Ms. Susannah Horowitz from The United Kingdom was the first volunteer in 2018. She volunteered at Horizon Lanka Foundation in January, 2018.
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!
Mr. Mark McDougall from the United Kingdom volunteered two weeks in March 2017 at Horizon Lanka. Though his stay was comparatively shorter, he did a lot for the organization especially with his great writing skills.
Volunteering at Horizon Lanka – Mark McDougall
My time spent volunteering at Horizon Lanka and living in Mahawilachchiya has been one of the most unique and rewarding experiences that I have been part of, throughout my entire journey around Asia. I have found Horizon Lanka to be a key aspect in the lives of many of the children in Mahawilachchiya. It gives the children a platform to learn, that is completely different from the environment in which they learn in their public schools, with a real focus put upon computer skills, improving their English and expressing themselves through singing and dancing. The children seem to really enjoy having Horizon Lanka as a place where they can socialize with both their friends and volunteers from around the world, as well as improving their IT and English skills which will hopefully help to further their prospects in both the job market and in society after they finish their education. Nanda works incredibly hard to create an environment where the children and volunteers are comfortable. I have particularly enjoyed helping the children with their spoken English, mainly through simply having conversations with them and discovering what their interests are as people. The children are energetic, warm and friendly people who engage fully in all that they do; be it learning new things, playing sports like cricket and volleyball or expressing themselves through music and dance (which many of the children are extremely passionate about).
The people of Mahawilachchiya are some of the most caring and generous people that I have ever met! While cycling or walking around the village and surrounding areas I have been constantly acknowledged by a waving hand or smiling face and have really felt welcomed into this rural community. Wasantha has been like a guide to me, introducing me to so many lovely people throughout the village. I have been invited into countless houses for tea or food and to chat, a show of generosity that has really touched me as I don’t believe there are many places in the world where a stranger will be treated as warmly and to be made to feel as at home, as I have in Mahawilachchiya. The community here is truly one built around a philosophy of ‘sharing is caring’, as everyone so readily shares whatever they have and no one goes without. This includes animals as well as people, as any ‘waste’ food is dispersed to the various birds and animals that inhabit the area. The concept of greed doesn’t appear to have been introduced to Mahawilachchiya, as people only take what they need, nothing more. Coming from a country where it is much more uncommon for someone to show an act of kindness to a complete stranger, it has been very beautiful for me to witness and be a part of.
As well as introducing me to multiple friends and families around the area, Wasantha has shown me various areas of natural beauty that I never would have discovered myself. This part of Sri Lanka has so much to offer to a nature lover. Some of my favorite places that I have been in Mahawilachchiya are; the lake (which is a great spot to swim and cool off) and the river side (where I was again made to feel completely welcome by the local women that stayed there) which is one of the most peaceful and serene spots I have ever been to just to relax with a book or watch the various birdlife or try to catch fish in the teeming river.
While volunteering with Horizon Lanka, I have been lucky enough to be hosted by Surendra and his family. They have strived at all times to make me feel like part of the family and to ensure that I am happy and well-fed! Surendra’s mother has provided me with some of the best food I have ever eaten; from delicious curries and rice to rotis and salads, all of the food has been delicious. It has been very interesting for me to see and eat food that is completely organic and natural, and to be able to see exactly where the food has come from. This family have completely opened their home to me and I can’t express enough how grateful I am for that. It has been really interesting and enjoyable for me to get to know all of the family (including Bruno the dog!) and to witness Sri Lankan family life.
Unfortunately, as I have visited Mahawilachchiya during the very busy exam period I have been unable to volunteer at a public school. However, this just gives me an even greater incentive to return to Mahawilachchiya and to combine volunteering at Horizon Lanka with volunteering at a local school.
After escaping the chaotic melting pot that is Colombo, the steady and tranquil pace of village life in Mahawilachchiya is a breath of fresh air. I wish that I had time to stay here for a longer period of time, unfortunately that isn’t possible for me right now. However, I definitely intend to return to this area and to volunteer with Horizon Lanka again and to see how everyone in the village is getting on. I think there are lots of people who would benefit from a similar experience as the one I have had in Mahawilachchiya and I know that future volunteers will have as great a time as I have.
Mark McDougall – The United Kingdom March 29, 2017