23. Jamelia Harris – Trinidad and Tobago

23. Jamelia Harris – Trinidad and Tobago

Jamelia Harris from Trinidad and Tobago

Miss Jamelia Harris, an AIESEC intern from Trinidad and Tobago worked at Horizon Lanka, Mahawilachchiya. She came with 3 other British volunteers hence had good company while at Horizon Lanka. She was always with a broad smile and everybody liked her due to that warmth. She stayed at a very humble house in the village and had a good rapport with the host family. She stayed from (sic) to (sic) in 2010.

Jamelia Harris’s Report

This summer, I was privileged to be one of four students selected for the AIESEC UK Pioneers Programme. Our task was to work as volunteers for the NGO, the Horizon Lanka Foundation, teaching English and raising sponsorships. As pioneers, not only were we expected to fulfill these tasks, but also to bring something new, fresh and vibrant to inspire the people of the rural Sri Lankan village, Mahawilachchiya. What an experience this was! Where do I begin…

We arrived in Colombo completely oblivious to the magnitude of the task that awaited us in the village. After driving for about nine hours on what I would hardly describe as roads, we arrived at the village. My first impression of Mahawilachchiya was quite stereotypical: dirt roads, the villagers were mainly rice farmers, they go for a daily wash in the canal, eat rice as their three main meals! I’m going to risk sounding cliché and say I appreciate the daily conveniences we take for granted far more now. It goes without saying that I needed some time to adjust. Eventually, I did find my rhythm.

I stayed with a family in the village, something that was meant to be part of the Pioneers experience, and it surely was. They barely spoke any English. Our communication included very basic English, the few Sinhala words I learnt and a great deal of actions. I have to admit, what the villagers lack in infrastructure, they most certainly supplement with hospitality. Each and every moment of my time there, my host family did all they could to ensure I was comfortable. Sri Lankans are such kind-hearted, selfless people. They are exceedingly proud of their country and culture and do all in their power to share it.

To describe a typical day of my life in the village. We taught at the public schools during the morning and worked at Horizon Lanka in the evenings. Our students ranged from ages 8 all the way up to 17. The kids were so nice and they really looked up to us. We became immersed in the culture quite quickly; playing sports with the kids, cycling around the village on our bicycles, visiting the temple with our host families.
During our second weekend, our students planned a trip for us to the first city of Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura. We visited an ancient temple which houses a branch brought all the way from India. Apparently it’s taken from the tree that Lord Buddha sat under when he had his ‘enlightenment’. Next we ventured to another temple at Mahintala. The view from there was heavenly (no pun intended). An expanse of unspoilt jungle, lush trees, swamps, magnificent mountains.

Another memorable trip was to a place called Sigiriya, the birthplace of Sri Lankan civilisation. We climbed a mammoth of a rock built by one of their first kings. Again, the view was breath-taking, picturesque. Our mode of transport back to the hotel…you guessed it, an elephant! I can say it definitely rivals the double-decker buses in London. We also visited the eastern side of the island to a place called Trincomalee. It’s one of the most diverse areas where Hindu Tamils, Buddhist Sinhalese, Muslims and Christians co-exist. I had my first taste of the Indian Ocean…not in a literal sense of course!

Being volunteers from the UK necessitated a visit to ‘Little England’. This is the name given to the hill region of Nuwara Eliya, famous for its relatively cold climate and tea plantations. In Kandy, we attended the annual Esesale Perahara festival; a Buddhist festival with all the grandeur of fiery lights, street performers and impressively adorned elephants.

During the last weeks of teaching we began to see real progress being made. We ran two English camps for students of the public schools. These made use of multimedia and hands-on activities, something rarely used for education in the village. Students frequently attended classes. The novelty of ‘foreign volunteers’ was gone, and the students came for the purpose of learning, something we were all pleased about.

In the end, I do think we managed to reach some of the kids, and they appreciated our efforts. On the last day, they surprised us with a farewell show, which they carried out in English! My colleague and I, being the girls that we are, couldn’t help but express our gratitude in a tearful way. And that was just the beginning. Saying goodbye to my host family was even harder. They called me everyday after I left the village, which is quite weird because in terms of complete English sentences, it begins and end with ‘hello, how are you?’

Looking back on my time in Sri Lanka, it is indeed a fond recollection. These memories are continually renewed each time I open my inbox and find an email from one of my students. I do confess that it was one of the most challenging experiences I have had, but I have emerged with substantially more patience, open-mindedness and appreciation for the Sri Lankan culture; and ultimately, a new outlook on life.

