Jessica Rose Heron, 20, Australia
I wish I had more time to spend here, a month was simply not long enough. Great things are often an accumulation of smaller actions and every volunteer’s caring attitude makes a difference to someone else’s life. During my time here I have worked closely with the street children at the Montessori Nursery. These kids are incredible, their positivity and excitement for life is contagious. It’s hard to think they spend each night on the street. You have the power to enlighten these children with the excitement of education and a brighter future.
The orphanage is a heartbreaking place to work but one where your mere presence makes a massive difference to daily life. Every child deserves to feel individual and loved. Sadly, the orphans outweigh the staff and this is not possible. I will never forget these kids, their beautiful attitudes and big smiles make everything seem ok. I will continue to spread their love and light around the world and will always be working towards a better future.
Thank you Janaka for everything. Keep spreading your word and the world will be a much better place one day. Your family made me feel most welcome and comfortable during my stay. I couldn’t ask for anything more than what you provided. Janaka, thank you for being such an inspiration.
Amy, Megan, Miranda, Kara, Katie, Nina, Angela & Trevor, The University of Cincinnati, April / May 2014
Thank you and your family for generously hosting all of us. Our time here has been eye-opening and we feel that we have made a difference in the lives of the young people. Words cannot begin to explain the time we spent with you and thank you again for showing us what love really means. We have enjoyed working with the young children, the street kids and nursing students and helping them with their English. The hardest part of the experience was working at the orphanage and I hope we have done some good to their lives. Janaka, you are a fantastic person with an amazing & remarkable foundation! May your dedication, enthusiasm and creativity continue to inspire for a long time to come. This is our promise to come back and help you more.
Rick Benders, Holland, July/August 2014
Where you going to start, after six weeks I can write a book about my experience at ‘VSL’. But I am going to keep it short.
Six weeks ago I arrived after a long flight in Janaka’s home and the first what he did was give a big hug. From the first moment it was like home with a grateful atmosphere! My goal to come to Sri Lanka was to learn from Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan people and I did. The people all so friendly, helpful and always happy. I am going to try to introduce this in Holland!! And then about you Janaka, after six weeks I have a lot of respect for you! You work so hard and you have a great personality. Your stories, attention to everybody and always everyday with full of energy. Its amazing! If everybody is like you, the world is much better I am sure. Thanks for everything, for giving me the chance to come and see the real Sri Lanka, I can never forget this amazing six weeks!
Elizabeth Murphy, Ireland, August 2014
Thank you much for making my time here so wonderful. You are all so special people. It has been a pleasure getting to know you. My three weeks here have been too short but I have managed to get so attached. I have been surrounded by many amazing people. I have had the opportunity to really embrace the Sri Lankan culture. I have learned a lot during my time here and feel so privileged to have met such as inspirational person with a big warm caring heart. (Janaka) I sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you have done and your gracious hospitality. I will definitely be going back to Ireland telling all of my friends & family what a wonderful place it is here.
Joanna Philips, London, England, September 2014
Thank you for giving every volunteer the opportunity to speak and write about their experience of the projects. I have learnt a lot being here and I hope instead of saying I practice some of the many things I have learnt from you.
Coming to Sri Lanka was something I have worked to do for a long time, but I struggled to imagine it. I couldn’t have asked for a better way of experiencing Sri Lanka. Thank you for making me feel connected to this country in such a positive way. I wish I could stay here longer because I could feel my commitment to certain projects really growing. Sri Lankan people are so smiley, generous and friendly. Despite having grown up very detached from this country, I now feel proud to be from here. On reflection when I first arrived I was quite closed because I was afraid of being emotional or touched. As the second week went on I felt myself really open up and I truly have had a honest and humble experience! Janaka you truly are an amazing person. Everyone speaks so very high of you. I really hope you know what a good person you are. I felt lucky to have met you and I would very much like to meet you again.
Jana & Felix Rambo, Berlin, Germany, September 2014
First of all thank you for your hospitality, your kindness, your thoughts you shared with us, for your help with anything at any time of the day, for your opportunities you gave us. Before we come here we didn’t expect such a heart-warming projects. ‘VSL’ has positively surprised us in every single way.
After we were travelling for 4 months, we were looking for a place that feels like home again, which we found in the second when you gave us that first big hug at your gate! This has definitely the most intense time of our journey.
The work you do here with your projects is incredible, not only for the Sri Lankan people, but also for us. We will support you in the future in any way we can start with sending you fresh volunteers from our friends & family.
Natalie Ibrahim, England, August 2014
Words cannot describe how grateful and appreciate I am for this experience. I have transformed as a person, a teacher, and a human being throughout these five weeks in Sri lanka, volunteering + teaching and that would not have been possible without your hard-work, dedication and kindness.
You welcomed me into your home with open arms and a great big hug and invited Nick too, organized a fabulous trip for us to see more of your beautiful country – Kandy, Sigiriya, Ella.. amazing.
I’ve had the time of my life and met some incredible people. Children & volunteers who I have learnt so much from. I will never forget the memories made here, the smiles on faces, laughter and stories – they will stay forever in my heart. I am not sad to leave because I know it is not forever… its more of an ‘Until next time’ as I hope to come again soon with friends and family.
Jodie Burridge, Buckinghamshire, England, July 2014
I don’t know where to start. This has been the most incredible and life changing experience of my life. The amount I have learnt whilst being here is indescribable and that’s from you, the other volunteers and of course the beautiful children that I have worked with.
