Spending almost three weeks in Sri Lanka with SKIP (Students for kids international project) this July, I experienced something that was, for me, completely different and out of my comfort zone.
The student-led charity develops sustainable community-based projects aimed at improving the health, education and welfare of vulnerable children in the developing world, at the same time as developing globally and culturally aware students who can advocate for local and international health progress as future professionals.
On our final day we opened our question box that the children had used for the week and were shocked to read more serious notes than we were anticipating, including several child protection issues. At the charity's request, I spoke with a girl who confided in me extremely distressing stories that she had not disclosed to anybody else. With her permission, I informed seniors and the relevant authorities.
We were not expecting or entirely prepared for the cases that arose. However, we and the charity were both grateful for the trial of the question box, as without it these serious issues could have continued unnoticed. The charity agreed to implement the question box in all of their centers across the island.
Following on from that we travelled a little, seeing beautiful Dambulla and taking a train to Batticaloa. Every aspect of life is different to the UK but everyone wants to help you. The people of Sri Lanka were one of the friendliest I’ve ever met and everyone showed kindness. Batticaloa offered a far less developed culture and experience, where showers were taken outdoors and schools gathered under trees. The children were always willing to learn (and play!), though it still took me by surprise when those who couldn’t speak English still found a way to laugh and play with us. I found the experience in this part of the country very humbling and at times surreal. The children were full of life and joy for what they had - a stark contrast to the attitude I’m used to seeing in the UK.
Our question box here revealed a number of questions about respiratory disease and we broached the subject of open burning of plastics with the charity, recommending only burning it a safe distance away from the centre - a change they are pursuing now.
This eye-opening, once-in-a-lifetime experience has strengthened my communication and teamwork skills, and boosted my confidence tenfold! It will be invaluable for my career and for myself personally, and in little ways that I’m not even aware of yet. I’m so grateful that I get to treasure these memories and lessons, and I’m very thankful to Furness College for financially aiding this trip through the travel award.