Volunteering with Horizon Academy, Tantirimale was such a unique experience and I’m so glad that I did it. We spent time at the public schools as well as the Academy and found the students so engaging and sweet. They were quick to laugh and smile, and generally lovely students that wanted to learn. Upon meeting us they would be shy, but this lasted only a few minutes until they broke into big smiles and started talking or playing with us. At the public school, there were often large classes with a range of abilities, so it was important to be creative and fun to keep the children’s attentions. There was only one English teacher for the whole school, so doing a few lessons here and there helped him, and helped the students practice their speech with a native speaker.
The Horizon Academy – Tantirimale was more structured with smaller classes. The students would come about once a week for around 2 hours. Each class was divided into Computer Class and English Class. Children in the surrounding villages have limited access to computers, so Computer Class is an important part of the program. Some students were quick to learn or already had some knowledge, while others were still learning how to use the mouse properly and select colors. Once again, they were eager to learn though and worked together in pairs or group to complete tasks set by myself or my husband. After Computer Class, we would do different English activities depending on the age and ability of the class. Once they got past their shyness, they got really involved in the games and spoke with us as much as they could. Supplies are minimal at the moment, so again it’s imperative that you are creative and fun to keep them interested and excited. Saying that, the students are so sweet it’s easy just to hang out with them and have fun.
Living with a local family is another aspect of the experience that makes it so unique. The family we stayed with were wonderful and truly made us part of their family. Even with little language between us, we were able to form a bond with them and get to understand their village and lifestyle. They were eager to learn from us but also show us about their culture which made it feel like I genuine exchange of ideas. In the village we stayed, there had not been foreigners before, so there was a lot of interest from neighbors. Often you’d find yourself sitting in a chair reading or eating being watched by a few people. It may sound uncomfortable, but they are just excited and curious. Over time they get used to you, but they’ll still give you big smile and possibly offer you food or drink. Village life is very quiet and can be far from other shops so it’s good to be aware of this beforehand. I really loved my family and it was really sad to leave them but I know I’ll always have a Sri Lankan family now.
Anne Marie Connolly – The United States of America (Volunteered in May 2017)