My supervisor is keen on the “learn by doing” philosophy. This is best exemplified by a work trip I took last week. After only one full day in the WUSC Sri Lanka office, I was on the road with the Uniterra team, traveling to orient two Leave for Change volunteers to their work locations in Matara and Arugambay. I hadn’t even finished my own orientation and I was already greeting and orienting new volunteers!
After their 20+ hours of travel to Colombo, the two Leave of Change volunteers were certainly tired but with only 3 weeks in the country and big tasks to complete as short-term volunteers with WUSC’s partners around the country, there was no time to spare: their orientation started the day after they arrived. That Monday morning, we quickly overviewed some “Dos and Don’ts” in Sri Lankan culture. Then, we did my favourite part of orientation: the “eating with your fingers” session, which takes place in the fancy Sri Lankan restaurant Raja Bojun. This restaurant offers some Sri Lankan specialities including rice and curry, kottu, and hoppers! This session is fun AND delicious, even though I’m still learning how to eat with my hands (there’s a proper technique that I have yet to master).
Once we finished lunch, we set out on the road. The first stop on our list: Matara, a coastal city about two hours south of Colombo by highway. We arrived about 3:30PM in the afternoon, which meant we had time to have a meeting with the volunteer’s partner organization INDECOS and even some time to play around in the ocean! It was my first time on the beach in Sri Lanka and I fell in love with the warm water and amazing views. It made me sit back and think about how lucky I am to be living in such a beautiful country. That evening, we had an incredible meal at the home of one of leaders of INDECOS. His wife is a very talented and generous cook, which meant the food was both bountiful and mouth-watering.
We stayed at a beach-side hotel that night and were lucky enough to enjoy breakfast next to the ocean the next day. It was an early morning, though, because we had a long drive to Arugambay, where the second Leave for Change volunteer is working to fulfill his volunteer mandate. Though the drive was longer and much slower due to windy roads and a bit of traffic, we arrived with a couple of hours of sun left in the day, allowing for a short period of exploration after we finished some of the recording Sabrina, Uniterra’s communications volunteer, wanted to do to create videos about women who work in tourism in Sri Lanka. Even tired after a long day of travel, it was easy to appreciate the quaint tourist area that is the main road of Arugambay. It is filled with little shops with Indian-style clothes (I bought a beautiful tunic!), stands that sell fresh fruit juice, and many little restaurants along the way, too.
That night we stayed at Stardust, which is a beach hotel, something I didn’t truly appreciate until the next day when I woke up at 5AM – still a bit jet-lagged – to the sound of early morning waves. I went for a short walk on an empty beach and took advantage of the free time to write in my journal. I can’t wait to look back in a few months on these entries chronicling my early days in Sri Lanka. While the first few weeks are the steepest learning curve and so they can be overwhelming, they are also the most magical because everything is fresh, new, and exciting. (Even now, officially in my third week in Colombo and I’m still definitely in the honeymoon phase.)
Then it was back on the road. We went up the east coast a bit to visit the WUSC Sri Lanka office in Batticaloa. We were there for only a short time but it was nice to put some faces to names of the people I had been hearing about since I arrived! I participated in (well, more watched since I’m still very new) a couple of meetings where my supervisor pitched the Uniterra program to potential partners in the region and then, as quickly as we came (this trip was a whirlwind!), we were off and heading back to Colombo. We arrived back in Colombo around 10PM on Wednesday night and, honestly, I was beyond tired. Despite the exhaustion, it had been an amazing trip: in only three days, we had traveled all through the southern coast and halfway up the east coast. I’m very lucky to have had this opportunity so early in my mandate!
More details from my personal travels in the days to come (hint: I went on safari!)
If you would like to donate to my fundraising campaign for Uniterra (note this money supports local partners not my volunteer mandate), check out my Canada Helps page.