Why did you choose this program?
Plan My Gap Year just caught my eye from it's amazing reviews and it's response to all my questions (plenty of this there was). I was encouraged to join their Facebook Group for Sri Lanka where I got to talk to past, present and future volunteers about their experience - this really cemented my choice for me!
I wanted to do something where I could make an impact and I wanted to go some where both developing and needing of the help, and slightly more untouched than the other Asian countries - Sri Lanka was the perfect location!
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
They assisted with everything!!
The Handbook was my holy grail. PMGY have created this handbook for your specific country which answered every question I had. We had to get Visa's and CRB checks ourselves, but they helped me and advised me with all this during the process. They even had their own insurance if you wanted it and they offered flight quotes. I took them up on this and they did everything - found a flight, booked it and sent me all the details, it was very hassle free!
Everything before I left was guided and the 'service' didn't really feel like a service at all - it felt very personal.
In Sri Lanka, the local team assisted with everything I asked for whether it was a weekend trip I wanted to take myself or transport back to the airport. Nothing was ever too much - I think thats what made the organization so special.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
I would say to go with an open mind!! Especially as you are volunteering in a developing country; things may not be on time or may not be organized in the place you're volunteering like it is in your home country, but just be patient and understanding.
The worse volunteers were the ones who weren't understanding of the culture and the situation. PMGY did everything they could to provide us with a platform to volunteer and help the local communities, but every so often a tukuk would be late or there was a power cut so you couldn't charge your phone - but you're in a developing country... What do you expect?
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
As I did the renovation project - this was a morning project - , it would be around 3-4 hours every morning, depending on how much work you had to do.
An average day would be wake up and have breakfast at the house (pancakes on Thursday was my favourite!!) and then take a tuktuk to project at about 8:30-ish. After project, we would go back to the volunteer house for lunch which was at 12:30ish and then the afternoon's were free.
If you have your afternoons free, you are able to pick up teaching or the orphanage project as a free addition, as they are afternoon projects and the help is wanted and encouraged. This was a two week minimum commitment and I decided against doing it... However, after my first week, I instantly regretted this, as travelling and going to the beach in the afternoon was great, but I should have grabbed the opportunity to make the most of making an impact in my afternoons!!
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
I was fearful about travelling alone. I have travelled before, but never alone, and I was wondering If I would make friends or if it would be dangerous to travel as a solo female to a developing country.
I think PMGY helped with all this a lot. Social wise, there were so many volunteers, all like minded and keen to help like me. I made so many friends and at the start PMGY made it so easy for us to do that. Even before I arrived, I used the Facebook group to meet other people who were arriving the same day as me. The local team in Sri Lanka put on lots of social evenings, like quiz nights and a Sari social, that just helped us all bond.
Not once was I ever really fearful for my safety. The local team were always so careful and aware and looked after us so well. Even before I left, I joined a 'safety webinar' that they do for there volunteers, which made me feel safe before I had even left.
Anything you would have done differently?
Like I mentioned earlier... GET INVOLVED. I had the opportunity to do the childcare program and I decided against it. They gave me the opportunity to make even more of an impact, and I didn't take it?? The childcare is a minimum two weeks commitment, so when it got to my final week, it was too late. I understand why it's a minimum two weeks: for the children, but next time I will take every opportunity they give me.
Also, PMGY always offered opportunities, such as language lessons and to ask Ash (the main coordinator/director in Sri Lanka) questions about the projects, but I really didn't get involved as much as I should have. Make sure you do... You'll only regret it if you don't.