Off the coast of southern India, the developing island nation of Sri Lanka is an excellent spot for volunteers looking to have an outdoorsy experience. With a civil war and the 2004 tsunami in its recent past, there are many ways to volunteer in Sri Lanka. Laiden with beaches and palm trees, this teardrop-shaped tropical gem offers a variety of volunteer placements, from teaching to conservation and medicine. While only 25,000 square miles, those who volunteer in Sri Lanka will be able to enjoy beach-related activities, the rainforest, and animal sanctuaries both during and outside of their placements.
The three most popular volunteer placement locations in Sri Lanka are Colombo, Galle, and Kandy. Sri Lanka’s capital and largest city, Colombo, is full of traditional Hindu temples contrasted by a modern urban scene and a large harbor. This port city serves as the hub for politics and everything financial in Sri Lanka. Those who volunteer In Colombo can witness the apparent contrast between lifestyles of the local people, from the rich colonial lifestyle of those housed in mansions and the slums that stand nearby. Volunteer placements in medicine and teaching are common in Colombo.
Kandy is a hot spot for volunteer programs. Set inland amidst a hilly terrain, this city is a key location for volunteer projects in Sri Lanka revolving around conservation efforts, whether it’s working with turtles or elephants. While volunteering in Kandy volunteers can visit several Buddhist temples, like the famous Temple of Tooth, and a variety of gardens and parks.
Galle, a city colonized by the Dutch and featuring a large fortress, is another spot to find volunteer placements in Sri Lanka, particularly those involving volunteering with orphans. Volunteers working in orphanages will take part in all aspects of daily operations, whether it’s taking care of the children or planning special activities.
Volunteer Programs in Sri Lanka
Some of the most popular placements for volunteering in Sri Lanka involve working with elephants. Known for it’s wildlife, Sri Lankan elephants are in danger as a result of poaching. Volunteers can help in elephant rescue efforts and take care of injuries. Child and elderly care, along with a range of other medical placements, are quite common as well. Teaching English is another great option for volunteers who want to work with children, or even the Buddhist monk community. Unique placements are also prevalent in Sri Lanka, from IT Teaching to helping with temple renovations.
Volunteer programs in Sri Lanka can last anywhere from one week to more than six months depending on the program you choose and your desired length of stay. Though several languages are spoken throughout Sri Lanka, with the primary being Sinhala, English is widely used in urban areas and you don’t need language experience to volunteer in Sri Lanka.
Costs & Affordability
Volunteering in Sri Lanka is very affordable. Many volunteer programs include housing and meals, and longer duration programs can be a savings when compared to one week volunteer experiences. Prices are comparable to other destinations in southern Asia, though costs on this island nation can run a bit higher than nearby India. If you do choose a volunteer program in a larger city, like Colombo or Kandy, you will have access to ATMs, but don’t expect to find any in smaller cities.
Volunteers can plan on a soda costing less than $1 USD and a fast food meal to be less than $5 USD. The difference in local prices and what tourists are charged can be big (be aware), but in most cases your money will go a long way. Transportation in Sri Lanka is also particularly cheap, so traveling by either bus or train won’t set you back more than a few dollars. Tipping is common in Sri Lankan culture, and 10 percent is a good benchmark to use.
Accommodation & Visas
Most volunteer programs in Sri Lanka include accommodation, be it dormitories, shared living houses, or homestays. The great thing about homestays is that volunteers get first-hand insight into the culture and can enjoy homemade local food. There are some programs that will require you to find your own accommodations independently.
If your volunteer program in Sri Lanka lasts less than 30 days, you only need a tourist visa which will set you back around $80 USD. Volunteers staying longer than 30 days will need to send in a written application for a tourist visa to replace the short-term electronic visa provided upon entry. Expect to pay around $150 USD for this. As with most visa processes, you’ll be required to have a passport valid six months after your stay, and several other verification documents including an itinerary.
Benefits & Challenges
Variety. Individuals who volunteer in Sri Lanka have opportunities to work with varied populations--elephants, turtles, Buddhist monks, children, the elderly, local businesses, or medical teams.
Be Creative! For volunteers who want to work with children or the elderly, it can be challenging to constantly be “on” and come up with fun ideas. It’s helpful to have some experience or creative activities before you jump into this type of volunteer program in Sri Lanka.
Progress. As a result of the civil war, which only ended recently, there is still a lot of rebuilding to be done in Sri Lanka. Along with this, tensions around ethnic lines (Sinhalese & Tamil) can be felt.