I came out here quite an anxious, stressed and self conscious person, but I am leaving the complete opposite. The environment here has such an incredible and positive vibe, one where everyone is so relaxed and comfortable, so it is impossible to feel stressed. My confidence has grown so much, purely because of how proud I am of what I have managed to achieve when helping the children. I know that’s something that nobody can ever take away from me. The smiles on those children and elderly people faces are amazing, they have so little but smile so much and it just shows the impact that I have had on their lives. Saying goodbye is never easy, but I never thought it would be this hard. Being here has been such a hard, but happy experience and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
Janaka, you are an inspiration. I cannot believe the amount of work you do, all day, every day and the amount of people you help. I really feel that over the past month I have made a fantastic and true friend in you, and I promise that I will be in touch and of course and I plan to come back soon.
Elaine and Mary, Surrey, England - March 2014
Volunteering was something I had always wanted to do when I was younger, but family matters had always made this impossible. Now, with children grown up, I thought “why not?” On mentioning my plans to my friend, Mary, she told me that she too would love to have this experience.
We researched online, looking at various options, very aware that we did not want to be the only mature ladies on a placement. When we came across volunteer Sri Lanka, we were both immediately drawn to the project. The website was very informative and we loved the idea of the family accommodation.
We were certainly not disappointed. We were met at the airport by a friendly driver (pre-arranged by Janaka) and greeted warmly when we arrived at the house. We met with the other volunteers - a wide range of ages and nationalities, and started work the following morning. We worked on several projects including the children’s orphanage, the teenage girls’ project, the elders project, with special needs children, and at the street children’s centre. All the projects were immensely rewarding, though some could be quite emotionally challenging. Seeing the tiny children’s faces light up when you arrived at the orphanage, and being able to cuddle and play with them led you to feel you were making a difference in some small way. The teenage girls were keen to learn crafts and most would engage in the basic English classes we ran. The elders were a delight, and enjoyed the chats and the memory card games we played with them (they beat us hollow most of the time!)
Janaka and his family are wonderful, so too are his hard working staff. They work tirelessly to improve the lives of those less fortunate. We enjoyed lovely home cooked Sri Lankan meals, and we were even invited to Janaka’s mother-in-law’s 91st birthday celebrations, which was a real treat!
For our last couple of days, we left Galle for a trip to Kandy, again arranged in conjunction with Janaka. We had a wonderful time, visiting an Elephant Sanctuary, the Temple of the Tooth, and Sigiriya (the Lion Rock). Our driver also stopped for us at a tea factory and herb garden, before finally driving us back to Colombo for our journey home.
If you are thinking of volunteering, and want a taste of real Sri Lankan life on a project where everyone is passionate about making things better for children and the elderly alike, you would do well to choose to volunteer with Janaka. Thank you for a wonderful experience, we hope to see you again one day.
Kathy Plumridge, Australia, September - November 2013
My heart has undergone such profound and wonderful changes during my time in Galle with the 'VSL' and I feel truly blessed having had the opportunity for this experience. In many ways, trying to articulate it in writing is too difficult - the many, many moments of pure euphoria and delight are indescribable. As are the gut wrenching moments of despair and sadness. What remains, however, are the very beautiful connections and relationships I've built with so many people over my 2 months in this special little pocket of the world - not only at each of the projects, but in your home, and in our very lovely "neighbourhood". I left Galle with a heart full of love - what more can we ever hope for...
So, simply, thank you. It doesn't seem enough, but what more can I say - I gave my absolute all to every project, each and every day - but what a special gift I received in return. I'll treasure it forever. And I'm sure I'll be back again for more - Sri Lanka continues to surprise and delight at every turn!!
Thanks again Janaka, for EVERYTHING. What remarkable things you do, and what a remarkable man you are...
Helen Weeks, Newcastle, England
Thank you again for an amazing and truly unforgettable experience with Volunteer Sri Lanka in June this year.
I was initially nervous travelling alone and arriving in an unknown country, but right from my arrival to my very last day I could not have felt more at home. This was all thanks to you and your family as well as all the staff especially Douglas and Siri and the night staff, who were not only welcoming but caring, kind, funny (especially Siri!) and willing to help with any problems. Your staff are a real credit to the project and I will recommend my stay and the Volunteer Sri Lanka project to many.
The many projects I took part in gave me an insight into other cultures and religions as well as gaining more experience working with children and children with special needs in which I hope to continue in the future. I especially enjoyed volunteering at the orphanage and Sacred Heart School with the special needs girls class. The staff at the projects really appreciate the volunteers and their time and make it incredibly hard to leave! The children themselves are so inspirational despite their hard times - the orphanage babies will forever be in my memory for smiling, laughing and playing like any other child.
I cannot thank you enough for the 4 weeks I was able to be a part of volunteer Sri lanka - I have not stopped talking about it since I came home! Sri Lanka itself is a truly beautiful country and I aim to return again soon with my family and friends.
I hope that the project continues to thrive and that many more volunteers are able to replicate my experience and appreciate the amazing and inspirational work that you do. Let me know how things are going and I look forward to organising another trip with you hopefully next year or early 2015.
Nina Sorensen, London – England, April – May 2013:
I am not a huge believer of tale but an unknown force drew me to Sri Lanka and has provided me with the greatest experience of my life. During my time in Asia, I have been exposed to some of the most brutal and saddening stories of what certain people can be capable of. But having met Janaka and learning about his life and the reason you started this project, you have honestly restored my belief that after some of the darkest hours, it only takes one person to change the perception of an entire country. Janaka encompass everything that is beautiful and humbling about Sri Lanka, and you truly are one of the most inspirational people I have ever met.
