Sri Lanka volunteering

By Charlotte Griffin

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to take part in the advanced mental health programme run by SLV.Global. This consisted of five weeks of learning, service and travel based in beautiful Sri Lanka. SLV.Global offers psychology work experience for students struggling to find placements in the UK, while supporting Sri Lankan communities with scarce mental health resources.

The focus of this placement is firmly on work, with a full itinerary crafted to include projects in a psychiatric hospital, in an addiction clinic, in a special educational needs day centre and community schools to teach English. Sri Lanka has a desperately underfunded mental health system, with only 89 psychiatrists for the population of 21 million and 1.6% of the total health budget being spent on mental health. While on projects, you feel as though you’re making a real difference to the service users. Due to the understaffed facilities, something as simple as having a conversation with a patient and giving them some one-on-one interaction can really change their outlook. This is not to disparage the work of the local staff, they are absolutely doing the best they can with the resources available. We are just there as willing students to support the existing systems in the country.

As much as I keep repeating to my family that I went to Sri Lanka to work, not to “swan around on holiday” (thanks, mum), I’d be lying if I said that travelling around this beautiful country each weekend wasn’t a highlight of the trip. The first weekend in the country is pre-planned. Everyone from the intake will travel into the pristine rainforest for the “jungle weekend”. This involves a lot of team building activities such as white-water rafting and free jumping into the river. It’s a great way to bond with the people you’ll be working and living with throughout your project, and the stunning backdrop of one of the most beautiful rainforests in the world doesn’t hurt!

After the first, your weekends are yours to travel freely. I chose to spend one of my weekends in Ella, a quaint town in the Uva Province. With its high elevation and rural setting, Ella provides a much cooler and fresher atmosphere than Colombo and was a welcome break from the humidity. Despite being a small town, Ella boasts a great variety of bars and restaurants as well as a range of shops to buy unique gifts from. These are mostly there to serve the tourists that come for the spectacular views from the multiple nearby hiking trails. I would highly recommend Little Adam’s peak to everyone who visits, a relatively easy hike compared to the nearby Ella Rock, or it’s much larger counterpart of Adam’s peak in Sabaragamuwa province. It provides breathtaking views over the surrounding valleys and tea plantations from the top as well as sporting a golden statue of Buddha and a shrine.

From improving my tolerance to spicy food to being taken saree shopping with a co-worker, I feel that this programme provided me with cultural immersion to an extent that I have never felt before while travelling. Sri Lanka has totally won me over and will always have a piece of my heart.

I enjoyed my time in Sri Lanka so much that I now represent SLV.Global as an ambassador to try and encourage others to have this life-changing opportunity. If you’re interested in gaining hands-on psychology experience in a beautiful place, then please get in touch at ceg507@student.bham.ac.uk

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