Jamelia Harris – Trinidad and Tobago

Jamelia Harris
Jamelia Harris
Jamelia with Helen
Jamelia with Helen
Sri Lankan beach
Sri Lankan beach
Sri Dalada Maligawa
Sri Dalada Maligawa

22. Helen Elizabeth Coupe – The United Kingdom

22. Helen Elizabeth Coupe – The United Kingdom

Jamelia with Helen (in the right)

Miss Helen Elizabeth Coupe, an AIESEC intern from the United Kingdom worked at Horizon Lanka, Mahawilachchiya in 2010. She was an AIESEC volunteer.

Helen with the host family
Helen with the host family
An island with a Buddhist temple in the Sri Lankan beach
An island with a Buddhist temple in the Sri Lankan beach
Bogambara lake, Kandy
Bogambara lake, Kandy

 

21. Jack Anthony Warren – The United Kingdom

21. Jack Anthony Warren – The United Kingdom

Jack and friends in Nuwara Eliya

Mr. Jack Anthony Warren (in the blue T shirt) an AIESEC intern from the United Kingdom worked at Horizon Lanka, Mahawilachchiya from June to August in the year 2010.

Dear reader,

My name is Jack Warren. During the months of June through August of 2010 I travelled to Mahawilachchiya, Sri Lanka with 3 friends from across the United Kingdom, stayed with some host families and spent the morning teaching in a school and afternoons at Horizon Lanka. During the 2nd half of my stay, the school term ended and we spend both mornings and afternoons at Horizon Lanka.

We interspersed these weeks with some trips to Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, Colombo, Kandy, Sirigiya and Nuwara Eliya – what is affectionately called “Little England” by the Sri Lankans. To explain away the name, the architecture resembles that of the nicer parts of Victorian England and to be frank since it is so high over sea level it is rather cool and wet… just what I was trying to escape from!

Speaking honestly, I look back on my time with good memories, however I actively remember feeling down and homesick. I certainly underwent some culture shock, not quite understanding the sport, cuisine, religious traditions and gender roles. But quite occasionally I was surprised by members of the community that brought me back to reality of how human beings are the same wherever you are in the world.

Get ready for a rather long post because many memories are flooding back that you may or may not be amused by. I will not be offended if you merely scan over or disregard the following fully.

I’m not a linguist, nor did I know anything about linguistic or language structures. Being a northern lad, the joke follows that I even struggle with my native tongue: English. So, expecting me to explain the difference between a continuous verb, the present tense and collective nouns is a long stretch and I was learning as much from my fellow teachers as the students were. What I think I brought to the team was eager energy and excitement that the kids could join me with. Some of the children were boys entering puberty and so I think a handful looked up at me occasionally for my behaviour, so being able to get on their level in a friendly way to make sure they paid attention and enjoyed playtime when it was the correct time was (I hope to think) helpful.

When I spent my mornings in a local school I was alone so couldn’t depend on the help of other teachers. I think the faculty identified I was most useful working with the older children, so I was more often than not placed with them. As I said above, I’m not a particularly well-equipped language teacher but I do know my maths. So, since many of the older children were learning Commerce, I applied my experience there to help them learn English. I hope I was helpful, although I’m sure many of the children saw my lessons as a mere entertaining spectacle watching this English boy flounder about trying to teach in English.

My public school, Siddhartha School was a bicycle ride away. We had three bicycles for four of us. Only two of those bicycles had brakes. One of my colleagues walked a short way to her school and me being the most experienced cyclist and perhaps a noble masochist opted to take the no-brakes bicycle. Daily I would cycle to my public school past road workers melting tarmac in an open wood fire. The roads near Mahawilachchiya vary from narrow dirt track to slightly wider dirt track with spots of tarmac. The bus to the nearest town (and nearest bottle of beer) is 40km away, and it takes two hours. This was something I really had to get used to.

One weekend my team and I went to visit Gangani, a colleague at Horizon Lanka. She had a lovely little family and fed us the most lovely banana and sugar pancakes. They are delicious but lethal to your teeth, so pack toothpaste! Michael, my flatmate and travelling colleague and I decided to cycle to hers for the weekend. It was a long trip in the sun, but all paid off when we spotted a wild elephant in the distance.

Michael and I were placed in the same host family. They had two little boys, one who was around 6 years old, the other perhaps 3. Their English language was not at a conversational level, but the mother in particular was very caring. Michael and I took turns trying to read with the eldest boy, but we didn’t have literature that was at his level. In hind sight, I would have brought a few more English language books as this would have helped more and made things easier.

Every dinner we would have what Michael and I decided to call Yellow Curry. We were told that Sri Lankan cuisine was very hot, but I think they went easy on us thinking we couldn’t hack spice. I confirm this is a gross misunderstanding of British people. Michael is Glaswegian and I am from Leicester. Both parts of Britain pride ourselves on our adoption of south Asian cuisine, and love a hot hot curry. Either way, Yellow Curry was rather tasty. Every day they will change the core ingredient. Meat was a rare ingredient and if ever, usually either fish or chicken. This is something I had to get used to. What was more difficult was that dinner was wrapped up for breakfast and lunch the next day, to be replaced by a new batch of Yellow Curry for the following evening.