The projects you run have taught me that help and support does not need to be expressed in money, wealth or material things, but an opening of your heart, sharing of experience and simply a loving smile. The projects have given me confidence and a sense of limitless ability, and have shown me that competence and success are not determined by an exam score, a degree, or a good salary but by your ability to completely step outside your comfort zone and embrace the…………
Some of the strongest relationships I made here were with babies who had yet to say their first words, elderly ladies who didn’t speak at all! But the fact that I was able to make them smile, laugh and feel comfortable enough to hug me is one of the most moving experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Finally, I thank you for being everything you are, and opening up your home, your life and your world to share your experience , your humbleness, and your heart and when I return I hope to be at least help the person you are, and amazing parent, an inspirational teacher, an angel on earth.
Victoria Kidd, Liverpool - England, May 2013:
The work Janaka & VSL do in the local area, and pure commitment, to the people in need is amazing. You should be so proud of the work you do and the results you achieve. The programs are fantastic, the support is spectacular, and the children are INCREDIBLE.
All of the projects were beyond Brilliant; I don’t think I will ever find a class as avid and inspired to learn as the ones in here. I also now have much more confidence in changing nappies! I’ve also been inspired by the street kids entirely, possibly the happiest bunch of kids I have ever met. They will be truly missed.
It is so over overwhelmingly obvious how grateful the Sri Lankan people are for your constant support and care. It has been an honor to work as part of this team and I have been truly inspired by your generosity, kindness, and being selfless. I only have one complaint.. 3 weeks is not enough!!
I really can’t sum up three weeks of an experience, though Janaka conclusively I can say I am more appreciative of what I have in myself. I certainly have a lot more confidence. I definitely feel inspired by your attitude towards life, Janaka, Galle and the rest of Sri Lanka are extremely lucky to have you.
The six weeks I spent in Sri Lanka have been the most fulfilling weeks of my life. Never before have I felt like I made such a difference in other people’s lives. I feel so lucky that I found this project and that I was able to meet and make a friend in Janaka, along with feeling very close to his family.
I always knew I wanted to volunteer in Sri Lanka, as after a family holiday to the country in 2003, I felt instantly attached. I arrived on September 1st, 2012, and, as this was my first volunteering experience, I didn’t know what to expect. I was immediately put at ease when meeting the other volunteers and meeting Janaka and his family. Staying with Janaka in his family home is such a positive aspect of VSL as you become close with the other volunteers and feel very safe and never alone. Not to mention the food provided is great and its a good opportunity to experience real Sri Lankan cooking. I would describe Janaka’s house as a home from home for me. I was lucky enough to form a great relationship with his children, most notably his youngest daughter Koeli who I still miss everyday!
There are many rewarding projects one can choose from with VSL; I worked closely with the street children and in Ruhunu Orphanage, both very different projects, but both as worth while. The children are all beautiful and I had so much fun with them all. They are all so bright and have a lot to give the world. I certainly learned how rewards come from working hard.
I know I will return to Janaka’s home very soon as it has been an experience I will find impossible to forget. I have certainly changed for the better from participating in this amazing project, appreciating the small things in life and being aware of what I can offer to help others. I feel honored I was part of this project.
Anke Eggink and Tineke Holst, Holland
We have worked twice as volunteers for the project of Janaka de Silva in the city of Galle, Sri Lanka. Working there you can choose between different projects, work that suites you and/or where you were trained or educated for. More details of the projects you can find on the website. In 2012 we worked in the Ruhuni Orphanage, the Home for Elderly and with the streetkids of Galle.
In the orphanage you work together with volunteers from all over the world and with local women who work there for a living. It is nice to build up a relation with these women because this makes the work more enjoyable. We experienced that being there for the second time we were better prepared for what was coming.
When we went there for the second time in september 2012 we were quite involved with the children in the orphanage (there are young babies and small children up to 2 and a half years). We also spend some time with the elderly and streetchildren and gave swimming lessons to deaf girls.
Especially with the streetchildren we experienced that it gave pleasure that we were recognised by them from the previous time. For these kids things were significantly better than the first time in 2011. These children go to school now and in the afternoon there is a proper program for them. Every day clean clothes and food and drinks. They even watch tele for half an hour.
Of course there are many opportunities for improvement on all levels but it was very nice to experience that circumstances are improving, also due to the work of the volunteers. So we can strongly recommend this project to you.
Janaka de Silva provides good housing and food facilities with him and his family, he has an open mind for your questions and provides a good support while working there. The type of project(s) you work for is chosen in good harmony. You live in a safe neighbourhood where you meet other people from all over the world who share most of their views on what’s important in life. There remains time to visit the surroundings of Galle.
Sri Lankans are friendly and polite people: the temperature of the land is high so you must be able to cope with that.
If you are interested you are welcome to email us for questions about this worthwhile project.
Anke and Tineke, email@example.com
Sacha King - Australia:
Volunteer Sri Lanka was not only a chance to help others but also a personal learning curve, about pushing boundaries and experiencing culture. After a few days volunteering I found myself getting very passionate about the project and having goals to achieve in the short month that I stayed. The community based approach to this organisation differs from any other and Janaka and his family's warm welcome, food, and accommodation outweighs any other by far. This organisation is personal and comes from compassion and understanding; volunteering here, I promise you will receive a whole and heartfelt experience. I enjoyed working at all placements from all walks of life, from babies’ only weeks old to the elderly at the nursing home, both equally as cute and sweet. The small selection of volunteers who choose this organisation to volunteer with will become a family with a range of nationalities and ages. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay and would strongly recommend others to consider volunteering. Janakas work is inspirational, it shows that one persons work can really change the lives of many; imagine if we were only all so compassionate. Thank you Janaka. It was such a great experience I am now in the process in planning my return for next year.
Samantha Strongman – England:
Two months of my volunteering has been one of the most wonderful months in my life and time will never forget. Thank you so much for making this so wonderful, for being so welcoming, generous and kindness and especially for all the yummy food.
