Volunteer Experiences

Sinéad KennedyTV Presenter 

Sinead and Emily

It’s hard to even know where to begin… how can one possibly put into words what Sambodhi home is all about? If you’ve been there then you too will have experienced the same difficulty I’m sure. I do believe that no matter what I say you really have to just make the decision to get your ass on a plane and go there as no testimonial in the world will truly be able to depict just how incredible your volunteering experience there will be.

I have volunteered in the past but it had been a while so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive about the whole thing. Excited, yes but apprehensive nonetheless. What would the residents be like? Would I be able to communicate with them? Especially seeing as I hadn’t a word of Sinhala! Would I be able to do anything for them?

The moment we walked through the gates on our first day at the home all of my anxiety ceased to be. We were met by the gang at the top of the steps and they were full of chat, hugs and smiles, it was the warmest of welcomes… and so it began!

Every day was filled with an abundance of laughter. We brought the gang out on an excursion to the beach, which they LOVED! Paddling and splashing about, making sandcastles and generally just chilling in the ocean – it was ridiculously hot, about 35 degrees each day (above average temperatures for that time of year I’m told). So it’d be fair to say that we pale skinned Irish volunteers really appreciated the refreshing dip too! We went on a trip to Hikkaduwa, a local surf spot, about 30 minutes drive away to go on a glass bottom boat. We played hide & seek, painted, made bead necklaces, bunting, played cards, built lego houses, had a massive water fight…although that wasn’t to everyone’s taste.

We disco danced till we could literally dance no more. It was just so much fun. Such an incredibly enjoyable experience and that’s just how I felt about it! But seeing the faces of the residents I know that they too were enjoying it just as much as we were.

I only had limited time off work so my trip to Sri Lanka was too short, 10 days in all (excluding travel days). It was still enough time to get a taste for Sambodhi and to fall hopelessly in love with all of the residents. Despite their circumstances they were always smiling. It really does make you stop and think.

One of the absolute highlights for me would have to be watching how the gang interact as a group; they are so unbelievably considerate and caring of one another, always looking out for each other, I couldn’t get over that.

The staff in Sambodhi look after the residents really well so all you’re there to do is to bring the party! Volunteering in Sambodhi is not hard work, its great fun. I left feeling like I’d cheated in some way because I gained so much from the experience; it wasn’t supposed to be about me! I’m hopeful that the residents gained something from it too. The only hard part was saying goodbye. But I’ve made a promise to myself (and the gang) that I’ll be back so that made it a little less heartbreaking walking out the gates.

Travelling is something that I love to do and Sri Lanka is somewhere that’s never really been on my radar…I have no idea why! The beaches are glorious, the people are so hospitable, the food is gorgeous and everything is so cheap, what’s not to love!

If volunteering is something that you’ve been considering for some time then jump right in, get your fundraising hat on, book your flights, hop on a tuk-tuk and go straight to Sambodhi. I can honestly say that you won’t regret it for a single second.

There are a lot of smiling faces just dying to meet you!

Sinéad Kennedy, 2016

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Sarah O’Mahony, Primary School Teacher 

Padduka and Sarah

I have always wanted to volunteer so when I saw the advertisement in the INTO magazine to volunteer in an exotic country like Sri Lanka I jumped at the opportunity.

Since it was my first time in Asia as well as my first volunteering experience I did not know what to expect. Fortunately I can say that it was possibly the most fulfilling experience I have completed to date.
Sambodhi Home emanates positivity. What initially struck me about the home was how extremely happy and content every resident was. Everyone was so welcoming and caring both staff and the residents which made my experience so pleasant. There really is a sense of family and belonging within the home which also spreads to outsiders such as us which was so refreshing to see.

From my experience there is no such thing as a ‘typical day’ in Sambodhi Home. Everyday brought something new such as painting, beading, card playing, singing, dancing, socialising, pampering, turtle watching, exercising, the variety was endless.

You really get to see the difference you make which I found so rewarding. Sambodhi Home has a small number of permanent staff which makes it difficult to organise excursions. The excitement was electric once we arrived as the residents knew there would be several day trips approaching.
Speaking of excursions, there is so much to see and do in Sri Lanka. From tropical rainforests to national safari parks to incredible beaches Sri Lanka and Galle have something to suit everyone. A vibrant, friendly country with a spectacular landscape that is very hard to replicate.

If you are seeking adventure, looking to make a real difference in people’s lives, meet incredible individuals and experience a gem of a country steeped in culture and natural beauty while ‘working’, then Sambodhi Home is the place for you!

Sarah O’Mahony, 2016

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Catherine Wilkinson, Occupational Therapist

Catherine Profile

I have always wanted to volunteer and I finally got the chance to volunteer in Sambodhi after 5 months of traveling – I wish I had volunteered for the whole 6 months!

It’s difficult to explain the feelings and experiences I had working in Sambodhi in a few words, but I can honestly say that it’s the best thing I have ever done. There is nothing greater than the act of serving without expecting anything in return, other than being able to experience the residents’ joy, happiness, love and gratitude as you work with them.

The residents at Sambodhi have such a special connection and bond between them and they love having volunteers with to play with them, take them on trips, spend one on one time with them and to teach them new things.

