Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I have been in the hospitality industry since 1994. I am responsible for operations. My effort is to offer programs which have a greater impact to the community we live in, and at the same time give a meaningful experience to overseas volunteers
What makes the country of Sri Lanka so special and what do you love about living here? Where are you located?
Sri Lanka has it all! Ranging from the green mountain ranges, white sandy beaches all around the country to the tropical rainforests and extremely diversified flora and fauna. And its glorious history, tradition and culture make it a great travel destination. Sri Lanka is an island which is also known as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”. This is said to be named after its incredible beauty.
The volunteer centres are located in Kandy, Dambulla, Ambalangoda as well as in Hanguranketha. We give volunteers a varied experience in each location. Kandy as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka gives you the royal air and a soothing climate with an atmosphere so unique. Hanguranketha, hidden among beautiful mountains, offers a first-hand experience of a remote Sri Lankan village. Dambulla is in the dry zone and opens you to the typical farming life style of Sri Lankans. And Ambalangoda is our beach location and is one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka.
What kinds of programs do you have here? How do participants get to placements?
We have many programs running in Sri Lanka. They are located in different localities. Culture week provides you an idea about Sri Lankan way of life, traditions of different communities and also language basics. Among our programs we have community development efforts, teaching projects, internships, conservation projects, wildlife programs as well as travel programs.
Have there been many international participants in your programs? Do you enjoy working with them?
We are very glad to say that volunteers from various countries partake in our programs and they are enjoy and contribute their 100% attention to our projects. Most of our volunteers are youth but we have also noticed that our programs have become popular among the senior citizens as well.
Sometimes they come with a group, with a friend, family or on their own. It is wonderful to receive people from all over the world representing different backgrounds, habits and see them come together as one to help us in our efforts to make the world a better place for humans and animals alike.
What can you expect when you arrive?
On their arrival at the airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka, they will be met by one of our staff who will have a sign board. Then they will be transferred to one of our accommodations. We do our best to make a safe and comfortable transfer to our center and make them feel at home in this foreign land.
How do international volunteers manage language and culture barriers?
Participants who arrive at our program will get an “Introduction Program” which will help them to get to know Sri Lankan culture, tradition, communities better. They will also get a “Sinhala language session” on the very first day to make it comfortable to adapt to Sri Lanka and to reduce language barriers to communicate with people.
Can you share some important cultural customs, traditions, norms, or “need to know” that would help prepare a new participant?
When attending programs in schools, temples everyone MUST cover their shoulders and knees especially. Always remember to take off your shoes or saddles before entering a house or a religious site.
How has international participation had an impact on your programs and the community?
Our programs have helped hundreds of communities through various projects and activities we have conducted and continue to do in Sri Lanka. The volunteers have helped us to make a difference in an immense number of lives materially as well as psychologically. Our community programs focus of construction and renovation, education and teaching, women empowerment, healthcare and wellness among many other projects. Participants support our efforts to make better living standards for the less privileged people of our communities.
What has been the response from the NGO’s and community about interactions with international participants?
Involvement of international volunteers gives a different experience for the local communities than it is with local participants. And the local communities have been extremely receptive and supportive towards our international participants. They have made a good impression among communities by doing selfless deeds and interacting with people in good faith. Therefore, the response from the local communities and organizations has always been positive toward our work.
What can vollies expect to experience in a typical day here?
Day starts with breakfast in the morning and then they leave the accommodation for their programs. They will have a break for lunch around 12 noon. Lunch will be served at the project depending on the schedule. After lunch they continue their work and wind up the session in the evening. However, the day’s work and schedule always depends on the program they are attending.
Can you tell me about the food and accommodation for participants?
Our accommodations are comfortable, safe and clean. We provide single gender, shared accommodation. The food we provide is a mix of Sri Lankan and western cuisine. And we always cater for participants with food allergies.
What are the best places to visit or things to do on days off, while here?
On weekends, participants can go to see nearby Hindu and Buddhist temples. If they wish they can visit an “Elephant Orphanage” which is located in Pinnawala. There are many animal sanctuaries where you can see hundreds of elephants roaming around freely and also leopards, birds and many other animals. Kandy, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Dambulla and Polonnaruwa are great to experience the culture and tradition of Sri Lanka. And it is a must to taste the local Sri Lankan cuisine at local restaurants, though it is little spicy.
For those who are nature lovers, Sri Lanka offers more than you can imagine. There are mountains for great hikes and waterfalls to hunt. Kandy to Ella is a train journey through the mountains and it is said to be a most scenic train ride in the world. And for those who yearn for adventure, you have rafting, cycling, snorkeling, diving, whale watching and many other activities to choose from.
What facilities are available nearby and what can a participant expect to spend on weekly expenses here?
Everything what they need is easily accessible in the city, such as medical shops, dispensaries, super markets, communications, phone shops, laundry, banks and ATMs etc.
How can participants best contribute to their programs and their own experience?
Having good attitudes and a positive mindset will always help them to be receptive the differences of this culture. They should just visit Sri Lanka with no expectations and then see the magic. They will see this beautiful country in the most original forms once they are here. This paradise never disappoints anyone.