Liam Du Toit from Switzerland volunteered at Horizon Lanka in December, 2017.
After having been on the road for more than a month and after many amazing and annoying experiences, I was looking for a place to stay for a few weeks. A place where I don’t have to pack my backpack every 3 days and a place where no Sri Lankan guys will annoy me 😉 But most of all a place to get involved in Sri Lankan rural life and gain new experience while working with the people. I finally felt ready to start my first Sri Lankan Workaway.
After my weekend trip in Sigriya with Sri Lankan friends, I took the bus to Anuradhapura to spend a night there before heading to Mahawilachchiya to start my next adventure. On Monday morning I entered the bus (as always with the help of some really nice Sri Lankan people) to Wilachchiya, not knowing what will wait me there. I was told to get off at a junction which was close to Horizon Lanka. It turned out that it wasn’t close at all.
So there I was, with a 15kg backpack in the middle of a Sri Lankan rural village, no idea where I was supposed to go. I have to mention that I love being lost so I enjoyed the moment. Secondly I love how the Sri Lankan people always help the “sudu kella,” I don’t even need to ask. This concretely means that a very kind woman called her brother who had a car to give me a short ride to Horizon Lanka. I wish this would ever happen back home.
Volunteering in Mahawilachchiya has been such an amazing experience! Since my early childhood there was a photo in our house which has inspired me for many travels so far. The photo shows my parents in India (they were travelling around the world by bicycle), two white faces surrounded by around 50 Indian people. I always wanted to have a picture like this. After only three days I had around 500 selfies from the school and the kids had just been super cute with me all the time. “Teacher.. what’s your name? “ teacher! Selfie?” “Teacher, how are you?” I will always remember these little creatures with their white-blue school uniforms, the girls with the long black braids, their voices and cute faces.
I have mostly been teaching English from 1st to 13th Grade. I doubt I have ever felt so tired before after having been with the 1st grade (6 years old) for only one lesson. Starting with the very basics in a language they have never listened to before is more than challenging. Since they do not even understand you when you ask them to please be quiet and sit down, it can be very tiring. But definitely also very rewarding. Never before have I ever seen such grateful and motivated kids who even worship their teacher. Unfortunately in Europe kids are no longer taught how to respect their teacher, so this experience has even been more impressive for me.
It has inspired me to now take a TEFL course in South Africa and continue teaching English around the world.
I was very surprised to see how unorganized the school seemed to be. Due to the frequent absence of the teachers, the timetable could not be met. Teachers are normally the second important example right after the parents. But how can they be an example if they show the students how little they care about their job by just showing up whenever they fancy to?
Helping the kids further with their English, teaching them new sports and even giving some piano lessons, was what included my engagement at Horizon Lanka Foundation. I personally believe sports and music is the best way to teach kids about life. They learn so much by just doing it. They learn about what it means to be a team, challenges, motivation, giving 100%, victories & defeats, standing up again over and over again. This will help them throughout their whole life in every kind of situation.
What I personally found very sad, was that the kids in Mahawilachchiya do not really have leisure activities and hobbies. They focus too much on studying (and dancing & computers). For people like me who believe life teaches you everything outside of the school, this was shocking. It is surely also consequence of a lack of material, but kids are the most inventing and creative creatures when it comes to playing.
Mahawilachchiya had turned into a home for me from a very short time after my arrival. This is not only a place you call accommodation, I can cordially call it “home.” It’s the people who make this place so special. From the very first moment (started with the above mentioned woman who organized my transfer) I felt accepted and very welcome in Mahawilachchiya. My beautiful family Yamuna, Upul, Chandra, Umandi with baby Nathasha, Pramodhya and Kaushal welcomed me as their lost eldest daughter who they haven’t seen for a long time. Pramodhya even gave up her room to accommodate me. I spent a lot of time playing, laughing and eating with them and will surely miss this wonderful family. The food was just so delicious (besides the fact that I got overfed.) I loved being their playmate and doll.
The great thing in Mahawilachchiya is that you are welcome everywhere and also all the other families always have an open door for you.
I started to spend half of the nights at Horizon Lanka so I could experience Sri Lankan family life on one hand but also enjoyed volunteers house sharing, which was both great! I can even spend the whole day in the hammock, just doing nothing, and people will still care about me and bring me food and herbal tea. I do have wonderful memories of being in Mahawilachchiya, in the nature, meditating.
3 weeks in Mahawilachchiya have given me many life learning lessons. Even after having been to around 40 countries, I have never seen a place before where people seem to be that much connected with nature and original life. The less you have, the more you appreciate what is around.
Sudu Aka will be back soon!
I spent around 5 weeks (4 weeks before Mahawilachchiya and 1 week after) travelling around Sri Lanka. It is such a wonderful place which has so many things to offer. Whatever you are looking for, you will probably find it in Sri Lanka. It is very diverse and it is so easy and cheap to get around. Meeting other travellers or locals is not hard at all. I tried to avoid other tourists as well as possible and got therefore a very local experience by staying with locals all the time. Due to a lack of English (and Sinhala from my side) it was often very hard to get information from locals about Sri Lanka. You feel so connected with mother earth while being in Sri Lanka and it is such a spiritual, inspiring and relaxing place no one should miss out.
I would like to say cordially thank you to my wonderful family who accepted me as their daughter, to the people of Mahawilachchiya who always welcomed me with open arms and showed me how to be happy with the most basic things, to Nanda and Wasantha for all the inspiring ideas and sharing and to my volunteer mates Mohamed and Irina for the very best company and the lifelong friendship!
Emilie Demellayer was a 19-year-old university student from Switzerland. She was our first Swiss volunteer. She spent two weeks at Horizon Lanka, Mahawilachchiya. She was a great dancer. She taught dancing to the Horizon Lanka students. She also performed with Horizon Lanka students at the Mini Concert held in February, 2016.