I think the work you do is so fantastic and it has been an absolute honour to be part of it and I feel so lucky to have met so many beautiful people along the way. Sri lanka has been a complete surprise for me, it was never on my ‘Must visit’ list until your project came along, but without its colour, flavours and beauty, I feel I would have a huge gap missing in my life – I am so happy to have discovered it and you.
Rosalind Bracegirdle – UK from January to April 2011:
Time has gone too quickly- my three months here has flown by. I feel extremely honoured to have met you all and part of your lives. You have welcomed me into the family and made me feel so much at home.
I have learnt so much from being here, met so many fantastic people and had an unbelievable amount of happy memories which I will cherish forever. It has been an unforgettable experience and I am incredibly sad to leave you and Sri Lanka, you will always hold a special place in my heart!
Janaka, I have never met an individual like you, I don’t think I ever will again. You give so much to your family, your colleagues, your friends, and your community and to us the volunteers. You are truly wonderful and an inspiration to me. Overall the volunteering has been fantastic, I could not have wished for a better experience!
Emily Ray – Australia:
Looking back, I realize that finding ‘VSL’ project details via Google was defining moment as the information provided on the web site was so comprehensive and interesting that I just felt I had to come and experience it for myself. From the very first contact with Janaka, I felt at ease + reassured that using my school holiday time to travel to Galle would be the right decision. Although I have lived and travelled all over the world, this was my first ‘volunteering’ experience I do not regret my decision in any way. I wish to thank Janaka for his vision, patience, sense of humour, kindness and help from day one. Without his efforts, none of this would be possible, working with children, older people, teenage girls, … in a class room, swimming pool, their homes…. Truly amazing memories!
George 40, Amanda 38, Tati 10, Bella 8 and Nina 6 years from London, May 2011:
We found your details “by accident” and we are SO pleased we followed our instinct to come out here – all be it briefly to see what you are taking on. You should be very proud of yourself. We hope to spread the word for all these people and small children that need help.
May your organization grow! This has been a life changing experience for our young children, a gift from you.
Dr. Alan Davidson – Ireland, April – June 2011:
The great privilege of the ‘Volunteer Sri lanka’ project is that it is not just an organization but a home that you join. My seven weeks here were fulfilling at both personal and professional level. I can only hope that those I worked with benefitted as much as from we experience as I did. With my girl friend Lona coming out, we had a fantastic two weeks travelling getting to know the country and its culture and history better. It was kind of you Janaka to help arrange this.
Cam Kennedy – Australia, Volunteered for 3 months, October 2011– January 2012:
I came here near the end of my trip around the world and had been looking for a project I could spend some decent time to really make a difference. The initial plan was one month but soon after arriving I realized that I would have to stay longer.
From my first communication with Janaka, I was treated with professionalism that I had not experienced for a very long time. All my questions were answered promptly making me feel comfortable that I had chosen the right project. One of the best things about ‘VSL’ is the choice of projects I had to choose from. This really allowed me to align with my strengths to maximum productivity within the projects. The support given by Janaka made this much easier.
My time at ‘VSL’ and in Sri Lanka has been filled with so many amazing memories, some of which have to be mentioned:
- The Christmas concert, even if you can only understand half of them it really is special to see all the kids dressed up singing carols. Almost felt like home!
- Painting the Montessori school with our team of volunteers and all the locals helping out we achieved something really great in those two days.
- The storms, the day we were painting a storm hit the south of Sri Lanka, while this storm was going on, Sophie & I were nipping around Galle looking for paint brushes!
- The nursing school students, this was probably my favorite project and where I was given the opportunity to make a difference.
Yes there were a couple of low moments during my time here, but nothing to do with the project. But when called upon, Janaka was there to assist me whenever possible.
Imran, Bilal, Johnny, Adam and Matt – Liverpool University, UK, Volunteered in June – July 2011:
First and foremost thank you for giving us such a wonderful experience. It was rewarding and you are doing something very respectable and generous. It’s difficult to express on paper the extreme gratitude we feel for the warm and generous hospitality you have shown us.
All of us have enjoyed our volunteering experience, the project you have in place is wonderful and what you have established does fantastic work for all walks of life, also it really does provide a unique and insight into Galle and Sri Lanka.
The experience of giving to those who really appreciate your efforts reaffirms our decision to do medicine, especially when you can lose sight of what you want to achieve. Volunteering at the orphanage for the last time before we left was saddening but we felt inspired towards pediatrics.
We definitely share your vision and we will help you in any way possible. Get ready to see more medical students from Liverpool!
St Charles Catholic Sixth Form College, London – Volunteered in July 2011:
Students and teachers of Charles Catholic College volunteered in Sri Lanka in July 2011 and had the honour of being the first school/college group to be hosted by Janaka and his family. An experiment on both our parts, it was with some trepidation that an eleven strong group of 17 and 18 year olds, including two staff, flew half way round the world to begin a two week adventure to which words can’t do justice. No strangers to overseas volunteering, we had high expectations of what such a trip can do for young people, helping them to grow and develop, whilst doing something to help others in need.
Our time with Volunteer Sri Lanka exceeded all our expectations and this account can only give you a flavour of what we experienced. When other volunteers say Janaka opened up his home to them, this is true in every sense. Janaka and his family have created space and accommodation within their own home as well as a house across the road, for volunteers to stay. With 3 cooked meals a day and a whole host of other facilities, volunteers can feel safe in the knowledge that home comforts are never too far away. Obviously the purpose of an experience such as this is to put yourself into new and challenging situations. The volunteering opportunities ensure that no matter what kind of experience you're after, there is a project to suit your needs.
