Tea Leaf Trust - Providing opportunities through education

Tea Leaf Trust

Why choose Tea Leaf Trust?

Tea.. it's always there for you. However, people from tea-estate communities within Sri Lanka face many problems on a daily basis; low wages, gender inequality, alcohol and substance abuse, violence against women and suicide rates are very high. Tea Leaf Trust offers educational programs to children and young adults from these communities. We aim to develop their emotional health, self-worth and English skills as to offer them the opportunity to escape the poverty cycle. We are committed to help effect social transformation in tea estate communities by developing educated professional and empowered young people. They will be enabled to lead social transformation within tea plantation communities.

Founded
2009

Reviews

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Jenny
5/5
Yes, I recommend this program

Meaningful Community Volunteering

When looking for a volunteer experience I wanted to find an opportunity that was meaningful, very much linked and integrated in the community and with the chance to get to know local people and culture in a way beyond the usual travel experience. Tea Leaf Trust looked great on paper and from the first moment chatting with the founders and the volunteer coordinator to the three-week experience in Maskeliya, I was not disappointed.

I am a teacher so I was looking forward to sharing some of my skills but I think the school does very well with matching skills to the programme and welcomes a diverse range of people.

At school there was support, inspiration and friends to be found at every turn. The local staff are very welcoming and inspiring people. Sharing moments with them in classes, over lunch and even in social times was a real highlight. Working with the students there, with their drive to make the best of the education they were receiving and develop not only themselves but the community, was also an incredible experience.

We stayed with a local family which really added to the experience as we would spend evenings sitting round the dinner table eating the best food I tasted in Sri Lanka and chatting with the family.

All round the experience was fantastic and I really hope to go back in the future to this amazing country, town and school.

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
I might stay a bit longer! We were there for 3-weeks which is a good amount of time but I think if it's possible for you to stay longer you can integrate even more into the school and local community.
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Frankie
5/5
Yes, I recommend this program

Life changing for all involved.

Back in December of 2017, my partner Jenny and I made a decision to change paths. We were determined to embrace change and take intermittent breaks from our chosen careers, an array of furloughs as such. One night as we sat together in our flat in Spain, we fortuitously discovered Tea Leaf Vision.

From the very beginning we were inspired by Yasmene and Tim's story, it seem both righteous and compassionate. After a delightful interview with Carol Workum we were even more convinced that TLV was the volunteer project that we truly wanted to be part of. By the end of the month we got the confirmation that we had been selected to volunteer in February of 2018.

Filled with glee, we vowed to give all we could to the project. Coincidentally it was at this time (January 2018), that Jenny and I were to marry. We decided that instead of people giving us gifts of cash that rather they should sponsor us to volunteer with TLV.

Arriving in Maskeliya was a hugely enriching experience, the lush green rolling hills, the smiles on everyone's faces the tangible sense of hope. At the first Monday morning assembly we got to know all the teachers, interns and students. We could immediately tell that everyone was driven by passion and resilience. This became contagious.

All our interactions with locals, staff and students were life enhancing and fulfilling. Long-lasting friendships were established almost immediately.

In the end, we spent a mere three weeks at TLV in Maskeliya, yet it will stay with us for a lifetime. The positive effects that TLV has on the local and wider community is both admirable and essential.

I would encourage anyone who believes in people's inherent desire to overcome difficult situations and strive to better themselves, to spend at least a few weeks at this unique Sri Lankan/British sanctuary.

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Keith
5/5
Yes, I recommend this program

An amazing time with Tea Leaf Vision in Sri Lanka

Becoming a volunteer with the Tea Leaf Trust was a life-changing experience for me. From my first time travelling in a tuk-tuk and my first experience of eating thosas at Ambals on my first evening in Nuwara Eliya, I had the most amazing time in this beautiful country. Of course, I was there to work, and it was a pleasure to play a small part in the running of Tea Leaf Vision Schools in Nuwara Eliya, Maskeliya and Palmerston, although it was such fun that a lot of the time it didn’t even feel like work. It was very moving to witness at first-hand the impact of Tea Leaf Vision's programmes on students from the tea estates and, for me, although improving students’ knowledge of English was, of course, extremely encouraging and very important, it was the impact that their programmes have on students’ self-esteem, belief in themselves and hope for their future that I found the most powerful. It is not an exaggeration to say that young students’ lives have been transformed by their attendance on Tea Leaf Vision programmes and it was a privilege to see this for myself. I worked with some truly inspiring people during my 3-month stint as a volunteer and I have memories that will stay with me forever. I learned in Sri Lanka to expect the unexpected and the personal journey I experienced, both literally and metaphorically, during my time there had a profound effect on me, to the extent that I felt that I came back a different person. I went with the idea that I would do my best to give all I could to support the work of this amazing charity, but I left feeling I had received so much more from this experience than I had given and, as someone who spent the whole of my working life involved in education, I learned much more there than I could ever have imagined.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
I was very honoured to be invited to a Hindu wedding, something I had never done before and it ended up being one of the most amazing days during my time in Sri Lanka.
Read my full story
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Beth
5/5
Yes, I recommend this program

A humbling and life-changing experience with inspiring people.

