Theresa Gryczka - 2015 Program Participant
Why did you decide to volunteer abroad in Sri Lanka?
I decided to apply for the voluntary work in Colombo, Sri Lanka, because I wanted to do something special with the free time I had after I did my A-Levels. To be honest, my original plan was going to New Zealand for a year, but I just could not afford to go abroad for such a long time. Then I thought about what I could do for other people while travelling around, and voluntary work just seemed to be right thing for me. I love to help and I really enjoy learning from other people, so I thought to myself: why not go to another continent that you have never been to before, meet new people, do something good in the world,and get in touch with Karma?
As I already mentioned, I never left Europe before. I was keen on getting to know how Asia as a whole, how its people and traditions are, and how I would react to it. To get to know oneself, leaving the place you grew up in is an important part. Another reason why I went abroad was to find myself. After school you realize: wow, no one decides what you have to do any longer. And that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to decide for myself. I wanted to plan something on my own. I wanted to find myself. And luckily, going abroad turned out to give me all of that.
Why did you choose Idex?
I chose the voluntary work because I like helping and spending time with people. When I was still in school, I took part in a lot of extracurricular activities, such as being part of the student body (after a while, I even became head girl!). And once you decide to be public-spirited, you never turn back. Before I went to Sri Lanka, I could choose between some projects and I decided to teach monks and to teach the little kids at the nursery. It turned out to be the best decision I could have made. All in all, I chose the program because I wanted to help, to share some knowledge, and because of my gut instinct.
What was your favorite part about Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is so, so, so beautiful! It really is paradise for me. Beautiful, untouched nature as far as one can look! On journeys, we saw elephants and wild monkeys. When I went snorkeling, I even saw dolphins, whales, and a shark! Simply amazing! The weather is hot and humid, but after a few weeks you get used to it (at least a tiny bit).
Besides the nature, Colombo itself is a big city. You can go shopping or check out adventure parks, discos, and restaurants. Thanks to the tuk tuks (the local three-wheeled transportation), there is no limit to how far you will go. It is also not as dangerous to be outside in the nighttime as you may think because Sri Lankan people are very polite and always try to help you.
My favorite part about the location was the nature. As Sri Lanka is a small country I was able to see almost all of it and I loved the mountains, the beaches, the tea plantations, the rice fields, and all of the different cities.
What makes your experience abroad with Idex unique?
The people. I made lifetime friends (Hi, Tim, Christine, and James, if you ever gonna read this!). I am still in touch with at least half of the friends I made there and even some of the staff and students. You cannot describe the warmth of the people there, even if you only spent a little bit of time with them. The monks were so funny and even went on adventures with us. I learned so much about Buddhism and I’m even thinking of converting to Buddhism. Also, the kids in the orphanage. I love them so much and I spent eight weeks with them: caring for them, teaching, playing, singing,dancing.
I guess it is not possible to describe why it was so unique for me to someone else, but trust me, it was the best thing I ever experienced. I hope that you can feel the love I am connecting with these memories, sharing them here.
PS. The food. Don’t forget the brilliant food.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The local staff supported all of us by teaching language skills, traditional dances, and cooking recipes. Also, they interpreted between the locals and us whenever there was help needed. Besides the cooking and cleaning they did for us, they were our mommys and daddys over there. They listened when we had problems, they played games with us, and they taught us sports. They helped us plan our weekends and gave advice on how to act in other parts of the country. They were more than 'staff'; they were family. Sometimes, we went out for dinner all together or they even bought ice cream for us. They gave love and affection to all of us. Best 'staff' ever!
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I don't think think that I would have done anything differently, to be honest. I’m not saying this for the sake of the advertisement, but I would 100 percent do everything again as I did in first place.
Describe your typical day in Sri Lanka.
My work week was from Monday to Friday (Friday being a half-day every week). I usually got up at six in the morning (sounds awful, but as it gets warmer throughout the day, it is okay), took a shower, and ate breakfast. Normally, we had toast or pancakes, a variation of eggs, and some fruits. After that, I packed my lunch for the day and waited for the car. The car arrived around seven- and Sri Lankan people are very punctual! Then it took about one and a half hours to arrive at my monk school, thanks to the traffic.
At the monk school, the morning routine was to take some tea together before we started the tuition. I taught them some basic English and we talked a lot. Most of the time I assigned some homework for them, which we revised the day after. After an hour, we took some more tea and snacks, and continued our lesson until eleven.
After that, the driver took me to orphanage (which took another hour). In the orphanage, I played with the kids for half an hour then went to the playground and did some 'sports' to make them calm down. Before lunchtime at half past one, we learned some basics (ie: the alphabet) together. When they had lunch, I joined the other volunteers to get lunch together. The break was an hour long, and at two, I had to go back to my lovely children. Singing and dancing was my daily routine in the orphanage, and I can proudly say that by now, I know more English nursery rhymes than German ones.
At three, the driver came to pick me up and to bring me back home. Another 60 minutes later, I arrived home. First thing I did was take a shower after the exhausting day. After working for so long, the only things left for the day were simple tasks: grocery shopping, doing laundry, chatting, and playing cards. I enjoyed every day!
What was your favorite thing to do on your free time?
My favorite activity was definitely travelling around! I visited eight different places and saw the most beautiful parts of the country! I went to Galle, Unawatuna, Nilaveli/Pigeon Island, and loads of other places. But I also enjoyed the little things, such as making crafts with some of the girls and singing with the boys who had a guitar. It's the simple things like seeing the sun rise or set that makes a traveler happy and warms the heart.
Sri Vajira Child Development Centre
Describe your accommodation. What did you like best about it?
We lived in a big house a bit outside the city. The accommodation for us volunteers was nice and practical. Rooms for four people, bunk beds, ventilators (in the new house, there is even an A/C). The rooms were big and although I had to share a bathroom with seven other girls, it somehow worked just fine (I never thought that it could work. We all know how girls can be). Due to the long period of time I spent in the house and with the family, I still miss it a lot!, I was able to experience how it was to live together with seven to 35 (yes, 35, it is a challenge) different people at once. The common rooms were big and and the garden was very nice as well!
The best part was the diversity of all these people. To get in touch with that many different kinds of boys and girls is very interesting really expands your horizons.
What is the most important thing you took away from your experiences in Sri Lanka?
I guess the biggest impact on my life now is that I handle things differently. I am calmer and more open to different variations to get to a solution. Also, I became more independent and my mind more open. But the biggest thing I take away are the memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life