Janaka worked with us closely over the year prior to departure, planning and organising what our volunteer experience would consist of. Despite the time difference his response to email queries was immediate (which I later learned was because he barely gets any sleep)! Eventually we agreed that a group such as ours would be benefit from carrying out much needed practical work, which would ensure the best use of our time and skills. We set to work on 3 projects over the course of the fortnight which consisted of painting a classroom block in much need of redecoration, painting the main block in an orphanage and redecoration of the living quarters of a girls’ home.
Despite the hard physical work and the emotional impact of working closely with vulnerable young people and children, their overwhelmingly positive response, their smiles and their laughter gave us the much needed boost to ensure that we did our best to complete each project to the best of our ability. In fact the girls in the home and the children at the school were so thrilled by our efforts to improve their environment, they too decided to join us with the painting! There were many emotional moments and we experienced some difficult things, particularly at the orphanage. But the knowledge that we were making even a small difference helped to overcome this.
In the short time that we were in Sri Lanka the growth and emotional development that our students experienced, and indeed we as teachers also experienced was beyond what we had thought possible. In our final days there were many tears and emotional conversations about how each and every student felt that their time on the projects had shaped them and would continue to be a source of further growth as they returned to England and looked forward to life beyond college.
All this was only made possible through the immense help and support that Janaka provided to us in the lead up to and throughout the course of our stay. His thoughtfulness and help went beyond the projects as he organised a 3 day tour complete with guide (the wonderful Annu) for our group around the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka, as well as ensuring we had the services of a minibus and driver (the ever patient Douglas!) to ferry us back and forth between the projects. Janaka arranged a trip to Yala National Park as well as a lovely Tea Plantation and the Maritime Museum in Galle. From the big things to the little things Janaka ensured that we were well looked after - like the wonderful lunch at his beautiful beach hotel in Unawatuna, the use of a local phone and SIM, to ensuring there was plenty of bottled water available in our rooms. In short it was very clear that Janaka had his eye on the ball looking for opportunities to ensure that we left Sri Lanka with a wonderful all round impression of this beautiful country, its history and culture and most of all, its people.
Sophie Xinchen Xu - China
My name is Xinchen Xu (Sophie) and I’m from China. I spent 3 weeks in Sri Lanka; this period of time is quite unforgettable and has become one of the best experiences that would never fade in my memory.
Janaka provides a range of voluntary opportunities which is perfect for people who want to help the children in need, the old and the poor. He is such a good manager that he would provides us great care and in that way we volunteers can focus on our voluntary work without the worries behind.
My voluntary work includes taking street children to school, playing with the kids in the community center, helping the staff in the orphanage and so on. I really enjoy the time with the lovely and vivacious children. Before I started my work, I was not sure whether I can do my job successfully as a non- native speaker of English and whether the children would like me. However, I found that there is no need to worry about these because the children were incredibly friendly and I felt very sweet when they smile at me and hugged me. I really like the feeling to be needed by someone.
In addition, I enjoy working with the other volunteers who were always helpful and nice; we had a wonderful time together. For instance, we discussed what we were going to do in the community center, played games with the girls in girls’ home and everything else.
Aside from volunteering, there are many things to do. Swimming in the India Ocean, walking on the beach, watching sunset in Galle Fort……it is the most amazing time I’ve ever had in my life! Besides, I am so lucky that I attended the party celebrating 2 year birthday of volunteer project. We wear traditional clothes of Sri Lanka, listened to music and talked about the volunteering and anything else just like family.
My accommodation, is a lovely apartment near Janaka’s house, is surrounded by beautiful garden with trees and flowers. I could always see the energetic monkey neighbors jumping up and down and hear them chattering. This is an entirely new experience because in my hometown I can only see monkeys in zoo.
My three weeks stay is definitely too short, however, although I cannot pull anyone out of poverty in three weeks, I did bring happiness to the children and the old. Confucius said: Do not give up good things though they may be minor matters. So don’t be hesitated if you are still worry about what you can offer because even a little thing can make a difference.
Jenny Winton - England:
Our volunteer journey began with a holiday to Sri Lanka last year. We loved the country, met some great people and came home desperate to go back. When the usual holiday blues didn’t go I knew something had to be done, and going completely against my normal instincts I found myself (a quiet, unadventurous, non-risk taking, 40 year old single mum) taking my son out of school, asking for 8 weeks off work and heading back to Sri Lanka to live with strangers and volunteer for 5 weeks. Had I gone mad!
Absolutely not! Without a doubt it has been the best thing I have ever done. To be able to spend 5 weeks getting up in the morning and going to work with beautiful and amazing children in a beautiful country has been a real privilege. One of the benefits of VSL has to be the variety of projects you can get involved in. We worked with the Street children and at the orphanage, at times great fun, at times heartbreaking. We were there to help, but until you are there you don’t realise how much you too will get back, and how your life will be enriched by spending time there. We also spent time at the local Yasodara nursery school and community centre, assisting the teacher in the mornings and running activities for older children in the afternoons. The children are keen and lively and so welcoming. You become part of their community for the brief time you are there and feel like you never want to go home. After our 5 weeks volunteering we returned to last years hotel as planned for a ‘holiday’ . It was just as perfect as last year in every way, but we would have done anything to go back to Janaka’s and spend more time there instead, and now home we are already planning ways of going back.
Janaka and his family are perhaps the most friendly and welcoming people you will ever meet. So generous – nothing is too much trouble. In Sandali, Seth and Koeli, Sam has had a brother and sisters for the first time in his life and he misses them terribly. Living with them and all the other volunteers you are part of a large but wonderfully happy and supportive family, in a beautiful house in an amazing country.
Our five weeks flew by so quickly. I would say that if you only have 2-3 weeks you will undoubtedly be of use, but don’t be scared of going for longer if you have the time. I expected a challenge and hoped I would enjoy it. What I got was an experience that will stay with me for ever and probably the happiest and most rewarding five weeks of my life. I would be back there without hesitation if the opportunity arose again. And for those of you wondering if taking a teenager is the right thing to do? – Do it! We were lucky that the school fully supported my decision, but Sam as you can see has had the best time and it has been such a privilege to be able to share an experience like this together. If in doubt call me – you can get my details from Janaka.
