Former student, Freya Ashworth won our Roy Award in 2022, she recently got in touch to share her experience with us.

The Roy Award is enabled by an endowment left to the Foundation Trustees by the late Dr Dilip Kumar Roy. It is a bursary of up to £10,000 and is available for one successful applicant. The selection panel will award a sum which is commensurate with the scale and scope of the proposed community service project.

6 weeks volunteering in Sri Lanka
After receiving a £2,000 bursary in April 2022 to undertake 6 weeks childcare volunteering in Sri Lanka, I left England on the 17th February 2023 to join the Plan My Gap Year programme. Little did I know then the impact that Sri Lanka would have on me.

On my first day we had an orientation in which we learnt about the culture of Sri Lanka, something which I really experienced in my six weeks there. The Sri Lankan culture is an interesting one, with strong links to both Buddhism and Hinduism, which are the main religions of the country. I was fortunate enough to visit a wide range of both Buddhist and Hindu temples, including the famous “Temple of the Tooth” – home to the Buddha’s tooth. As I was living in a volunteer house ran by Sri Lankan coordinators, I really was able to integrate to the culture, which was fantastic. By the end I knew a lot of the local people who drove tuk tuks, worked in the pre-schools and owned local cafes.  They were kind, friendly and open people who I was honoured to have the pleasure of meeting.

On the second day we began the volunteering. I was allocated to the Co-operative Pre School, a very small pre-school located in Ambalangoda, about ten minutes away from the Volunteer House. Although the building was very rundown, the children had all the resources they needed from the Plan My Gap Year funding. When I first walked in the children greeted us excitedly and I instantly knew I had made a good decision in choosing to do the childcare project. The first part of the day included us singing rhymes with the children, some of which they taught us. They sang rhymes mostly in English, however they had a very basic understanding of English therefore communication could sometimes prove difficult. Although it perhaps took longer to build relationships with the children due to this aspect, I learnt to communicate with them through other ways, such as actions and play.

The children were aged between 3 and 5. They were taught mainly in Sinhalese, but were also taught some English too – for example they could all count to ten in both languages quite confidently. Our job as volunteers was to help with their English and teach them other words through our time with them. Often when they were playing I would talk to them in English and they would pick up on key words; other times they would repeat words that I taught them. I even learnt some basic Sinhalese words in my time (such as how to say one, two, three and four!). The children were very sweet and also fiercely independent. They hardly ever asked for help, sometimes they would ask their peers. For example one little girl’s shoe came off and one of her friends helped her to put it back on. They also talked excitedly to each other in Sinhalese, and it was lovely to see. I have attached some pictures to show you a daily life in the childcare project, as you can see it was lots of fun.

In the last week we were involved in a pre-school celebration where several pre-schools got together to perform dances and compete in sports games. It was a very hot day! We danced with them at the beginning and then we watched their races from the stage, where we met the Mayor of the town. At the end we presented each child with a present, which we had wrapped the previous day. There were around a hundred children in total, and they were all dressed in traditional clothes. They looked very sweet! At one point we had to bless the children as they presented us with a leaf and knelt down to “worship” us as a sign of respect, we then tapped their heads to bless them. It was an unusual custom but a traditional Sri Lankan one. The whole day was another opportunity I am very grateful for.

The project ran Monday – Friday and we had our weekends free, during which we made the most of our time in Sri Lanka and explored the country. I was fortunate enough during my time to visit extensively the country and I went to Colombo, Kandy, Galle, Ella and Mirissa, as well as going on two safaris in which I saw elephants both times! They were some of the most unforgettable experiences I have ever had. Moreover, I made some amazing friends from all over the world, some of which I have already planned to see again. Overall, my time in Sri Lanka was simply amazing. I am very grateful for the opportunity to experience not only the volunteering project but to live in the country itself. It truly is a special place. Thank you very much for the bursary.