Tali Motzkin from Israel volunteered at Horizon Lanka Foundation in January, 2018.
“My Volunteering at Horizon Academy – Anuradhapura
I would like to tell you about my volunteering experience. I arrived at the Horizon Academy at Thursday evening, straight to Ramanee and Udaya’s school, close to the Anuradhapura city. When I was at the bus station I called Ramanee and she sent her husband, Udaya to pick me with a tuk-tuk driver so I didn’t have any problems to find the place. At this day the students had a goodbye party for the formal volunteer (Susannah Horowitz) so it was very nice to see how they danced, laughed and shared respect for her and also for welcoming me. They prepared us a “queens feast” with a lot of fresh fruits and showed us a dance concert. Then, after this great welcome, my host family came to take me. There, I met my new sister: Hashini, her brother: Gihan, and my new parents: Anura and Kumari. At first it was so strange to walk into other people’s house but they made me feel like I am at my own house. They cook amazing food for me every day and treat me so nicely. During my stay, every day I have learned something new about them and about their traditions, they also took me to some really cool places like the washing reservoir, temple and the local market. Now, after one week with them I really feel like home and they are my new family.
In the matter of the Horizon Academy, I didn’t have much time with them because I arrived to the weekend and only for a one week, but with the time I had it was nice to see how Ramanee and Udaya teach the students with a lot of passion in all kinds of ways like through books, notebooks, movies, games, dance, etc. I was joining to Ramanee’s teaching class. At the class I was talking with the students, check their homework, teach them computer work and at breaks, I was playing and teaching them field games. At the beginning it was hard for me to let them know what I mean in my explanation (I don’t speak Sinhala), but then I found some ways to explain like with signs and drawings. Also, it takes time to get to know the students and how to approach them, but when I did and felt like I did teach them something new, it was a really good feeling. I also translated Horizon Lanka website into Hebrew as requested by Nanda, but I wished to contribute more with the kids like maybe teach them new dance moves and art, things which require a longer stay. Therefore, I think if someone want to volunteer here and really make some difference, at least stay one week and even more here as it is necessary for getting know the program, students and family.
For conclusion, I had a great time (my best Sri Lankan experience so far!!) and I want to thank to all people who welcomed me, I hope I will see you again soon.
Mattia Brandolese is the first Italian volunteer Horizon Lanka hosted. He came with his friend Alberto Tosato in February 2006 and volunteered for a full month. He taught English and music at Horizon Lanka. He also taught at Saliyamala Public School in Mahawilachchiya.
Miss Anime Fu Jia volunteered at Horizon Lanka from December 2010 to February, 2011. She was one of the AIESEC interns. She came to us during a crisis time but did her best for us. We thank her for tolerating all the hardships yet being positive and teaching the students with her full attention.
Anime Fu Jia’s Report
When I was requested to write some stories about my volunteer experience at Horizon Lanka, my first feeling is like: Oh, it is been 3 years, but I feel like it just happened last winter. I am very proud and happy about this 2 months experience. Now I am going to tell why this experience makes me proud and happy.
In this school, I encountered a bunch of people who were trying to do something for children in this village. We taught students English there, corrected their papers, told them how to speak in front of everyone, showed them how to use computers, organized a little library for them and even tried to organize a trip with students. I witnessed and participated in good connections between teachers and students at Horizon Lanka. Also, it is a good place to make improvement by yourself. Because if you have a good idea here, you could negotiate with teachers there and implement your good idea into reality. Horizon Lanka grows with us.
I have to say I love this island so much for its people here. I met incredibly friendly people here. I used to stay with a family of one teacher at Horizon Lanka. They treated me like a family member. They took me to visit police station, invited me to a wedding ceremony, took good care of me when I was sick, answering to all my needs and even arrange their relatives to treat me for a short stay. As for me, I also did my part to respond to their kindness, I taught English for their children, I cooked some Chinese food for them and I always offer effective Chinese medicine to help their slight illness.
Here comes something I want to tell volunteers who plan to come to Horizon Lanka for Sri Lanka. Do not come and visit tourist spots in this country. Do not hold bias over this country. Do not hate spicy food here if you can. Just try to pretend you are a Sri Lankan and try to live here. You should learn some Sinhala, try weird food, attend wedding or even funeral, visit not only scenic spots but also post office, hospitals or even other place tourists do not come. In my opinion, I am really glad I lived here for 2 months with amazing people here.
