Lien, Andytje Millimon and Lindy Deroo from Belgium visited Horizon Lanka in December 2005 and worked at Horizon for a month. See the tour report on their experiences while they were in Horizon Lanka.
Before I tell you about Horizon Lanka and our experiences as volunteers there, we want to introduce us.
We are Lindy, Andy and Lien, 3 young people from Belgium. We just finished with school. Lien and Andy are nurses and I am a social educator. Before we wanted to look for a job, we decided to travel for 4 months in the Asian countries of Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. But because we wanted to make a combination between holidays and pick up experiences, we choose to do volunteer work in some of the countries. In India we worked in the Mother Theresa temples, we helped the sisters to take care of the sick people and people with disabilities. With help of our travel agency we found the Horizon Lanka Academy.
Because it was very busy before we left, we had less information about the work that we have to do there. But we knew that we were to be welcomed there and that a family was waiting for us. So that was enough to get our backpack and go for the adventure.
After a long drive with the car, we arrived in a little village called Mahawilachchiya. We stopped in the school Horizon Lanka. Our first impression was: where are we now? We had the feeling that we were dropped in the middle of nowhere. We saw the little huts with tables and chairs. No classrooms? But when we walked into the little building, we were amazed. It was a room with computers with connection to the Internet. And the amazement didn’t stop. The next day they brought a TV with a DVD player donated by some sponsor. Everything that the school has is bought with money from donations. What a good initiative?
When we heard the working of the school, we were very surprised. Horizon Lanka is a private initiative that organizes lessons on Saturdays for children of the village. The children come on their own initiative to school. What a difference than Belgium? In Horizon Lanka, they teach several subjects for example: mathematics, sports, English, computers, etc. The other days the school is open for adult students who want to use the computers and the internet.
The first day we were confused about their work. But in the meanwhile we had the time to learn the habits of the family and the Sri Lankan people. We met the students. Day by day it was made clear what they expected about us; be yourself and use your talents for teaching the children.
In the beginning we were insecure because we were not teachers, but we noticed that it’s not necessary to have experience, to teach the children. Just speaking English and talking to them is teaching. They learn so much out of a conversation. The children really want to learn and take every chance they get.
So, during the week we talked and chatted with the students, we played cricket and badminton with them, help them with their homework.
On Saturday we helped the teachers conduct lessons. To the smallest children we taught how to say their names, ask others’ names and read the clock in English. We talk about sports with them. For teaching them you can use your creativity. An example we used: we drew something on the blackboard and the children had to guess what it was and write the correct name on the blackboard. So they played and learnt at the same time. And with the older students we talked about different countries and famous places in the world to teach them geography. We give a PowerPoint presentation to the students about the important places we visited in Nepal, India and Indonesia. So, the students learnt about the culture in other countries.
We had also a very good contact with the teachers. They were very interested in the education system in Belgium. And they explained us the system and the way of working in Sri Lanka. The teachers are very open minded and want to learn things from us. But we also learned a lot of them. If we had questions about teaching the students they helped us as much as possible.
It depends what your talents and interests are and you can choose which subject you teach. You’re never forced to do something you don’t want. The staff of Horizon Lanka also has a great philosophy about volunteer work. They want to make a combination between work and pleasure. So they organize trips to the city Anuradhapura to visit the famous places like Sri Maha Boddhi, Mihinthale, and Thantirimale. So, there is a good balance between work and pleasure.
From the first moment we were there, we had a nice time and a good feeling. The families were we stayed with were so friendly. They gave us a homely feeling. They made great food for us, taught lots of things to us. Now we can speak basic Sinhala, we learned the habits of their lives: For example, eating with our hands. In Belgium we eat with knife and fork. So, the first days we were very clumsy. But some days later we become very good at it. We went with them to the temple on a Poyaday; a very important Buddhist day. This gave us a chance to learn about their religion. We have the feeling like we have a second mom and dad and also lots of brothers and sisters.
Everybody was working so hard to give us a great time. It is certainly an experience we never forget. And if we have the chance we want to get this experience again. And as we already knew it was very difficult to say goodbye to our new family and friends. We hope that we can keep contact with the people here with email, because now we have lots of friends there.