Connecting students from the U.S. with Sri Lankan orphans
It's been about three weeks since I returned from Sri Lanka, where I volunteered with elephants as well as orphan girls for much of December. I had an amazing time, and I'm still having a hard time adjusting to being back home. Last month, I spent my mornings walking through the jungle and picking up branches to help Sitha make her bed. Now, I wake and make my own plush, cozy bed and rush out to approach my daily agenda. I used to make up dance routines for the orphans, now I spend my time teaching dance workout classes at the local gym. I'm half a world away from that lifestyle I enjoyed so much and back to making money, paying the bills and enjoying the excess of an American lifestyle.
I miss Sri Lanka. I miss my friends (elephants and people!), the simplicity, the nature and the challenge of travel and adventure...and yes, I miss the curry. When I put on my shiny dresses and leg warmers and get dressed up for a night out dancing with friends, I feel a contradiction and disconnect from the simple life I fit in so well with just last month.
It's not the same as being there, but I still aim to help out from here in the U.S. One way I'm doing that is by connecting students in Virginia Beach, Va., with the orphan girls in Kegalle, Sri Lanka. Before I headed to Sri Lanka, I had the students write letters, which I carried over in my back pack. When I delivered the letters to the girls, they were tremendously excited to read them and write their own letters back.
This week, I was able to deliver the orphans' letters in response back to students at Bettie F. Williams Elementary School, a title 1 school in Virginia Beach. I spent my time there talking about my experiences in Sri Lanka with Melissa Steadman Reynolds' two fourth grade classes. We started the presentation with a geography lesson and then I taught the students about Sri Lankan culture (the food, religions and languages). I shared my photos and spent time discussing the tsunami, elephant conservation and what life is like for the orphans in Sri Lanka. The kids had many questions, ranging from "Are elephants related to mammoths?" to "Did you wear heels in Sri Lanka?" I enjoyed teaching the kids and have a new-found appreciation for all of the technology that surrounded us in their classroom after seeing how different life is for the orphans. The students learned to appreciate what they have as well when I pointed out the 45 orphans shared only two bedrooms, one bathroom and did not have an XBox 360.
We finished up the lesson by making a video for the orphans, which my friends at Inspire Sri Lanka will share via a laptop the next time they visit the orphanage.
Volunteering can be as complicated and adventurous as traveling across the world, or it can be as easy as spending a couple of hours a week in your community. No matter where you are, the smiles, the connections and the memories you create have the same positive impact on others.