When I talk Sri Lanka to my friends, I would like to introduce it as a place I would like to call my second hometown rather than a place I traveled. Thanks to Horizon Lanka, and wonderful people there, I could always smile when something remind me of Sri Lanka.
Mr. Jack Anthony Warren (in the blue T shirt) an AIESEC intern from the United Kingdom worked at Horizon Lanka, Mahawilachchiya from June to August in the year 2010.
My name is Jack Warren. During the months of June through August of 2010 I travelled to Mahawilachchiya, Sri Lanka with 3 friends from across the United Kingdom, stayed with some host families and spent the morning teaching in a school and afternoons at Horizon Lanka. During the 2nd half of my stay, the school term ended and we spend both mornings and afternoons at Horizon Lanka.
We interspersed these weeks with some trips to Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, Colombo, Kandy, Sirigiya and Nuwara Eliya – what is affectionately called “Little England” by the Sri Lankans. To explain away the name, the architecture resembles that of the nicer parts of Victorian England and to be frank since it is so high over sea level it is rather cool and wet… just what I was trying to escape from!
Speaking honestly, I look back on my time with good memories, however I actively remember feeling down and homesick. I certainly underwent some culture shock, not quite understanding the sport, cuisine, religious traditions and gender roles. But quite occasionally I was surprised by members of the community that brought me back to reality of how human beings are the same wherever you are in the world.
Get ready for a rather long post because many memories are flooding back that you may or may not be amused by. I will not be offended if you merely scan over or disregard the following fully.
I’m not a linguist, nor did I know anything about linguistic or language structures. Being a northern lad, the joke follows that I even struggle with my native tongue: English. So, expecting me to explain the difference between a continuous verb, the present tense and collective nouns is a long stretch and I was learning as much from my fellow teachers as the students were. What I think I brought to the team was eager energy and excitement that the kids could join me with. Some of the children were boys entering puberty and so I think a handful looked up at me occasionally for my behaviour, so being able to get on their level in a friendly way to make sure they paid attention and enjoyed playtime when it was the correct time was (I hope to think) helpful.
When I spent my mornings in a local school I was alone so couldn’t depend on the help of other teachers. I think the faculty identified I was most useful working with the older children, so I was more often than not placed with them. As I said above, I’m not a particularly well-equipped language teacher but I do know my maths. So, since many of the older children were learning Commerce, I applied my experience there to help them learn English. I hope I was helpful, although I’m sure many of the children saw my lessons as a mere entertaining spectacle watching this English boy flounder about trying to teach in English.
My public school, Siddhartha School was a bicycle ride away. We had three bicycles for four of us. Only two of those bicycles had brakes. One of my colleagues walked a short way to her school and me being the most experienced cyclist and perhaps a noble masochist opted to take the no-brakes bicycle. Daily I would cycle to my public school past road workers melting tarmac in an open wood fire. The roads near Mahawilachchiya vary from narrow dirt track to slightly wider dirt track with spots of tarmac. The bus to the nearest town (and nearest bottle of beer) is 40km away, and it takes two hours. This was something I really had to get used to.
One weekend my team and I went to visit Gangani, a colleague at Horizon Lanka. She had a lovely little family and fed us the most lovely banana and sugar pancakes. They are delicious but lethal to your teeth, so pack toothpaste! Michael, my flatmate and travelling colleague and I decided to cycle to hers for the weekend. It was a long trip in the sun, but all paid off when we spotted a wild elephant in the distance.
Michael and I were placed in the same host family. They had two little boys, one who was around 6 years old, the other perhaps 3. Their English language was not at a conversational level, but the mother in particular was very caring. Michael and I took turns trying to read with the eldest boy, but we didn’t have literature that was at his level. In hind sight, I would have brought a few more English language books as this would have helped more and made things easier.
