I love kids. Always have and always will. I also love summer and the heat. I study a degree that will allow me to one day work with children and has provided me with numerous pracs in childcare and clinics. It was this passion and my love of endless summer that led me to choosing to volunteer at a childcare in Sri Lanka.
On the 18th of December I embarked on my 3 week journey with my brother whom was also going to volunteer. The first week was spent taking part in all the cultural and touristic sights of Sri Lanka with the other volunteers. This was by far one of the best weeks of my life. Due to the Christmas period there was only a total of 11 of us as opposed to their norm of 60. We went to Sigiriya (natural wonder of the world), climbed the Rose Quartz Mountain, went to numerous Hindu and Buddhist Temples and as well as this received a beautiful ayurvedic massage on Christmas Day. The coordinators were fantastic and they catered and listened to all our needs and wants and even cooked us a fantastic traditional western Christmas Dinner. Most of the week we of course lived off rice and curry. Can you believe after eating this for breakfast, lunch and dinner for three weeks straight I am craving it each day at home? All in all the first week was a massive hit, I made life long friends and truly experienced Sri Lankan custom. However, the holiday week was needing to finish as we were all here of course for volunteering!
I chose the new program of working in the Daycare in the heart of Kandy City. Due to the small number of us I was alone on this program. I was nervous of course, I did not know how to speak Sinhala and these were just children... what if they do not like me? Day one was a hard one for me emotionally and mentally. After just helping at a clean, planned-to-the-minute childcare back home I was shocked. I mean I knew what I would be coming into but seeing everything in real life really puts a new perspective into everything. That day I held back my tears and ended up forming a close bond with the children, we played chase, I fed them and I let them do my hair. Other than that there were no toys, books and the day was not planned out for them. The three teachers however, could not speak a word of english and I sensed they saw me as an outsider. They did not offer me the tea they all drank nor attempted to speak to me. I trudged on home on the local bus that afternoon with the coordinator, feeling sorry for myself.
That night the manager came to my friend who chose the babies orphanage and loudly exclaimed a large donation of toys and diapers had been given to them. My emotions from that day got the best of me and I blurted out to him that the children at the daycare would benefit just as much with these toys as the babies. He agreed and handed me some to take tomorrow.
So day two I excitedly caught the local bus with bags of toys under both arms. I do not think I will ever forget the joy on the children and the teachers faces when I walked in with two bags of colourful building blocks. In Australia the blocks are hardly ever touched at the childcare and if they are then only for around 10 minutes. We spent a good three hours playing and making castles with the blocks and the children even learnt some numbers and colours in english. However, the biggest change that day was the teachers attitude, they stopped seeing me as this outsider and shared their first cup of sugary tea with me!
The next few days were a blur as I grew so used to seeing the smiley children's faces each morning as I walked through the gate as well as the teachers. My days were spent cleaning, painting the chairs and tables, changing and feeding the children, playing with them and teaching them simple english words. On my last day the children and teachers all stood up and loud and proudly counted from 1-10 as well as naming the simple five colours. That was the most moving and touching moment in my entire 21 years of existence. As well as this I received at least 3 cups of tea a day as well as biscuits and marshmallows.
Would I recommend this program to others? Definitely. However, you need to be aware that english will hardly be spoken and this may cause some frustration with both the children and the teachers. Also, you are not just there to 'play' with the children but need to help out with all the duties including toileting.