Before I left for Sri Lanka I was excited, intrigued and a little daunted. I am not a teacher and following my last experience of teaching over 10 years ago I decided that teaching was not for me. Yet here I was in Sri Lanka, on my own, in front of twenty-five 17-25 year olds with a lesson plan in hand- aagh! However as the weeks went on I looked forward to my own classes and spending time with the students, being able to get to know them more and helping them increase in confidence. Seeing the school in action and being part of their team was incredibly special. The positivity of the students and staff is infectious and you really are filled with hope for these young people. I feel privileged and humbled to have been part of and supported this amazing charity.
During my time with TLT I supported and taught a range of classes. The key role that you have as a volunteer is to provide these young people with a listening, interested ear and a chance for them to practise conversational English.
From there it really depends on your passions and interests. We helped to implement admin systems, ran first aid workshops, proof read speeches and even taught some folk dancing!
If you are willing to learn from and experience a new culture, and in turn share some of your own - then volunteering with TLT could be the opportunity for you!

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James
5/5
Yes, I recommend this program

An honest, personal and invigorating volunteering experience.

I completed 6 months with Tea Leaf Trust in 2018 at their centre in Maskeliya. My wife and I are education and health professionals in the UK and we were looking for an opportunity to support a project with our skills, but also live alongside and learn from a vibrant culture. Having visited Sri Lanka before we knew how friendly and welcoming the people were - but the staff, students and citizens of Maskeliya surpassed this! We are still in touch with many students, staff and locals and 2 years on have also visited again.
I would wholeheartedly recommend volunteering with TLT. From our first email everything was personal and relational - the beauty of being a smaller charity whose founders are still extremely active.
Furthermore, the project is bringing real hope, skills and aspiration to a generation of young people who feel isolated and abandoned. As a volunteer you have the chance to help support these young people by listening to them, speaking English with them and teaching them about your own experiences and sharing skills. One day I sat working at the reception desk and numerous students would stop and converse, taking every opportunity to hone their skills and build their confidence.
An added bonus is that the school is based in a remote and beautiful part of the Sri Lankan highlands - largely off the tourist trail. When we weren't in school we tended to be walking around and enjoying the beauty of Maskeliya. It’s akin to the Scottish Highlands or Lake District - and the weather can sometimes be quite similar! The beauty, simplicity and friendliness of the area is staggering with mountains, waterfalls and plenty of views!
TLT wants “every person on the tea estates to realise that they are valuable members of society, who can help transform their communities into places of happiness and hope.” The positivity of the students and staff is infectious and you really are filled with hope for these young people. If you want a volunteering experience where you can really get under the skin of a culture, make new friends and share your own experiences and skills - jump in!

Programs

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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this programme because a teacher who worked for me when I was a Primary School Headteacher got involved with the charity and he recommended it to me as something I might like to get involved in when I retired. It suited me because I was keen to use my experience in education to support a charity in a third-world country.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The Tea Leaf Trust has a designated Volunteer Co-ordinator who works with any volunteer who expresses an interest in helping with the charity. This included a couple of initial telephone conversations and then lots of further advice once both parties agreed it was a suitable placement. I felt very well-supported in terms of my preparation for the experience.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I think the main piece of advice I would give is to expect the unexpected!

In the same way that it is very difficult to explain to someone what a huge impact having a child will have on your life, it is hard to explain just how life-transforming supporting a charity in a third-world country can be. It is certainly not something to enter into lightly, but, if you go into it very well-prepared, it could be one of the most amazing experiences you will ever have in your life.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

There was no average day/week for me in the work I did with Tea Leaf Vision, as it was so varied across the 3 months I spent working for them.

I had two 'home-bases' in Nuwara Eliya and Maskeliya, where I was attached to the Tea Leaf Vision Schools there, but I also spent some time travelling around Sri Lanka, visiting Sri Lanka Unites Regional Youth Reconciliation Centres, as Tea Leaf Vision provided many of the teachers working in those centres. The fact that it was so varied made it all the more enjoyable for me, but it also meant that I had to be extremely flexible, as I was never quite sure exactly what I would be doing from one day to the next.

I didn't find that particularly challenging, as being a Headteacher in a Primary School was also never the same from one day to the next, so, hopefully, I entered into the experience as a very adaptable, flexible person. Had I not been like this, I think I might have found it quite daunting at times.

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 think my biggest fear was that I would not be as much use to the Tea Leaf Trust as I hoped I would be. As a Primary School practitioner all my working life, I knew I would be working with 18-24-year-old students learning English, so I was apprehensive about how my skill-set would adapt to the situation out there. However, my reservations were very quickly dispelled as I found out that my skills were very generic and ideally suited to the tasks I was given once I was out there.

My other big concern was how I would adapt to living in an extremely different culture, but I was delighted to find out how much I not only got used to living in a very different culture but actually embraced it and began to learn a great deal from it too. Alternative cultures are not better or worse and should not be treated as such; they are just very different and there is so much that we can learn from and benefit from in a new culture. I loved that aspect of being in Sri Lanka and I felt it had a huge impact on me, to the extent that I think I came back a different person.

Is there any other advice for prospective travelers?

I think prospective travelers want to know a variety of things, depending on their previous experience of working abroad in a very different culture. For someone like me, who had never lived or worked abroad in a third-world country, I had very little idea of what to expect, so the thing that made the biggest difference to me was to make sure that I was as well-prepared beforehand as I could be. Taking on board the advice of the charity you are supporting is crucial, as is speaking to as many people as you can who have actually spent time in the country you are going to.

I think, given my time again, I would have read up even more about Sri Lanka so that I was more aware of the political and social context of what I was entering into, as this would have helped me to understand the local people more quickly.