Every dinner we would have what Michael and I decided to call Yellow Curry. We were told that Sri Lankan cuisine was very hot, but I think they went easy on us thinking we couldn’t hack spice. I confirm this is a gross misunderstanding of British people. Michael is Glaswegian and I am from Leicester. Both parts of Britain pride ourselves on our adoption of south Asian cuisine, and love a hot hot curry. Either way, Yellow Curry was rather tasty. Every day they will change the core ingredient. Meat was a rare ingredient and if ever, usually either fish or chicken. This is something I had to get used to. What was more difficult was that dinner was wrapped up for breakfast and lunch the next day, to be replaced by a new batch of Yellow Curry for the following evening.
This was unusual for Michael and I as we usually would mix different meals for different times of the day. We politely asked Gangani and Nanda (Wanni) what we could do as we wanted to be sensitive not to appear ungrateful to the hospitality. We only wanted some bread and butter for breakfast and we were happy going to a nearby shop to buy lunch. Side note – get a pattis. They are so tasty. They resemble a Cornish pasty filled with curry, only the pastry seems a little deep fried and oily which sounds like a bad thing but it really isn’t. I wish I could get them here at home in Britain! I made the connection that pattis sounds similar to pasty so perhaps this was inspired during the British imperialist era? I never came to the bottom of it, but I think it makes sense.
Back to the bread and butter story…
Days later we wake up to a bowl of white bread sliced up and a big tub of margarine. I loosely remember our host-mum stopping us just before we picked up some bread, she grabbed a bag of sugar and then poured it into the margarine. She mixed it in with a helpful smile and offered it to us. I mentioned earlier the Sri Lankan love of sweet breakfasts. I think that our host mum could not possibly imagine a world in which we would enjoy plain buttered bread. Politely smiling Michael and I proceeded to spread the sugared margarine on our bread, then took a bite as our host mum smiled and nodded at us hoping profusely that we enjoyed it.
I could not do much else besides from feign enjoyment as I tasted the crunch of sugar over my teeth. Exceptional hospitality, a clash of cultures and altogether a cute memory.
God, I loved those pattis, they really saved me!
Before you head off, contact Wanni about the prevalence of malaria and other diseases. I entrusted my faith in the British NHS, and their records were slightly out of date. I was told malaria was prominent across the North. As anyone would, I took my medication just in case.
Until my visit to Sri Lanka I didn’t think I was allergic to anything. By the end of the 3rd week I knew that I was allergic to malaria medication as my feet swelled up into warm blood-filled balloons. My toes did not swell up to the same extent, so my feet, now perhaps three times as big barely fitted within my flip-flops.
I grinned and bared it for weeks, but after it got to the point I was in pain to walk I was taken to a nearby doctor. My allergic reaction led to swelling in my feet, in turn leading to some very minor internal bleeding and bruising. It began to hurt to take a step, even more so to kick a football or run to catch a cricket ball. My doctor’s first reaction was, ‘Why are you taking this medication, you are allergic to it?! Stop taking them, start taking these anti-swelling drugs and [as ever] drink lots of water’.
During my time, I was fortunate enough to be in Mahawilachchiya for a festival celebrating the arrival of the Buddha to Sri Lanka. On the week day, we were in Mahawilachchiya, and on a later weekend in Kandy celebrating the same festival. I strongly recommend being present for the local village/town festival as it is so much more intimate and really something you will never find on a tourist brochure. The only thing I can relate it to from Britain may be your local Bonfire Night celebrations. When you live in a small-town community, Bonfire Night is a wonderful evening where you see your school friends at night time, sometimes see your teachers with their families etc. and it is very lovely. When you go to a larger event in a big city like London you do have better fireworks, but the heart is taken away.
I’m sure French readers can relate this to Bastille Day and Americans can relate to Independence Day.
In Kandy, they had parades of elephants, dancers, music and seating etc. In Mahawilachchiya, the parade was led by a pick-up truck and a local drum troupe, and everyone in the community joined the parade and danced in the street together. Make your own decision.
I have lots more to tell, but I will end with some bullet points.
Embrace it as it goes too fast
Take a moment when confused to breath and remember that not everything is like at home, and that is ok
It does not matter if things don’t make sense – go with it
Do the things that seem boring are weird on the surface – at least then you’ve done it
Expect travel to take a lot longer
Choose to trust and be misled. It is better than not trusting and missing things
Laugh at what you think is weird
Take lots of books
Expect cockroaches and accept it as an eventuality.