Painting the Community Centre

In February 2016, a team of four ladies headed to Jaffna to contribute to the progress of the community centre. Below Charlotte Boulton explains just how the trip impacted her...

The cliché –  “It changed my life” was the predicted response my family expected when I returned from volunteering in Sri Lanka with The Dust Project, but more than I could ever imagine, this was true for my trip in February.

To be honest, I wasn’t too expectant. I was looking forward to the break from work and excited to be going on a girls’ trip to a country I knew little about and had never visited before. I was nervous – particularly about the experiences I would encounter and see, but I had no idea how much volunteering would affect me.

A few days spent in Colombo visiting The Paalam International School and Church was a great way to get familiar to the people, country and lifestyle of Sri Lanka. Even from a morning at the school in Colombo the eagerness for an education from the children was overwhelming – life is so simple for them, they do not strive for materialistic things, but just a want to better themselves and their families, and for most, this can only be done through education.

A long drive up to Jaffna, full of stories of Sri Lanka’s past became another eye opener for me, learning fully about the extent of the disruption and unrest in the North only slightly prepared me for the difference between the lives in the city of Colombo and then the lives in the village of Irupalai, Jaffna. A drive of 8 hours north, and the change of situations are unimaginable.

When we got to Jaffna, the real work and change within me started. The poverty and helplessness, yet faith of the community was overpowering. The desperation is more than to better their lives, but to actually survive – it’s the mentality of the people and land, ingrained into them after 25 years of civil unrest.  There are children who remember bombs going off and the hardships are still a present trouble. This is where our volunteering came in.

After having been accused of violating the human rights act, the government had left the community of Irupalai, along with many others struggling, with little prosperity and not much to look forward to. The Dust Project, twinned with The Paalam Project are working tirelessly in the area to substantially improve the quality of life for the people through the building of a community centre.

Working on the community centre – the new home for the school, church, training centres and a general place for events within the community, which promises to become a hive of activity, established a link to the area for me. We were doing more than visiting people, but contributing to the lives, happiness and prosperity of the community.

Alongside this, the school has already been set up, charging the smallest fees possible, to ensure all children can have the quality of education they deserve. If the families cannot afford it, the children are put on our website to receive sponsorship, but may attend the school regardless. At the age of four, the children are taught entirely in English for a year, to ensure they have the required language built into them.  They only want to have the opportunities many of us take for granted.

We were helped by the girls from the children’s home who were waiting for exam results, and some older girls who had been applying for jobs. We were doing work for the community, but friendships were formed. Friendships that were more than being friends, not only to the girls but to myself also; we became sisters, and a family. Sri Lanka and its people were easy to fall in love with, and it will forever be in my heart.

Being part of a project or volunteering becomes a tie to the area. It’s a tie that is stronger than anything I have ever felt – it becomes a home and a place you want to help better, for the people you meet, and the future generations to come. It is so much more than watching a documentary on the television, or reading about the history of a place, and experiencing it for yourself takes down the protective screen and the comfort of your own home, and truly places you in the lives of the people who experience it every single day.

In short, volunteering will change you – when the opportunity arises, take it. Find something you are passionate about: community work, children, agriculture, sanitation, or anything else you could imagine. There is a need across the globe for small people like us, with a big vision and hope to touch the lives of other humans who deserve everything we can offer.

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© The Dust Project 2019