Researcher at the Dartmoor Institute of Animal Science

SLVeteran Miranda

Education: Advanced Psychology - Plymouth University, UK

SLV.Global Placement: Graduate Mental Health Placement, September 2016

Current Role: I'm on a placement year working as researcher at the Dartmoor Institute of Animal Science

Tell us about your SLV.Global experience: 'So how was Sri Lanka? Tell me all about it!' they ask with excitement. I open my mouth to answer, a flood of colourful memories swirling through my brain, but words fail me. Language cannot adequately capture the wealth of my experience; the beauty of the places, the people; the struggles and the triumphs.'

'Language can restrict you. Never had I felt this so acutely as during my placement in Sri Lanka. From trying to explain complex grammar points in comprehensible language during English lessons to conducting dance-offs at a detention centre to comforting a distressed and lonely woman at a special needs home, differences in how we communicate threw up new challenges every day. But I learnt that there is a universal language: the language of the smile. The grin of the elderly service user clapping along to songs of her youth, the mirth of the disabled child learning to dance, the subtle curl at the corner of a students' mouth with each correct answer. The dissemination of happiness became my measuring stick for success, and each day our team of inspirational volunteers would head out into the oppressive heat of the day to spread as much joy as we could.'

'Every lesson we gave Sri Lanka taught us tenfold. I learnt how people can be cruelly restricted by money, resources, the unwritten laws of their culture. I saw how mental illness can rob you of your dignity, your career, your future and your family. I witnessed the trials faced by women, the disabled, the mentally ill and the poor in a developing country and debated how the shackles of stigma, inequality and poverty can be broken down. I learnt to stand up and speak in front of a class full of strangers, confident in the utility of my words. I discovered the importance of teamwork; the immeasurable value of the kindness of your peers. I learned that with hard work, enthusiasm and creativity you can push the boundaries of what you are capable of and make a measurable difference to the lives of others, all reflected in the uncomplicated beauty of a smile.'

'There were struggles. The first hurdle was to overcome the absurdity of planning all of your projects in just 15 minutes. The second followed shortly after when you would arrive to find a very different scenario to what you planned—two pupils instead of twenty, no whiteboard, heavily medicated service users. Sometimes your projects would change completely, to a new place, with volunteers you scarcely know, and about five minutes warning. Then there were the buses. The riotous public buses and their madcap conductors, never willing to accept that there is simply no more room. But when we had each other's backs, there was no challenge my new housemates and I could not face.'

'And then there were the weekends, Sri Lanka's bounteous reward for our efforts. Adventures in the jungle, majestic elephants, birds of luminous green and glittering blue, surfing by day and cocktails by night on endless white sandy beaches, breathtaking sunrises on awesome mountains, train journeys along railways of unparalleled beauty, heaps of kotthu and mouth-watering rotis, snorkelling with sharks and turtles, spontaneous nights in Colombo; journeys that enriched the soul and cemented the bonds of friendship that have entwined my homestay family ever since, making parting so poignant.' 

'So how was Sri Lanka? I don't need to try and tell you, just look at my smile when you ask. It will speak volumes that my words never could.'