Sarah DeCoste - Medicine in Sri Lanka
When my friend Colton suggested volunteering overseas, we had no idea where we would go. After much research, we decided that Sri Lanka was the perfect place for us. We wanted to go somewhere that we could really enjoy ourselves but that was different enough that we would be forced to challenge ourselves along the way.
When departing from Halifax, Nova Scotia it all started to feel very real and to be honest I was pretty scared. It was my first time on a plane let alone leaving Canada, but when the plane started descending into Colombo, I knew that we had made a great decision! The vast mountains, warm sunshine and miles of palm trees welcomed us, followed by the smiling faces of friendly Sri Lankans. It felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders after the 30 hour flight riddled with anxious thoughts and lack of sleep.
When we got out of the plane and into the airport the Projects Abroad staff was so supportive! We were immediately met at the airport by our driver who guided us around the airport until we were prepared for our trip, rupees and Sri Lankan cell phone in hand.
First Days in Sri Lanka
The next few days were full of excitement and new experiences, from exploring massive temples to learning how to bargain down a tuk tuk driver thanks to one of the Projects Abroad helpful staff! However when the time came to head for the little resort town of Kalutara, we were more than ready. Driving through initially, everything looked so fast paced and we felt that we would never be able to find our way around this place that was to be our home for a month.
The hospital was full of winding hallways which confused me, being as directionally challenged as I am. But aside from the confusion, the doctors met us with kindness and curiosity. This was followed by introducing us to our host family who were amazing and cared so much about our comfort and happiness.
It was relief to finally arrive at the host family’s home which we had been hearing about for so long, and they were even more amazing than I had imagined. The food was incredible, so great that I just recently mastered the dhal curry that is so famous in Sri Lanka. Their home felt more and more like my home every day that I spent there and it did not take long at all to get used to living with the wonderful family. Even the cold showers weren’t so bad after a day in 40 degree weather.
My Medical Placement
My placement was at Katukarunda General Hospital which was walking distance from our host family. I often woke up dreading the warm walk to work but now that I’m home, I find that it is one of the things that I miss the most. From the street venders with their loud music to the Sri Lankan men with their harmless yet funny “Hello Sweetheart” when I walked home, everything was so different from my home in Nova Scotia.
When we arrived at the hospital my favourite part of the day started. I was able to see many wards during the month including surgery, paediatrics as well as both male and female wards. However I found that I was constantly intrigued by the women’s ward.
The doctors were amazing and taught me so much, both medically wise as well as about their country and their culture. They also liked asking many questions about Canada and once they learnt that I was studying Human Nutrition they had many questions about schooling and of course about nutrition so they could compare Canada and Sri Lanka. This was often discussed at tea time.
The rest of the day was filled continuous rounds, charting and admission. I saw everything from tuberculosis to severe cases of dengue fever, which is such a large problem in Sri Lanka. What amazed me the most however, was the shear amount of patients that went through the wards in a day.
Where I come from you need to make an appointment or else you have to wait all day for a doctor. In Sri Lanka the doctors helped so many people and worked so effectively that it was truly inspiring. Also even though they were very rushed, they still took the time to make sure that each patient was well taken care of, even with my following and asking questions.
My Sri Lankan Experience
Overall I learned so much both about myself and about the culture that I was emerged in for such a short time. I wished that I had stayed longer but I feel that I could not have had a better experience in the beautiful country and I still think about the trip every day.
By staying with the Sri Lankan host family we got to experience a lifestyle that was so different from our own and gain all of the knowledge that they had to share with us. Through this experience, I have met a consultant that I believe will be a lifelong role model for me and have truly changed the way that I think and feel about everyday life and about my future in the healthcare system.
My trip to Sri Lanka was the best choice that I made so far in my life and I can only hope that I will get another opportunity to go back and visit the beautiful country. So if you’re reading this my advice is to go to Sri Lanka! Keep a journal, lay on some of the nicest beaches in the world, travel the whole country and meet lots of new people because they are what will change you the most.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Programme Advisors.