Gemma and John Anderson from the UK:
We both had a fantastic time volunteering in Sri Lanka. We always wanted to do something like this and now we are so glad we did. We enjoyed the variety of work and the fact that we had the freedom to choose what we wanted to do. The work we did ranged from painting a mural at an orphanage, to teaching English and IT in schools, to helping out at a local old people’s home. Gemma’s work donated two laptops to the project, one of which we gave to the boys’ home in Wanduramba. We taught English there and started IT training with the older boys. It was really rewarding to work with such friendly and enthusiastic kids and amazing to see their English and IT skills improve during our time here. We will really miss them. The other laptop will be donated to the Skills Training Centre that the Project is setting up in the near future. We raised funds from our friends, families and colleagues before we came out to Sri Lanka. This has been really worthwhile and rewarding. During our work at various placements we have been able to see what people really need, and it has been great to have funds to dip into to help those who need it the most. We spent most of the money we raised rebuilding a house in the village for a very poor family. The re-build cost in total was 140,000 rupees which is about £820. You can see the pictures and plans here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gemandjohninsrilanka/4583232023/in/set-72157623749724731/
Our accommodation at the project was lovely and is just a short bus ride away to the shops and Fort in Galle and the beautiful beach at Unawatuna. Thanks so much to Janaka and his family for making us so welcome in their home and for all their hospitality. We will miss the all the people we met during out trip.
Sean Corcoran from the USA:My volunteer experience was great. To summarize this in a few paragraphs is difficult. I volunteered for three weeks starting in May 2010. Having never previously volunteered and having no prior experience I originally questioned if I would succeed in a teaching environment. However, Janaka and everyone at the schools were extremely generous and helpful, the Sri Lankan people in general are the friendliest people I have ever met; they go out of their way to help you. Staying with Janaka and his family at their home was excellent. It is a very nice home and everyone in his family are very nice. I instantly felt included as part of the household. It honestly felt like a second home. My room was very nice. It was huge with its own ensuite bathroom, and had its own fan and mosquito net. Janaka makes sure everything goes well at the volunteering locations and is extremely helpful with any problems or ideas pertaining to volunteering. He makes sure the experience is amazing! I really cannot say thanks enough.
Siri was one of the most upbeat and happy people I have ever met. Just coming downstairs for breakfast in the morning and talking with Siri for a few minutes could put you in a good mood for the rest of the day. Having the chance to meet Siri’s family before I left was excellent as they all share his traits!
My experience definitely changed me as a person for the better. Prior to volunteering I had never been anywhere where the people were so genuine and grateful for seemingly small things. It really opened my eyes and makes me want volunteer again in the near future. You don’t need any special qualifications to make a difference just an earnest interest to help and try some new things.
Most of my time volunteering was spent teaching English at Ananda School and the Muslim School to primary school children, and also participating in sports and activities with children. I looked forward to volunteering everyday because everyone was very grateful and the children were always just as excited as I was. It was quite difficult to leave. My only regret is that I could not stay longer. I definitely want to come back sometime in the future!
Michael Spranger from Austria:
It all started with a vague idea to go somewhere and to do something. However, volunteering in Sri Lanka turned out to be one of the most interesting experiences of my life.
Before volunteering I thought about how I could be of help and considered the skills I had that would be of value. I asked myself many questions.
• I am 44 years old – is volunteering for younger people?
• I am not a teacher. How can I teach English when it is not my mother tongue?
• Will I be able to contribute as a social worker?
• I can only take three weeks holiday from my job in Europe. What can I achieve in only three weeks?
Despite my reservations Janaka motivated me by saying that I would be welcome to do whatever I was able. So I prepared a small project from the social workers point of view (kind of social work at school). I received great support and appreciation while preparing it and this encouraged me to be confident at the prospect of implementing my ideas. I finally made the decision to volunteer at the project.
It was the best decision I could possibly have made. I don't want to describe all the activities I participated in, as they are described on the homepage. Instead I will explain to you how the experience affected me. Let me tell you about my trip to Yala national park, during one of my weekends. We went to see crocodiles and elephants but something of much more importance happened on this day. It was the beginning of a friendship with a family which I invited to come with me. As almost all of the experiences I made in Sri Lanka, it happened partly by chance. I expected that other volunteers would join me but for various reasons they didn’t. I decided to ask Janaka if it would be a good idea to invite a poor Sri Lankan family to come with me. I was sure there were thousands of families in Galle who have never been to Yala because they couldn’t afford it, even though it is only a day trip. So I spent a day with this family and through this adventure we became good friends.
Some experiences cannot be described in words. You have to have the experience yourself to understand its meaning; its importance. By making friends with this family and sharing other volunteering experiences in Sri Lanka I recognise that my life is different now. I have found answers from escaping my every-day life in Europe and volunteering abroad. Three weeks were enough to find my way.
I think this is what volunteering is about: People can change your life just by spending time together. The people I met do not know how important it was for me to meet them and how much they have influenced my life. I can only assume by the feedback I was given that this works the other way round as well. However I do know it is very important to send this message to the people of Sri Lanka: "I may live far away but please know ‘I am interested in your life, in your sorrows, in your success and in the health and well being of your family and the development of your country.“
By the way: the project I wanted to implement (social work at school) had no chance of coming true. This was obvious on the very first day at school and knowing this I did not even try to implement my ideas. Although most of my experiences came by fortune and some of my plans could not be realized, the benefit at the end was much more than I could ever have expected or hoped.
