Alumni Spotlight: Jared Estrada

Why did you decide to volunteer with DWC in Sri Lanka?

Jared: I decided to volunteer with DWC in Sri Lanka because I had never undertaken an experience such as volunteering in a foreign country, let alone in a developing country. It was something that I never thought about doing, which in my mind meant that I should probably do some research and see if it was truly for me.

After seeing a VP where I work speak at a work function, I immediately made my interest known to him (being the liaison between DWC and the company I work for). Additionally, my employer was a major sponsor of this program and contributed significant time and financial support to help me get there. I was also moved by the stories I had heard from other people within my organization who had done this trip before me. They felt a great sense of accomplishment having completed this trip and spoke very highly of the experience. I also knew other people (with whom I work) who wanted to go on the trip, so I felt comfortable knowing that I was not the only newbie going through this.

Jared volunteering in Sri Lanka with Developing World Connections

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Jared: Every day I would get up at 5 or 6 am - which was not difficult as the jet lag had my internal clock turned upside down for almost the entire 2 week trip - and some days I would go for a walk on the beach (which was maybe 200-250 metres away from our resort). All of the volunteers on my trip would meet at about 7 or 7:30 for a communal breakfast in the restaurant at our resort and get a feel for what the day's activities would entail. Our breakfasts were elaborate and nutritious, and the wait staff was very accommodating. Most days we would pre-order lunch to either be delivered by our drivers or to be eaten at the community centre of a nearby village that DWC had worked on in the past.

We would typically be ready to head over to the work site at around 8 am. After about a 10 or 15 minute drive from our amazing drivers we would arrive to the work site. On my trip we were working on refurbishing a school in a rural area which was marked for closure. By the time we would arrive, there would be local tradesmen already there working (for a few hours already from what I understand). Some of the more senior tradesmen would get us set up at various "workstations" depending on what needed to be done at that point in the work day. Some of us would sift sand (which would be used to either make cement or plaster walls), shovel dirt or rocks (for making cement flooring), move supplies using wheelbarrows, physically mix cement (which was hard work but was also fun as people would be cheering you on), break up old concrete floors, clear old bricks/rocks, paint walls, paint furniture, plaster walls. At about 10:30 or so we would break for "tea" which was hosted by the monks who lived across the street at the monastery. They would host us with traditional water crackers and cookies local to Sri Lanka as well as locally grown Ceylon (green) tea. We would then return to work.

At about 12 or 12:30 we would break for lunch (either catered on-site or hosted at a nearby community centre). After eating we would typically play games with the kids of the community which would include playing frisbee, catch, cricket, or whatever other game of the day we could come up with. The kids were amazing. At the start of the trip, they couldn't throw a frisbee 5 feet, and by the end of the trip they were throwing it 20, 30 or even 50 feet or more. It was great to see their progress in leisure activities that we "taught" them. We would return to the work site at 1 or 1:30 after lunch was done and work for another hour or hour and a half. at about 2 or 230 we would return to the resort to freshen up and decompress. Swimming in the ocean in our full work gear was not uncommon. Everyone just wanted to cool off by any means necessary!

Some days we would go into town to either get snacks (like jalapeño Pringles in my case!) and supplies or to see local retail stores and famers markets. We would have dinner nightly provided either at our restaurant or at neighboring hotels/resorts where DWC has established connections from previous trips. Some nights we would go visit tourist sites like the Rock Temple, or stay in and have cocktails and just relax, or even go to bed early. On free days off, some people made arrangements to visit nearby towns for shopping (2-3 hours away is considered nearby) or go on an guided Elephant safari trip at a national park. There was always something to do and always someone to do it with.

Classroom in Sri Lanka

How has this experience impacted your future?

Jared: This experience has impacted my future in several different ways. I anticipate that I will participate in an experience like this again in my life. I was emotionally touched by the warm and inviting nature of the locals we met on the trip who we helped and worked alongside. They were very grateful and thankful for our visit and our efforts to help improve their communities.

Personally, I feel like I have done something selfless. I have truly helped other people in this world and impacted their lives. Some people may make charitable donations on a regular basis (which is wonderful), but I physically helped build a school where people's children will be educated. Their futures will be changed because of me. I feel an amazing sense of accomplishment having done something outside of my "comfort zone". I am normally not the type of person or personality who would engage in difficult physical labour, especially in a tropical climate.

I am very fortunate and blessed in my day-to-day life with my work, friends, family, money, vacations, and material possessions (house, car, clothes, etc). As cliché as it sounds, I sincerely appreciate what I have in such a greater capacity now that I have seen what it means for someone to live (literally) in a mud house, or make the equivalent of $1,000 American dollars a year, or work difficult physical labour in the heat of a tropical climate. I talk a lot about how this experience has affected ME personally, which some would view at narcissistic or skewed - they would assume you have solely done this for other people (in the community where the volunteering occurred) - but I mean for this to paint a picture of how I was able to look outside myself and do something for someone else when I am typically selfish, materialistic and metropolitan, and turn this experience into something that I am very proud of having accomplished.