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.
Miss Helen Elizabeth Coupe, an AIESEC intern from the United Kingdom worked at Horizon Lanka, Mahawilachchiya in 2010. She was an AIESEC volunteer.
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
- Eat everything
- 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.
Mr. Michael Philip McGill, (with yellow/black T shirt) an AIESEC intern from the United Kingdom worked at Horizon Lanka, Mahawilachchiya from June to August 2010.
Miss Thalia Fotaki, an AIESEC intern from Greece worked at Horizon Lanka, Mahawilachchiya from November 2009 to December 2009. She must be the quietest volunteer to visit Horizon Lanka. But she was very smart in teaching and students liked her a lot.
A few months ago I wouldn’t dare to imagine me being in Sri Lanka. I wanted to go somewhere totally different and experience a humble life with plain people who are happy with small everyday things. So when I arrived in Mahawilachchiya the first thing I thought was, “Yes, this is exactly what I wanted.” Another tempting thing about Sri Lanka was the tea!!! I love tea.
During my stay I met some interesting people. Marijn was one of them. She was another volunteer from the Netherlands who was also in Mahawilachchiya the same period as me. We stayed at the same house. We made a lot of trips. We also taught together.
I stayed at a hospitable family. I was really touched by their generosity. They were very compassionate and warm-hearted. They were also great cooks which is very good when you live in a village that has just the essential things. Sometimes the food was too spicy but fortunately it was still eatable. The funny thing is that generally I don’t eat much salt and spices but strangely I enjoyed it.
I’m also happy that my host family was a traditional Sri Lankan one with principles and morals. That fact helped me to get closer to the cultural understanding I was seeking. What captured my attention was the fact that people believe in stars and sometimes they let them determine their life. Another funny thing is that some people told me that I look like a Sri Lankan girl. Some others told me that I look like Cleopatra because of my short hair.
Every morning I woke up by the singing of the birds, it was amazing and exotic. We had breakfast by the sound of their traditional Sinhalese music.
It was so cheerful so it was a really good start of the day. After breakfast we went to Horizon Lanka where small kids were having a class. In their breaks we were playing. I will never forget them calling us teacher. It was such a sweet and innocent sound.
A lot of times I was considering about the similarities between Greece and Sri Lanka and I found many. In villages we also greet everyone and we also have a lot of sun (I didn’t expect it to be so sunny in Sri Lanka because it was the rainy season and that’s why the first days I had sunburns.) Greece has also mountains and beaches. And of course another similarity is that people in Sri Lanka love taking pictures. I love taking pictures and capturing every moment. :))
As for people, at first they stared at me but the funny thing is that they smiled immediately after I smiled. It was such an honest smile and every time it was the same. I loved it. The people didn’t speak English; they just knew a few English words so they were very proud of themselves when they had the chance to use them. Such words were ‘where going?’, ‘Where from?’ or just a ‘hi’.
Based on my little experience as a teacher I can say that it’s very difficult to teach a language when you don’t speak the native language of the students. Indeed it’s challenging but simultaneously there is uncertainty about the result. Also their alphabet has nothing to do with the Latin alphabet so children had many difficulties in English. However heir thirst for knowledge overcame all the difficulties. I loved it when the students called me Thalia teacher. There was also a bird whose singing was the word teacher. For a long time Marijn and I thought that it was in our imagination. It was so funny when we discussed about that and we figured out that it actually sings the word teacher.
The students were really cute and beautiful. Girls picked flowers for us and boys, fruits. Too bad the fruits were not ripe enough that season. After some time of teaching they always wanted to play so they said teacher play. 🙂
Although there were a lot of computers most of them were broken so me and Marijn focused on teaching English.
Horizon Lanka is a place with great potentials, the building is very beautiful and colorful and the most important thing is that there are students willing to learn. I’m glad that while I was there some important steps were made for its developing. More and more people were coming to check Horizon Lanka and donors were found to repair the damaged computers. I’m so glad that I took part in such a great venture.
It’s been almost one week since I left Sri Lanka and I already miss it. I hope that one day I will visit Sri Lanka again and see the evolution.
Thalia Fotaki, Greece : January 3, 2010
Andytje Millimon, Lien 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.
Belinda Hession from the United Kingdom visited Horizon Lanka in August 2005 and stayed for two weeks. She came with her younger sister Jacqueline.