Planning for Sri Lanka
I have always wanted to go and volunteer abroad so when I was offered a deferred place for University to study midwifery it was the perfect time for me. Having 14 months to wait before I was due to start my university course what better way to gain important life experience and memories that will stay with me forever? Just weeks after I had accepted my university place I had put down my deposit and started planning my trip to Sri Lanka!
Sri Lanka stood out for me the most as I have always been interested in this country since the 2004 tsunami and I really wanted the chance to see how the country had developed since then. I was thrilled to see that Projects Abroad offered maternity placements in Sri Lanka and after reading the volunteer story about this project on the website it sounded perfect for me and my decision was made!
Getting into the culture
The culture shock did affect me quite a lot but after a week or two I was just about used to it. I found it so strange that there were so many stray dogs wandering the streets and because I have a pet dog back in England I found it hard not to stop and stroke them!
I also had to get used to the locals staring and trying to stop me to talk as it wasn’t common to see a white person in the town. I remember one day being sat in The Fab café with a group of volunteers when a pick-up truck drove past with an elephant stood on the back!!
Welcoming host family
I spent 10 weeks living with Peiris family, who were all so kind and welcoming. They were always interested in my day and my host mum would come and sit with us while we were having dinner asking us questions and making sure we were all ok. The food we were provided with was delicious and we had traditional Sri Lankan foods three times a day.
I was worried about the food at first because I don’t normally eat spicy food in England, however I did get used to the food very quickly. You can always ask for ‘no spice’ but even this is by no means plain! At meal times we would get between 8-14 dishes of different types of food so I was always trying something new.
My new home for 10 weeks was absolutely amazing, nowhere near close to what I was expecting, the volunteers had full use of the top floor which the family rarely used apart from to watch telly occasionally and to dry their washing on the balcony! It was hard to get used to the cold showers but it was sometimes quite refreshing after a day in 35˚+ heat!!
My host parents told me on my last night with them how proud they were of me and how much they had seen my confidence grow over the last 10 weeks and how much they were going to miss me. One day when I was walking into town she saw me and took me into her work and introduced me to all of her colleagues and she seemed very proud that I was living with her. We did become very close during my stay and we both had a little cry together when the taxi arrived to take me back to the airport on my last day!
My Midwifery project
My midwifery placement took place at the women’s hospital in Panadura and I still miss the nurses and midwives that worked in the labour room a lot! I also miss seeing a birth or two most days! Over the 10 weeks volunteering in the hospital I witnessed 61 births in total and worked in the labour room, baby clinics and the operating theatre. I also visited some of the antenatal and postnatal wards as well as the special care baby unit. In the labour room it was mainly observational but I got plenty of hands on experience.
I was able to independently clean, weigh and measure the babies after birth and dress them, before taking them to their mothers and helping with their first breastfeed. I was also able to observe different procedures for example examinations of the mother before she had given birth and also suturing of the women. I learnt so much whilst working alongside these midwives and the junior doctors which will help me so much when undertaking my study.
Travelling around Sri Lanka
Although Sri Lanka is a relatively small country it has so much to offer when travelling. Each weekend the volunteers arranged trips to visit different parts of the country. This was quite tiring as it generally meant getting up early as some of the journeys by bus or train were very long.
Over the 10 weekends I travelled to, the Ratnapura Gem Mines, the Sinharaja Rainforest, Unawatuna Beach, Yala National Park, Mirissa Beach, Nuwara Eliya- Worlds End and Tea Plantation, Negombo, Bentota, Kandy, The Ancient Cities- Polonnaruwa, Dambulla and Sigiriya, Adam’s Peak (which I climbed!), Udawalawe National Park and Tangalle.
All of my weekends were fantastic but the most memorable were swimming in a waterfall in a rainforest and of course watching the sunrise at 5am from the top of Adam’s Peak after climbing the 5,200 steps for 3 hours. This was such an achievement which I wouldn’t have managed without some of my friends there helping me along! (And a couple of puffs on my inhaler!!). I can honestly say that after spending my weekends travelling around Sri Lanka I have completely fallen in love with it and would love to return one day!
The Projects Abroad staff were absolutely fantastic right from the point of booking to the day I left. Everything was taken care of such as travel arrangements and airport pickups. The staff in Sri Lanka were available at any time and did their best to help you familiarise yourself with the country and everything you needed to know.
The staff arranges events for all of the volunteers and for me this involved beach cricket followed by a trip to the Cricket 20-20 world cup semi-finals. Also we had a trip to a local school, which we painted followed by a hotel lunch.
My parents were a little worried about me going abroad on my own particularly as I had only recently turned 18, however once I got there I was able to speak to them on the phone regularly (although the time difference sometimes caused problems) which reassured them when they knew I was ok and having such a fantastic time. This is the best thing I have ever done and we would definitely recommend Projects Abroad!