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