This is what the children said after every lesson: "Thank you teacher, please come again"
This is what I said to my friends when I left Sri Lanka: "I want to come again"
Gina Back from the United Kingdom:
Last year I wanted to do some voluntary work abroad but was apprehensive as I had not done anything like it before. I was interested in Janaka’s project and contacted him for more information. Janaka could not have been more helpful and patiently answered all my queries, giving me confidence to go and work at the project. I found my three week stay at the project a fascinating and rewarding experience. Firstly I was made very welcome by Janaka and his wife Manel.
My bedroom, with an en-suite bathroom, was newly completed, lovely and very comfortable. The meals prepared by Manel and her helpers were delicious and gave me a wonderful introduction to Sri Lankan food. As volunteers, we were welcomed into their home and lived as part of their family enjoying the company of their four beautiful children who are delightful and fun to be with. With a number of volunteers working on the project while I was there, we were able to share our prior experience, knowledge and ideas to use in the places we were working. It was also good to be shown how to get around on local buses and share info on good places to visit in our leisure time.
In terms of my voluntary work, without a teaching qualification, I felt limited in what I could offer in a school. But with some preparation, I enjoyed doing word games in English with a class, and English conversation with older students. I worked at the village nursery school with smiling lively children, eager to learn, and excited at each new activity. Afternoons, I took part in English classes for children in the village. The children varied in ages and levels of ability in English, but all were very keen to learn English and it was rewarding meeting their different needs. I also enjoyed doing English conversation with local families. At the nursery for street children, I was very impressed by the enthusiasm of the teacher and children. It was a very well organised, stimulating and safe environment for the children to play and learn and just have fun. My three weeks went far too quickly, just when I was full of ideas for more things that I wanted to do, it was time to leave.
As if the above, was not reward enough, in our spare time, there was the opportunity to explore local places of interests, possible in just a few hours, including sight-seeing in Galle, visiting Buddhist temples, local arts and crafts centres, turtle conservation, tea plantation and local beaches, to name but a few. Altogether a truly memorable experience.
Pardeep from the United Kingdom:
My name is Pardeep and I am from England. I spent two and a half weeks in this placement and stayed with Janaka at his home. I had been interested in carrying out voluntary work for some time and decided upon Sri Lanka as it is a beautiful country, the range of work available and make a difference however big or small to the people there.
I found Janaka to be extremely helpful right from day one, he had been my first point of call for information and was very honest and direct. He has a big heart to help the people and us volunteers make the most of the assistance we bring. Staying at his place felt like it was a home away from home especially with the warmth from the family and fellow volunteers I was with at the time.
The accommodation was brilliant providing en-suite facilities and it was reassuring to know that it was very safe and secure. Meals were provided three times a day. Every meal was delicious and there was always a variety!
Throughout the period, I assisted in local schools teaching conversational English and sporting activities at the schools and in the playing ground with local children.
Although I am not a teacher, I found the project and schools to be very open to my own ideas and the chance to apply what I thought might work well. The time at the schools was quite demanding which made it all the more satisfying and enjoyable to be making a difference there.
Every moment had been a wonderful experience. Personally two and a half weeks is not enough to truly experience what Sri Lanka and the project has to offer.
Anne Morrow from the United Kingdom:
Sri Lanka – where do I begin.....I wasn’t sure what to expect before arriving there. The pictures in my head were all very romantic: swimming in the Indian Ocean, sun, smiling laughing children and wildlife like I’d never experienced before. The reality was better than that!
Janaka was a brilliant host right from the start and throughout my stay. He seems to have a great knack of involving the volunteers in everything from decision making to being part of the family. The family are fantastic. I’m putting Manel forward for “best cook in the world award”! Most mornings, I was greeted by a real smile and a hug from Janaka’s mother in law and always a “good morning” from Premisiri who helps around the house. Janaka and Manel's children were a big part of my stay there and are great fun to be around.
The projects that I took part in were all very different and I benefited in so many ways from that diversity. I worked in 2 nursery schools assisting the teachers with the most well behaved children that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Assisting in a local primary/secondary school was another role. I held arts/crafts classes for the children and also taught some curriculum based English. Most afternoons I worked with children from Yasodarawatta village teaching English using Art – a brilliant experience and the children were exactly like the images in my head .... smiling, laughing, affectionate and so keen to learn. I also helped another 2 volunteers with English classes at the local Buddhist Temple – an honour to say the least. Discovering more about Theravada Buddhism gave me a better understanding of the culture that is the basis of Sri Lankan living. Finally, some manual labour!!! I helped put the roof on the new sanitary block at the Temple. Hard graft, but great to be part of creating something that will be a lasting benefit.
During my 3 month stay, I saw some of the Island, mainly the West and the centre of the South and a little bit of the East. Everywhere we went had something different to offer. I even tried surfing!!
I will leave you with the thought that Sri Lanka will see me return time and time again. My overwhelming memory is of the people that I came to know from the village – mainly the children I taught in the afternoons.
On my last day we had a party, a really fun day with games and lots of laughter. When we had finished and were tidying up one little girl that I had taught came over to me and gave me a present, it was her teddy bear. This is a little girl who materially has nothing, but she insisted that I bring it home with me. I think in that moment I realised that in coming to this tiny little village I had afforded myself a huge privilege and that was to have experienced being part of something that was completely unconditional – for 3 months I had been living in a place where you are not measured by the size of your car or how big your belly is. You are quite simply welcomed in, nurtured and looked after by a giant sized family!!!!
If you need any more information about the project I would be happy to chat on email or phone – you can access my details through Janaka.
Gonçalo Figueiredo- from Portugal:
My name is Gonçalo Figueiredo. I'm from Portugal, and I'm a Commercial and Editorial Photographer.
