I spent 2 months in beautiful Sri Lanka, working as a volunteer with 3 different placements. Having recently retired gave me the opportunity to do something exciting. Last year, my granddaughter had a gap year and went travelling. I loved following her adventures; when I was young, few people were able to have that kind of experience. This year she looked after my house and cat while I had my turn.
I'm not an experienced traveller and would not have had the confidence to go solo backpacking, but did not want to just experience a tourist, hotel based holiday. Volunteering with Travellers Worldwide enabled me to gain a far richer experience, learning about the country and culture, working with local people and feeling I was making a useful contribution, as well as having a great holiday and meeting other volunteers and travellers from many countries.
My Most Memorable Moment: Hard to pick one- early morning walks on the beautiful beach, running into the sea in our clothes after cleaning turtle tanks, getting to know the turtles (yes they have individual personalities!) Laughing and joking with the 'turtle guys ‘who led our work experience.
My Biggest Achievement: Finding my feet in a new country, finding how much I enjoyed meeting and chatting with such a range of people (other volunteers, local people, other travellers) and becoming confident in travelling around independently to explore Sri Lanka.
My Most Positive Impact On The Project: This little project relies on volunteer funding, so we're crucial to its continuation. Local people value our interest in their country and the turtles plight, telling me 'it's a good thing you are doing, coming to help here'.
I learnt to identify the different kinds of turtles and learnt about their life cycles. Gained insight into threats to their well-being and need for protection .Also witnessed the kinds of injuries these creatures have sustained: many of the turtles in the 'turtle farm' will never be able to return to live free in the sea.
It's very 'hands on' care and you get to know the turtles- yes, turtles have different personalities like any creatures! Work involves preparing fish and feeding turtles- they have individual needs due to type of injuries sustained-, cleaning turtles shells, and lots of turtle tanks to scrub clean so they can be refilled with clean water. Also keeping the environment clean and tidy and clearing rubbish from the beach. You get very wet and smelly- but the best way to clean up afterwards is to run straight into the sea, which feels great. Just don't wear your best clothes.
Normally, work is 9.30-12.0 then home for lunch. The volunteer house is just across the road from the turtle home and walking home dripping wet is no problem. After lunch, free time until 2pm, then work til around 3.30.pm so lots of free time to go to the beach or explore the neighbourhood.
The beach is absolutely beautiful, golden sand, palm trees and few people.
When baby turtles have hatched, these will be released into the sea at dusk, so we would return to the beach at 6.30 for this. A lovely sight to see, though we do feel anxious as we send these tiny creatures out into the big wide world. Often local people come and join us and there's a bit of a beach party atmosphere as we cheer the little turtles on their way down to the sea.
Generally, this project is a lot of fun and would suit anyone with an interest in animals and who is prepared to join in with the hard work of scrubbing tanks and getting messy with good humour.
Other aspects I think worth mentioning are the volunteer house and the town of Ambalangoda: we were well looked after by lovely staff at the house. They offered suggestions for places to visit and helped with making arrangements for trips and knew where to buy anything anyone wanted. Volunteers staying at this house are working on a range of projects, so we get to know about what they are doing too. I was able to meet the young monks at the temple school where another volunteer was teaching them English .Volunteers from the projects in Kandy can also come to Ambalangoda for a 'beach week' holiday break, so we found out about their experiences working at temple restoration, orphanages or with disabled and elderly people. A variety of excursions are organised for these beach weeks, and I was invited to join in with these.
The volunteer house is only a short walk from the town of Ambalangoda. It's a fishing port and a working town, so I felt I was seeing 'real' Sri Lankan life, not a tourist spot. The volunteer project is well known locally and residents are used to meeting us around, are welcoming and many people said that we are doing good work. A small town, it's easy to find the way around. There are shops, banks etc for anything needed, also bus and rail stations. It was a good place to start my Sri Lanka adventure, getting comfortable finding my way around, managing currency and communications, and gradually branching out to explore other towns and beaches within easy reach.