extra two, as I felt I had not got everything out of it that I could.
This was only part one. Next week will be a bit more exciting when I discuss the weekends! Elephants, Beaches and Dancing – what more could you ask for?