The Value of Volunteering
This year’s National Volunteer Week (NVW) theme was: “Celebrate the Value of Volunteering – building confidence, competence, connections and community”. Volunteering should never be measured in monetary terms, but rather by its intrinsic value it brings to both the volunteer and community. Though Idea Rebel has dedicated time and resources within the local Canadian community, we wanted to extend our contributions to volunteer projects abroad. For this NVW (April 15th – 21st), Idea Rebel embarked on a journey to the sacred city of Kandy, Sri Lanka, while aiding a group of children with special needs and injecting themselves into the Sri-Lankan culture.
A Little Bit About Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is an island country off the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. Previously known as Ceylon, from the British colonial rule, 2018 marks 70 years of independence. Sri Lanka’s tourism industry suffered major setbacks over the last few decades due to its 20-year civil war and the destruction from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Their official languages are Sinhala and Tamil, but English is preferred in governmental policies and practices.
Here are some fun Sri Lankan facts:
- Sri Lanka is the largest exporter of tea in the world.
- Cinnamon originated in Sri Lanka.
- Their national sport is volleyball.
- Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to democratically elect a woman as the head of state.
The Volunteer Experience in Sri Lanka
Idea Rebel connected with International Volunteer HQ, also known as IVHQ, the world’s leading volunteer travel company. IVHQ helped to coordinate the volunteer week with the local organization, The Green Lion.
On Sunday, April 15th, we were picked up at Colombo’s international airport and transported to the homestay accommodation about 3 hours away. The homestay was located near Kandy. All of the meals were provided by our host’s mother. Breakfast was more western-style with coffee, eggs and toast, while lunch and dinner were comprised of Sri Lankan dishes, including roti and a variety of curries
Originally, Idea Rebel had planned to offer English and Music lessons to local schools, but it was Sinhalese/Tamil New Year. This meant that schools were closed the whole time we were there.
During the orientation, the local organizers expressed the need for volunteers in their Special Needs Program. We jumped at the opportunity. Daya Nivasa (House of Love) is a home/orphanage for roughly 100 destitute children and women. It is situated in the outskirts of Kandy. The residents have a range of mental and physical disabilities. Some need a little extra attention when learning. Others are confined to wheelchairs or are bedridden. In Canada, people with disabilities are encouraged to integrate within society. In contrast, they are abandoned and sheltered from the public in Sri Lanka.
A Typical Day
Our days started with breakfast at around 7am. At 8am, it was time to depart for the volunteer placement. We took the local bus to and from the orphanage.
Volunteers were present to assist in classroom-based activities, general care, play time and serving meals. Our first activity was to change their bed sheets before their 9am morning classes. The children and young adults are grouped into classes depending on their abilities. The volunteers were spread out to lead each of the classes. Our CEO, Jamie Garratt, taught a class that was working on senses, including sound. With his musical expertise and background, he incorporated practical engagement. He taught by allowing them to first listen and then have each student play with the instruments. After the 2-hour morning class, the children were let outside into the play area for a quick break before lunch. For lunch time, we first served meals to everyone and then helped feed the children who were unable to do so on their own. After lunch cleanup, we ended our volunteer days by playing with them in the outdoor courtyard.
What We Learned
Working with the young children and women was no doubt challenging, but the experience also came with some very unexpected benefits. Linking back to the NVW’s theme this year of building confidence, competence, connection and community, we felt that we were able to unlock each other’s potential through the magic of volunteering. This opportunity allowed us to develop new skills while advancing current ones. But the most touching part of this experience is when the children responded with genuine smiles and candid laughter – that’s when we know we’ve truly made a difference in their lives and that we’ve fulfilled what we set out to accomplish. We hope to volunteer abroad again in the near future.
May 11, 2018