I’ve always wished to work as a volunteer, to engage in the lives of people in need and help them improve their future. When I finally found the time to volunteer, I went on a quest to find the project that I thought would fulfil my requirements. I was looking for social impact, helping potential, commitment and, of course, a fair budget. The Volunteer Sri Lanka Project fitted these conditions, nicely.
Along with my wife, Catarina, I spent 2 months volunteering in the Volunteer Sri Lanka Project founded by Janaka de Silva. My work consisted of creating and lecturing an advanced photography course to Sri Lankan professional photographers and amateurs, teaching conversational English and working on the construction of a sanitary block.
It was an overwhelming experience, to say the least! I had some expectations regarding my ability to influence people’s lives, but I was not expecting to get and learn so much from them. The human values, the genuine friendship, the caring and generosity of these people transcend any concept we may have in the social reality of the Western World.
Living in Janaka's house was like being in an exotic palace surrounded by jungle. There are little ponds with colourful fish; big trees with playful monkeys; young princesses that will make sure you smile everyday (Koeli, Sandali and Samadhi); a mighty warrior to put you on alert and conquer your space (Seht); a gracious queen always around to make sure nothing is missing (Manel); and the king himself, a delightful host with a big sense of humour and a supersized heart (Janaka). If after all this you still don't feel like a knight, just wait for the buffet at the Unawatuna Beach Resort, the pool at the Lighthouse Hotel, the private tuk-tuk driver, or the coconut beaches nearby.
Sri Lanka is gorgeous and the people are unique. I never felt unsafe or insecure. On the contrary, I felt overprotected. As soon as you arrive, everyone will know who you are. Believe me, the word spreads fast. You will be part of the community... and you will be part of the family.
Getting back home is a mixture of feelings. It's the joy and happiness of meeting our friends and relatives, after such a long time, but also the sadness and frustration of leaving everyone else behind knowing that there is still so much to be done.
When José Martí, the hero of Cuban independence, named the things that every man should do before he dies, he said, “Plant a tree, write a book and have a son.” Today, I would add a fourth one to that: "volunteer – breed the help to those in need!"
Nicky Axmann - from North Carolina, USA:
My name is Nicky Axmann from North Carolina, USA. I am 18 years old. I spent just over two weeks at Janaka’s place in Galle. My volunteer holiday has been nothing short of amazing. Sri Lanka is the perfect place to volunteer because of the dire need for volunteers as well as the excellent vacationing that can be enjoyed during the parts of the day not spent working.
I worked at several schools and in the local village, coaching and coordinating soccer practices for kids between the ages of 11-18. The kids were incredible, so much so that I found it difficult to say goodbye when the time finally came around for me to leave. While the importance of teaching soccer to children is often underestimated I can vouch for its importance. Playing a sport that helps condition people physically and mentally is beneficial to everyone. Further, playing soccer helped the children establish and complete goals such as mastering soccer moves, passing exercises, and shooting. Not to mention the added benefit of improving their English considerably.
Janaka was amazing in setting everything up and continued to support me throughout my work. The same goes for the schools, who were more than delighted to have volunteers and supported me with anything I needed to help the students. Their hospitality was so amazing that it was almost embarrassing.
Rest assured that if you chose to volunteer with Janaka your skills will be put to good use. It is incredible how Janaka manages to juggle his full time job as the manager of a local hotel with organizing everyone’s volunteer activities, and still managing to spend time with his family. Other positive aspects of the experience were the wonderful food cooked by Manel, Janaka’s wife, and being with their delightful children.
In closing, I would recommend spending more than three weeks volunteering, as I was only just getting started before I had to head home. Without a doubt, this is a great opportunity for anyone looking for a relatively cheap volunteer experience in a wonderful country. Overall, I had a wonderful time and cannot wait until I get another opportunity to go back to Sri Lanka.
Elizabeth Cecelski, North Carolina, USA: I spent three weeks in Sri Lanka in July 2009, mainly for my own professional work and also looking for a volunteer opportunity for my 18 year old son, Nicky.
I can vouch for the integrity and character of Janaka and the project. You can be sure that your efforts will be well used and you will be kept as busy as you want. Your donations will be well used also and you will be well taken care of. Janaka and his family are truly devoted to helping others in their community. The volunteer experience is wonderful. Our efforts were so much appreciated. I taught an adult education English class at the temple - 3 young girls, 3 housewives, 4 young monks, and the senior monk! Nicky taught soccer at a local school and the village football club. What I saw with all the volunteers' activities is that there was a lot of flexibility, adaptability, and creativity available to and demanded of all of us. The opportunities to use your creativity and ideas are great. So we certainly learned and gained as much from the experience as our students did.
The volunteer living situation at the de Silva home is very comfortable. The rooms are spacious clean and in a separate wing of the house so the volunteers do have some privacy, but you should enjoy having kids around the house - Janaka has 4 lovely children between ages of 3 and 11!
The volunteers eat their meals together in the family kitchen and there was a great social feeling in the group. The food is good and plentiful - Manel is an excellent cook. You can spend time with the family as you wish. We were also getting to know some of the families in the neighbourhood, the monks at the temple, and being invited in to tea. Sri Lanka is a fantastic country to visit but my son and I did not have much time for tourism due to my work commitments. Unawatuna beach is a great one, and being able to use the Hotel pool and hang out on the beach there is a big plus as you can have some of the Sri Lanka vacation experience as well.
This is a great volunteer experience for creative, adaptable volunteers looking to make a real person-to-person difference in a Sri Lankan community.
Dinner with the other four volunteers who were there at the same time as us and with the family including Manel's mother who lives with them - second left from Janaka - and yes she is standing up! Samadhi, standing next to her is already almost a head taller and she is only 12 years old!