I wanted to volunteer while I was traveling and luckily a Habitat for Humanity trip in Sri Lanka fit perfectly into my schedule. To be honest, I knew very little about Habitat for Humanity before I volunteered with them in Sri Lanka. After my two weeks of volunteering, I was very impressed with H4H and I look forward to volunteering with them in the future, maybe in Africa. If you ever have an opportunity to volunteer with Habitat abroad, I would highly recommend it!
After arriving in Sri Lanka, I met up with two other Habitat team members and we took a taxi to our hotel. One of the first things that I saw was the heavy military presence on the streets. On the side of the road were military personnel toting automatic machine guns. Recently, there has been increased violence between the government and Tamil population.
Our Habitat team consisted of eleven people from Canada, England, Northern Ireland and the US. Our group had a large range of ages and personalities. Add this with some serious hard work and the product was an amazing and fun experience.
During our two weeks in Sri Lanka, our team helped build four houses in the Kaleduwa village. The Kaleduwa village is situated in the middle of Sri Lanka near the city of Dambulla. During the day, our group worked at four different sites. At each site, we worked next to the family that would be living in the house. The house sites were very basic with no running water or electricity. The tools that we used to build the houses were very basic - just a couple shovels, trowels, and a wheel barrel. Everything was done manually - mixing cement, sifting sand, moving the bricks, etc, etc. Interestly, each site built different size houses and used different building techniques. Although the work was very tiring, seeing the work that we completed each day was extremely rewarding.
Beside helping the build the houses, we visited a local school and played dodgeball with kids and we taught the kids the hokey-pokey. Also our guesthouse staff taught us how to play cricket. The local villagers treated us very well. When we arrived they put on a welcoming ceremony with dancers and music and they held a cultural night with singing, dancing and music.
One of the highlights for me was learning the local Sinhalese language. This was the first time during my trip that I stayed at a place longer than one week. On our last day in the Kaleduwa village, we dedicated a house and I gave a speech in Sinahalese.
Along with volunteering, the local Habitat Group organized trips for us to see the local sights. We visited Sigiriya or Lion Rock which was home to the King's palace around 470 BC. The palace was built on top of 180m rock and had an intricate irrigation system built in the rock itself. We went on a Safari and saw a variety of birds, water buffalo and elephants. We saw the Dambulla caves which are seven caves with images of buddhas inside each cave. We visited the city of Kandy where we saw a cultural dance show and visited a hotel and restaurant named Helga's Folly. Helga's Folly had a motley collection of artifacts and ornately decorated rooms. Also, we visited Pinnewela Elephant Orphanage where orhpaned elephants are brought to live.
Along with volunteering and checking out the sites, the group that I worked with were alot of fun. After a long days work, our group hung out, chatted, played games, dranks some beers, told jokes and exchanged stories. I have not laughed so hard in a long time!
Suffice to say, it was an amazing and very rewarding experience and something that you should definitely do yourself!