Sarah Campbell from the United Kingdom volunteered at Horizon Lanka Foundation in July, August 2017. See her tour report below..
My husband, Joe Campbell and I were travelling around Asia when we decided we wanted to volunteer at Horizon Lanka Foundation, we were slightly nervous having not done any teaching in the past, however it turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve ever made!
On our first day we were welcomed by Nanda and Sunanda (who runs the Horizon Academy – Tantirimale) and they took us on the back of their motorbikes to our Sri Lankan family who would be hosting us for the month. They were so welcoming and made us feel part of the family from the very first day. We had a small room that was slightly separate from the rest of the house (with a fan and a mosquito net, although luckily during July there didn’t seem to be too many mosquitoes!) We spent a lot of time with our host family when we weren’t teaching, one of our favourite evening activities was a card game called Uno (which often resulted in big competitive family games in the evenings including all the cousins, aunts and uncles as well!) There was such a lovely community feel in the village, with friends and family popping in all the time to either play cricket, a game of carrom (a really fun Sri Lankan disc flicking game!) or just to drink tea, chat and play with Lassy (their adorable 2 month old puppy!)
For our meals, we generally had biscuits and a cup of tea for breakfast and delicious rice and curry for lunch and dinner (these ranged from pumpkin curry to iguana lizard curry which was hunted by the 18-year-old boy in the family!) We were always given new food to try, such as berries, corn (a delicious fruit that the children would get from the trees most days and give to you) and tamarind (another delicious fruit that you suck on)!
Now to the teaching… teaching the children in Tantirimale was one of the most exciting, challenging and rewarding things I have ever done. My husband and I had never taught before and so were slightly terrified before we turned up. On our first day we were faced with a room of 15/20 students and although we didn’t really know where to start we slowly got into it. Their English was relatively limited so we started with basic vocabulary such as colours, animals, clothing etc. and built up to adjectives and basic sentences towards the end of the month. The children were very patient with us (especially at the beginning when we were still working out what to do!) They were such kind, caring, fun, smiley children who listened intently to every word we said and wanted to learn as much as they could. We couldn’t have asked for better students!
For the first couple of weeks we taught in the public school in the mornings and then at Horizon Lanka in the afternoons (however because they were in the exam period it meant we didn’t necessarily know what times we’d be teaching until the day before/ on the day, but that was fine we just got used to being flexible!) After two weeks, the school broke up for summer holidays and we were only teaching at Horizon Academy – Tantirimale. Some days we would teach all day at Horizon Academy, but often we would do 9.00 am-2.00 pm because it was due to rain in the afternoon (and they didn’t want the children to have to walk long journeys back to their houses in the rain.)
Teaching in the public school was an amazing experience; we played lots of games and got them to draw and label scenarios, as well as doing a lot of call and repeat. It was also handy that they had desks so we would occasionally write out a worksheet and photocopy them at Horizon Academy and get them to fill them in during the lessons (there was a printer at the academy so this method seemed to work for us and it mixed up the lessons a bit!) After school we would then teach at Horizon Academy which has an outdoors area so you can do more creative things (such as sports, teaching them to dance, playing guitar, keyboard etc.) Teaching the children to swing dance was a particular highlight for me – especially when the boys were paired up and did some amazing twists and turns!
On our days off we did some really fun activities including a safari (where we saw a leopard resting 5m from the jeep), canoeing, staying in a local farmer’s tree house, wild elephant spotting (we saw 20 wild elephants one afternoon!) and taking the family tractor to a local river to swim.
Overall it was such a great experience that I would recommend to everyone if you have the chance to do it. When I first arrived, I was completely out of my comfort zone (not knowing how to teach, living in a completely different culture and environment to the UK, even things like wearing a cheeththa when showering outside took a bit of getting used to) but because it was so different it meant I learnt so much both about myself and about the community we were living in, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. We have gained another family in Sri Lanka and I am so grateful to them and the wonderful children at Horizon Academy – Tantirimale for making it honestly one of the best experiences of my life!