After I parted from my parents, I took a train from Mirissa to Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo. After a long 5 hour ride I took a tuk tuk to my hotel and went to a local market for dinner after wandering around a little.
The next day I was picked up by Projects Abroad (a global volunteering organization) and I met my host family (Chandra, Lal and their sons & grandson), who lived in a suburb an hour outside of Colombo called Panadura. Chandra greeted me with few English words, big hugs, and a large fan to keep from the relentless heat.
There were women from the UK, Germany and Norway who would be living in the house for most of my stay, many of their programs lasting much longer than mine.
My first day I had an introduction with some of the Projects Abroad staff, and they took me on the bus from my host family and showed me landmarks for my volunteering positions. The staff were Sri Lankans organizing projects in different communities depending on the different programs. The medical programs were usually in a suburb of Colombo, down their main road: Galle Road. I had projects every day which varied depending on what my leader had organized. Alongside shadowing doctors at local hospitals, we had hands on work where we went to many elders homes, and took blood pressures, blood sugar levels and BMI.
The conditions of these homes varied from quaint to unlivable. Some elders homes were not really elders homes, but a home for the mentally impaired or developmentally challenged as they would put it (cerebral palsy, spectrum of autism, down sydrome, blindness), as families of these people would abandon them because care for them would be too expensive or unmanageable. Many people in the elders homes were as young as 25, but very mentally or physically unstable.
We visited quite a few elders home alongside the doctors, so that the patients could receive advice and/or medication to help improve their health. Type 2 diabetes was overly abundant in the Sri Lankan population, and was very prevalent in the homes. We also administered health camps, where we would drive 1-2 hours outside of Colombo to rural villages to help people in similar ways, giving them access to basic medical attention. These people ranged from age 5-90. We also did other types of public health outreach, as we conducted a powerpoint presentation (which was translated in Sinhala) on proper First Aid training/CPR in order for elders to be educated on how to respond to a possible problem. Also teaching the elders small and easy exercises to strengthen their legs and upper arms to prevent injuries. As a volunteering team we also had the opportunity to paint the pediatric ward in our local hospital!
I shadowed many midwifes in home pregnancy or infancy visits, learning much about Sri Lanka’s healthcare system. I also got many opportunities to visit Maternity clinics and speak to the doctors and nurses while they assessed children and mothers, and gave due vaccines.
In every health camp, elders home, or seminar I attended, every patient or participant was overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to have access to a medical assessment. I worked with so many wonderful people in my volunteering, all in Sri Lanka to help others and to try and make small differences in their own ways.
On my first weekend off, some volunteers and I travelled to a small beach town in Southern Sri Lanka, Unawatuna and swam, ate and relaxed.
On the second weekend, three girls and I hiked Adams Peak, a 5,500 step mountain with religious history, staying up until 2 am to start our ascent to reach the peak by sunrise.
I had such an incredible experience living in Sri Lanka, learning my neighborhood and its quirks. Being able to travel on the weekends, and then easily explore the country on the weekend with volunteers from all around the world was an incredible experience and opportunity. I learned so much about healthcare in Sri Lanka and am grateful for the patients, doctors and volunteers I was able to work with.
Sthoo∙thi Sri Lanka!
[Thank you Sri Lanka!]