My personal highlight was being able to use my skills as an Occupational Therapist to help improve a couple of the residents’ wheelchairs, their positioning, and getting them to engage in daily exercises. Here’s a picture of them outside doing exercises with their new equipment together…

Exercise with Catherine

it was always more fun when they were competing against each other!

This is the first time Sambodhi has had volunteers as part of a programme and I would encourage anyone who wishes to volunteer to consider Sambodhi. It is not organised through an NGO or any other big volunteer organisation, only through an individual whose passion lies in Sambodhi and who cares about these residents deeply.

Not only did I fall in love with the residents at Sambodhi, but also Sri Lanka itself. Being given the time to go and explore Sri Lanka and being based in Galle only added to the experience.

I hope I can continue to visit them and be part of their lives and continue to help develop Sambodhi in any small way I can.

Catherine Wilkinson, 2015

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Maryanne Hayes, Primary School Teacher

Maryanne

I truly feel humbled & fortunate to have been presented with the opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka and “work” (using the word loosely) in Sambodhi Home. The residents here are truly special people, who find delight and wonder in the simplest of things. Little things have such meaning in Sambodhi- a smile, a hug or a picture made just for you. Just hearing the shrieks of delights and high-fives all around as you arrive brightens your day. The Sambodhi residents, without exception, are unfailingly happy and content. Truthfully, never did I hear them complain. They embody humility, determination, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, laughter and love. In Sambodhi, the house is small, but the heart is big.

Day one in Sambodhi was a little daunting with loud squeals of delight & joy as expressive residents welcome new volunteers with open arms. However, not long after being there, I fell in love with the people and the “work” I was doing. In Sambodhi, each day brings a new challenge. At weekends we’d get together to see other parts of the country, from the southern beaches to the waterfalls, tea plantations and hill country. Yet, whenever we went away for a weekend of travel we were always eager to return to Sambodhi.

Of course, among the incredible happy moments there were also tough ones as some days were harder than others. With only a few words of Sinhala, I sometimes struggled to communicate with the residents, as well as staff. However, I had clearly underestimated our ability to communicate across cultures as facial expressions and hand gestures say a lot and I soon learned everyone smiles in the same language.

Regardless of your individual talents or strengths, Sambodhi can put them to good use. I was not entirely sure what I expected when I signed up. While I had hoped to offer a willing hand, or to bring the residents, some small measure of relief from the monotony of daily life, I seemed to be the one who received a gift. I learned more than I taught. I didn’t expect to connect so deeply with perfect strangers as we together found fun in the simple things- chase, tickles, impromptu singing, demented disco dancing and trips out to name but a few. But above all, I learned that if adults were as honest as the Sambodhi Residents the world would be a better place.

Leaving Sambodhi was bittersweet. Tears were shed, to say the least. However, for those who can withstand the emotional highs and lows, it’s an extremely gratifying experience, in which one can do a great deal of good for others. I truly believe we all have a global responsibility to give back where we can. The world is filled with unique experiences. To volunteer is to learn, to enjoy, to experience. If it does all this for you, just imagine what you can do for others.

The friendships I continue to enjoy today are testament to the strength of my volunteering experience at Sambodhi Home. I will be forever grateful for all of those who made this trip a life changing experience and feel lucky to have met the most inspiring and motivational people whom I now may call my friends.

I leave you with this…

“You can’t do everything but you can do something! ” — Jeff Dixon

Maryanne Hayes, 2015

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Olivia O’Callaghan, Pharmacy Student

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This summer I had the opportunity to travel to the exotic island of Sri Lanka to work with the residents of Sambodhi Home. The journey wasn’t as long as I thought and before I knew it, I was packed (along with my giant suitcase) into a three wheeler en route to our guest house.

Sambodhi Home is located in the south of the country in Galle, a really popular destination for tourists and Sri Lankans alike. In Galle town there is a huge Dutch fort which surrounds the town from the court. It is a cultural social hub, with loads to see and do, there’s a lighthouse, museums, numerous restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops. The highlight of the fort is being able to watch sunset on the rampart wall overlooking the sea.

Sambodhi Home is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a home. It’s full of characters of varying ages and abilities and every individual has their own role to play. The residents love to have visitors and will accept you as their friends and their guide to fun as soon as you step foot inside the gate. It’s amazing to watch Nadia interact with the residents, she knows each of them so well, their likes, dislikes and areas that they can work on to improve themselves.

A typical day in Sambodhi involves a lot of mess! The residents love to paint and draw, and some of the older girls do some excellent craftwork such as beading and weaving tapestries. Kusumalatha , one of the older ladies is particularly talented and makes some wonderful bags.

In the afternoons we played ball games and had a disco that everyone loved. One day we even had a talent show and it was wonderful see the individual merits of every resident on display .

While I was there we made a huge caterpillar from paper plates that the residents painted, and we also painted loads of wooden cut out shapes which would serve as colorful decorations around the home.

The residents of Sambodhi home are the warmest and friendliest bunch of characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, and what really struck me about the residents is that they really are like a large family, everyone cares for each other, teaches each other and helps each other, and of course there’s always some teasing and bickering going on too! Sambodhi home is a wonderful place to visit and I can’t wait to go back and see all my wonderful friends again.

Olivia O’Callaghan, 2013

A Partner in Care