Fionnuala Woods’ Report on Horizon Lanka

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Horizon Lanka Academy

Mahavilachchiya, Northern Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: white sandy beaches, exotic fruit, elephants, the Tamil Tigers, the tsunami, a tropical paradise but one that remains an essentially a Third World country with many challenges to face – this was the mixed bag of impressions, events and stereotypes that I had of this intriguing country before my visit in the summer of 2006.

My interest in Sri Lanka began in 1999 while I was taking my A-Levels. As part of my geography course we studied the history of the Tamil Tigers’ struggle and I developed a fascination for the country. Thus, I was naturally curious when I read details of the Horizon Lanka Academy on the G.V.I. website – my idea of rural northern Sri Lanka didn’t include a cutting edge computer centre that many Western metropolises would be proud of and state-of-the-art technology didn’t exactly gel with my visions of economic instability and decades of civil war, so I decided to volunteer at the Horizon Lanka Academy in order to square the circle.

I was initially apprehensive about living with a village family but the warm welcome I received and the hospitality that continued throughout my stay soon appeased these fears. I was treated as one of the family, had my own room and everyone, especially the mother of the house, were always keen to hear my opinions on everything from my impressions of Sri Lanka to life in my own home country and what my favourite foods were. Food plays an important part in Sri Lankan life – the majority of people in the village and surrounding areas are self-sufficient farmers and the Sri Lankan people take great pride in their national dishes. Throughout my stay I tried and tested a wide variety of foods and enjoyed most of them. Beware, though: Sri Lankans like their food very spicy!

Prior to my experience, I’d taught in a boys’ grammar school in Ireland and, although I wouldn’t necessarily say teaching experience was essential, I would definitely advise some research on basic teaching methods, lesson plan strategies and the like. I found the children shy at first and encouraging them to become involved in the class was challenging but they soon overcame their shyness and proved to be an absolute joy to teach. I was surprised that, despite the cultural differences between the children I had taught previously and those in Sri Lanka, they were actually remarkably similar. If this experience taught me anything, it is that children are children the world over: they all have naughty streaks, the boys love talking about sport (especially cricket) and the girls loved telling me about the music and movie stars they liked.

Volunteering in Sri Lanka was eye-opening and the eagerness and enthusiasm of the children was inspirational. All of the pupils without exception were keen to learn English and improve their I.T. skills because they realised the how essential these attributes are in the 21st Century world and how much they would benefit themselves and their country. I really enjoyed being part of that and their community and I’m so glad that I decided to volunteer there. In fact, I can’t help but smile when I think of my village, the Horizon Lanka Centre and its staff and the family where I found such a sense of belonging. I can’t wait to go back!

Fionnuala Woods

Horizon Lanka, Sri Lanka

July – August 2006

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