Arrival in Sri Lanka
Once you disembark from the plane, you’ll head into passport control. If you weren’t given a landing card on the plane, you can get one at this point, on one of the desks. Top tip: travel with a pen, there often aren’t any there for you to use. The form needs to be filled in and presented to the Immigration officer with your passport.
Occasionally volunteers have been delayed and asked to chat with the Immigration captain. This is never an issue, but it’s good to travel with your visa fax just in case. He’ll just ask you a few more questions about who you’re volunteering with. As long as you answer ‘volunteering with the National Youth Services Council’ and smile, you’ll be good to go.
Once through Immigration, you’ll need to fetch your bag and then head through to the Arrivals waiting room (which is really small) and look for one of our team. We’re usually there waiting, but occasionally the Colombo traffic gets us and a cow in the road causes delays. If we’re not there straight away, don’t panic, we haven’t forgotten you. You can take this opportunity to use the loo or grab some cash from the far right end of the airport. 10000rps is about £50/€70/$74, and that’s a good start.
We’ll wait for everyone to arrive and then hit the road and head to your homestay, the closest of which is 2.5 hours away, the furthest, 4 hours away, so grab a book out of your bag and make sure you use the toilet before you set off. To find out more about what happens when you arrive, you can watch this video.
About a week before you depart, we’ll let you know the area that you’ll be living in. We work in five areas throughout the Colombo district and each area can host approximately 40-75 volunteers in a number of homestays. You can find out more here.
Homestays are allocated according to placement length and whether you are interested in Sport – the rest is random. You can however request to stay with 1 friend who is on the same placement as yourself and we will do our best to place you in the same area or homestay. Addresses and phone numbers of homestays will be in the project pack that you receive when you arrive.
Most homestays have children and pets and everyone is going to be really excited that you’re there. Please treat the homestay with respect. You’re residing in someone’s family home for the duration of your placement, so please be mindful that your family is not responsible for cleaning up after you. Please be tidy and courteous to the family and the rest of your housemates.
All volunteers will have a bed in a shared room with sheets and a pillow. There is one fan provided for the room. Things are going to be hot, but the temperature usually drops a bit at night.
Between you and the rest of the volunteers, you’ll have a washing machine, a western toilet and a shower with plenty of running water, although it will be cold. But you’ll be glad of that once you’ve been out working all day.
You’ll have breakfast provided for you Monday-Friday and dinner Monday-Thursday, although you can request dinner on a Sunday if you think you’ll be home early from your weekend travels. Breakfast is usually bread and spreads with fruit and dinner will always be Sri Lankan curry. Homestay families cannot cater for specific dietary requirements, so if you’d prefer to eat something other than what is served you’ll need to get that for yourself, which is easy enough with shops within walking distance of all homestays.
Upon arrival at your homestay you’ll find a SLV.Global tote bag and inside that will be your Project Pack. This contains all the information you need about;
- All SLV.Global projects
- Bus routes
- Public holidays
It will also contain your individual timetable. Everyone’s timetable will be different, but all volunteers will spend time working at the Psychiatric facility as well as various Special needs centres and Teaching projects. You may have a repeated project, as some facilities are very big. Please keep these packs on you at all times during the week, they often come in handy long after you think you’ve finished with them. Many questions can be answered by having a good look through this pack. Take some time to really look at it in your first couple of days.
We understand that a lot of you are already massively experienced. However, working in a foreign culture is often very different to what you’re used to, so we want to make sure you’ve got all the information you need to be able to navigate the sometimes tricky cultural norms in Sri Lanka.
It is so important to us as an organisation that you work in a culturally sensitive way and this is an idea central to the ethos of SLV.Global. Our aim is to give you training to help you feel comfortable working at your designated projects and to keep training concise and practical, to ensure that you feel confident. However, it would be almost impossible in a week to make you feel adequately prepared, and you may feel as if you’ve been dropped in the deep end, but we are here to help you swim.
We work with local professionals to deliver training that is comprehensive and useful. The views of the facilitators may not always be the same as yours and sometimes their accent can be difficult to understand, but please be patient.
Monday: Everyone arrives throughout the day and night, so you’ll be able to introduce yourselves to each other throughout the day. Some of you arrive ready and raring to go, and for you, we’ll take you out to buy a phone and a SIM card and to sample your first Sri Lankan Curry. Others would prefer to head straight to bed and that’s fine too. Everyone acclimatizes differently. Please tell us how you are feeling and we’ll do our best to help with whatever you may need.
Tuesday: You are picked up from your homestay in a minibus in the morning and taken to a local hotel. The first part of the day is taken up with cultural awareness training and introduction-type activities. We do take into account not only that you may be jetlagged, but also sweating out most of your bodily fluids. Generally, water is your friend. When you are in Sri Lanka it’s your best friend.
Wednesday & Thursday: These days are split between training workshops and project visits. Where possible, you’ll be accompanied by both local coordinators and volunteers that have previously volunteered at the project to show you the ropes.
Friday: The morning will be spent at projects and then it's back to your homestay to pack for the jungle weekend. This weekend is for you to get to know the other volunteers, both in your area and further afield. There are a variety of activities for you to get stuck into: rock sliding, cliff jumping and white water rafting.
You can find out more about your first week here.
The Jungle Weekend
The Jungle Weekend is the only weekend we plan for you and takes place on your first weekend, unless you’re a Peer Mentor, in which case, yours will be later in your placement.
The Jungle Weekend takes place in... you guessed it, the middle of the jungle, so pack your DEET and some long sleeves and trainers. You will be lead by 'Jungle Lion' through a variety of activities designed to both challenge you and help you bond as a team. There are wooden huts to stay in and the beds can be a little damp, so bring a change of pajamas and a towel. Also the beds are nice, big double beds, you will be sharing so prepare to get close and personal with another volunteer (same sex).
At times the pace of the weekend may seem a bit sluggish, but this is part of the joy of Sri Lanka, there’s not a huge rush to get things done, and sometimes the chaos seems disorganized, but try to relax. We’ve got you, and the more you adapt to the chilled out way of working, the more enjoyable your time in Sri Lanka will be.
Support and information
We’re all here to support you for the duration of your placement, to find out more you can watch this video.
The whole team is on hand to help you pre-departure, during your placement and upon return to your own country, so never hesitate to get in touch. We will do our best to help you with whatever you need, but please understand that there are limits to what we can do, especially when it comes to Sri Lankan Immigration or any issue that takes place over the weekend, but we’ll always try our best.
The SLV.Global Team
We’re a pretty small unit and you can get to know us better here. The international team members split their time between London and Sri Lanka, so it’s possible you might see one of them on your placement.
Sri Lankan Project Managers
Sri Lankan Assistant Project Managers
International Project Managers
Sri Lankan Coordinators
International Coordinators - They’re volunteers too, but due to lots of experience volunteering and working abroad they’ve got a bit more responsibility on the team. They are your first point of contact if you’re ill or need a chat.