Incredible Progression In Sri Lanka - My 2015 Visit
What a trip I have just had to Sri Lanka! I can hardly believe it’s over. As much as I wish I could talk about all the things I did and all the incredible new people I met, this post would be about a million words. Instead, I’ve chosen to share just a few of the highlights of the past four weeks I spent in my second home country.
Samutthana & Psychology Conference
Shortly after I arrived I paid a visit to the office of Samutthana, The Kings College London Resource Centre for Trauma, Displacement and Mental Health. I was eager to catch up with Dushy & Nivendra to find out how the Psychology training workshops and fields trips have gone over the past year. Nivendra, Samutthana’s Counselling Psychologist, had such positive things to say about how our volunteers’ sessions have been going at the psychiatric facilities and rehabilitation centres where we work, which was really encouraging. Nivendra is such a caring, composed and mindful person and I always feel that when he speaks it comes straight from the heart, so I was beyond pleased. Our partnership with Samutthana has gone from strength to strength over the past five years and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
After our meeting we headed to The Grand Oriental Hotel for this placement’s Psychology Conference. It was a great opportunity for me to speak with all the volunteers on the team and find out how they have been getting on. Everyone was dressed in the most beautiful sarees, despite being at projects until the late afternoon. I know that getting into a saree is not easy, so I was very impressed.
Speaking at the British the High Commission
Week number one flew by and in no time at all I was in week two and the plans to commemorate World Mental Health Day were in full swing in Sri Lanka. Reggie, our operations manager, and Dushy, Executive Director of Samutthana, had arranged a party at the British High Commission for the occasion.
I was asked to share my story with everyone there, and I have to say that speaking at the High Commissioner’s personal residence, surrounded by portraits of the Queen, was the highlight of…well…my life. Nivendra followed my speech with a very candid and thought-provoking talk detailing why it is so important that attention is given to mental health in Sri Lanka. Finally, the Deputy High Commissioner, Ms Laura Davies, spoke. It was both interesting and inspiring to hear how the BHC are moving mental health up their agenda and how the Commission support both Sri Lankan nationals as well as British nationals in Sri Lanka should they require mental health treatment. It was really heartening to hear about this incredible progression in Sri Lanka, especially in relation to mental health.
To find out more about the amazing work that Ms Laura Davies is doing in Sri Lanka I recommend checking out her blog.
Psychiatric Hospitals & Staff Feedback Meetings
On two occasions I visited one of the psychiatric hospitals where we work, in the south of the Western Province. I spoke with the nurses, senior counsellors and the matron about what our volunteers have achieved this year and, also, what we can do to improve our work. They informed me that client engagement had almost doubled in the past year and that they were pleased about the introduction of yoga with clients to promote health and wellbeing. They also had some valuable suggestions of how we can best make use of our time there moving forward and I’m excited to see these changes happen.
In addition to the many private conversations I had with the staff, I also had the opportunity to interview many of them for a video that we made about the SLV.Global Mental Health Placement – watch this space!
At the end of my trip, SLV.Global co-founder Yasintha organised a staff meeting with a difference for all of the in-country team. Around a beautiful lake in Panadura, the cohort for each area gave a presentation of what they have been up to in the past year. Their presentations were exceptional, with videos, photos and graphs – I do love a graph.
What impressed me most was how the National Team shared the achievements and the challenges they faced. These presentations were a great opportunity for the other teams to learn from each other about how to deal with inevitable situations that can be both inspiring and difficult. It was also awesome to see how much many of the staff had improved their spoken English and how confident they were standing up in front of everyone, something that would have been really intimidating for many of them not that long ago.
Being with the National Team at this event made me feel incredibly proud to be a part of SLV.Global. They all had so much passion for what we do and this reinvigorated me and has given more focus for the day-to-day work that I do in London. Thank you to each one of you for making my trip amazing.
Over the past five years running SLV.Global, my interest in global mental health has grown. More specifically, how culture affects mental health care and how developing countries work to offer treatment to those that need it.
Some time ago my colleague, Lee, told me about a pioneering Indonesian psychiatrist who was working tirelessly to improve access to mental health treatment on the beautiful island of Bali. I knew that eventually I wanted the chance to meet her and find out more about her groundbreaking work. Over a year later, I am really excited to announce, that the amazing Professor Suriyani has kindly agreed to meet me. So, accompanied by SLV.Global’s current head of operations, Reggie, we hopped on a plane this weekend and have since landed in Bali!
(NB since publishing this blog post, the SLV.Global team have opened and developed their placement in Bali. The placement started in 2016 and you can find out more here.)