My country is the World. My religion is to be Human.

Volunteering in the school of English language in Sri Lanka

When I decided to go on a two-month trip around Asia, I wanted to get organized so that a bigger part of my trip allowed me to interract with the locals as much as I can. My first destination was Sri Lanka, where I volunteered in a foreign language school in a village called Giribawa, somewhere in the heart of Sri Lanka.

The school currently has 300 students, among whom there are two Buddhist priests. All students are between 15 and 25 years old. Through this school, since 2006, there have been 10 000 students aged 5 to 70. 90% of these children have never seen a white person in their life and that’s why they constantly wanted to take photos with me: “Selfie madam?”. They’re obsessed with Facebook and selfies. And this is what they do all day long. All they wanted was to add me on FB so I had to create a new profile with the local name that I got from them: Madu.

 

The interesting thing is that their course lasts two and a half months and almost all students live in the school during this period. Their day begins with a lecture at 5:30 in the morning that lasts until 2 p.m. Then they have some free time during which they go swimming and then again in the evening classes last from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. Sometimes their lectures last until after midnight.

I wore sari at every lecture I held. I did not want my classes to be boring and traditional, so I decided to teach them about different cultures in the world. In this way I have helped a lot because they also practiced English and learned a lot about our wonderful world. I presented them Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and other LATAM countries, Japan, China, America, Serbia, India and the rest of Asia. They always carefully listened to me even after the end of my presentations, most of them expressed a wish to travel someday.

What I found interesting is that girls are separated from the boys in every way. They have separate hostels, separate places where they eat, even the water tank is separated. Boys and girls are not allowed to socialize or to talk to each other (although I repeatedly saw papers sent to each other and all are FB friends, so they do communicate, but it should not be done in public). Female hostel is locked during the night to prevent boys from entering. Male hostel is open non-stop and the boys can walk freely around the yard, even at night. If girls see the boys in the yard, they have to stay inside.

Every day they take a bath and they have two options to do so. The first is to go to the lake at half past four in groups or to take a bath in wells (in which I saw the dead frog last time). Most of them go to the lake and there they take a bath and do their laundry. Since I wanted to fit in, I did everything they were doing, do I also took a bath in the lake. Although only girls were present in one part of the lake, swimsuits are banned, they bathe wrapped in a scarf over their naked bodies and enter the lake, shampoo themselves and wash it off. It’s not hard for me to wash my clothes and take a bath in the lake, because if they can, why can I not, but it was very difficult for me to bear the smell that I had left on me, my hair and things stank of something specific, something similar to mud. Given the fact that the humidity is high, things that I washed would be drying for three days, although it was 30 degrees. So my things additionally smelt moldy. All in all, I didn’t smell nice, but since they had the same problem, it was acceptable.

Take a look at the video: Bathing in the lake

I helped as much as I could, I talked to students, held presentations, interviewed them in front of their parents, I helped in the kitchen with food preparation. I even prepared some Serbian dessert called sutlijaš. For this I had to make coconut milk from scratch, to grate cinnamon, etc.

People who work at the school also live there. Their salary is very low and working conditions are far from normal, but they nevertheless remain cheerful and joyful. They all have big dreams. I could not help them financially, so I tried to keep up their team spirit. I made them bracelets saying TEB STUFF in order for them to identify with the school, in order for them to feel better, motivated. They were very proud and they all wore them.

When I left, I received a variety of gifts. Generally I like gifts, but these ones I didn’t like because these people earned very little and they could have spent their valuable money on something else rather than myself. That made me very sad.

In this school, I learned that the amount of concrete in the environment affects the extent to which we are humans. The less concrete and more nature means that we have are happier and more grateful for what we already have.

Take a look at my impressions from this school expressed in this video. You can also see what children dream about in Sri Lanka:

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Milica Radovic-Mandic

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