This was unusual for Michael and I as we usually would mix different meals for different times of the day. We politely asked Gangani and Nanda (Wanni) what we could do as we wanted to be sensitive not to appear ungrateful to the hospitality. We only wanted some bread and butter for breakfast and we were happy going to a nearby shop to buy lunch. Side note – get a pattis. They are so tasty. They resemble a Cornish pasty filled with curry, only the pastry seems a little deep fried and oily which sounds like a bad thing but it really isn’t. I wish I could get them here at home in Britain! I made the connection that pattis sounds similar to pasty so perhaps this was inspired during the British imperialist era? I never came to the bottom of it, but I think it makes sense.

Back to the bread and butter story…

Days later we wake up to a bowl of white bread sliced up and a big tub of margarine. I loosely remember our host-mum stopping us just before we picked up some bread, she grabbed a bag of sugar and then poured it into the margarine. She mixed it in with a helpful smile and offered it to us. I mentioned earlier the Sri Lankan love of sweet breakfasts. I think that our host mum could not possibly imagine a world in which we would enjoy plain buttered bread. Politely smiling Michael and I proceeded to spread the sugared margarine on our bread, then took a bite as our host mum smiled and nodded at us hoping profusely that we enjoyed it.

I could not do much else besides from feign enjoyment as I tasted the crunch of sugar over my teeth. Exceptional hospitality, a clash of cultures and altogether a cute memory.

God, I loved those pattis, they really saved me!

Before you head off, contact Wanni about the prevalence of malaria and other diseases. I entrusted my faith in the British NHS, and their records were slightly out of date. I was told malaria was prominent across the North. As anyone would, I took my medication just in case.

Until my visit to Sri Lanka I didn’t think I was allergic to anything. By the end of the 3rd week I knew that I was allergic to malaria medication as my feet swelled up into warm blood-filled balloons. My toes did not swell up to the same extent, so my feet, now perhaps three times as big barely fitted within my flip-flops.

I grinned and bared it for weeks, but after it got to the point I was in pain to walk I was taken to a nearby doctor. My allergic reaction led to swelling in my feet, in turn leading to some very minor internal bleeding and bruising. It began to hurt to take a step, even more so to kick a football or run to catch a cricket ball. My doctor’s first reaction was, ‘Why are you taking this medication, you are allergic to it?! Stop taking them, start taking these anti-swelling drugs and [as ever] drink lots of water’.

During my time, I was fortunate enough to be in Mahawilachchiya for a festival celebrating the arrival of the Buddha to Sri Lanka. On the week day, we were in Mahawilachchiya, and on a later weekend in Kandy celebrating the same festival. I strongly recommend being present for the local village/town festival as it is so much more intimate and really something you will never find on a tourist brochure. The only thing I can relate it to from Britain may be your local Bonfire Night celebrations. When you live in a small-town community, Bonfire Night is a wonderful evening where you see your school friends at night time, sometimes see your teachers with their families etc. and it is very lovely. When you go to a larger event in a big city like London you do have better fireworks, but the heart is taken away.

I’m sure French readers can relate this to Bastille Day and Americans can relate to Independence Day.

In Kandy, they had parades of elephants, dancers, music and seating etc. In Mahawilachchiya, the parade was led by a pick-up truck and a local drum troupe, and everyone in the community joined the parade and danced in the street together. Make your own decision.

I have lots more to tell, but I will end with some bullet points.

  • Embrace it as it goes too fast
  • Take a moment when confused to breath and remember that not everything is like at home, and that is ok
  • It does not matter if things don’t make sense – go with it
  • Eat everything
  • Do the things that seem boring are weird on the surface – at least then you’ve done it
  • Expect travel to take a lot longer
  • Choose to trust and be misled. It is better than not trusting and missing things
  • Laugh at what you think is weird
  • Take lots of books
  • Expect cockroaches and accept it as an eventuality.
Jack with his friends
Jack with his friends
A beach in Sri Lanka
A beach in Sri Lanka
A beautiful scenery
A beautiful scenery

20. Michael Philip McGill – The United Kingdom

20. Michael Philip McGill – The United Kingdom

Michael (with yellow/black T shirt) with AEISEC volunteers

Mr. Michael Philip McGill, (with yellow/black T shirt) an AIESEC intern from the United Kingdom worked at Horizon Lanka, Mahawilachchiya from June to August 2010.

A tamed elephant
A tamed elephant
Sri Lankan beach
Sri Lankan beach
Water buffloes
Water buffloes