Volunteer in Sri Lanka – Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation
Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka
It’s May 2016, and exactly two years have passed since I first surfed around websites of volunteer organizations, but something held me back at the time. And here I was again. This time, the drive to spend my summer vacation by doing something useful and outside my comfort zone was high. I really wanted to contribute for a good cause in a different way then donating money, food, clothes etc., and to do it at an international level.
Two months later, in July, I was finally saying: “Hello, Sri Lanka! Hello, turtles! It’s going to be real – my first time volunteering and first time visiting Asia!”
My trip started in Kandy where I joined two projects. One was a disabled children project, which was definitely a challenge. It did touch me, but I didn’t have time for tears – you spend your time by engaging with them – playing, singing songs, feeding them, changing clothes etc. Also, having recently experienced an issue with knee, I asked to join a local physiotherapist. Thereby, I got to work massaging and stretching those little arms and legs to improve their flexibility and reduce stiffness. “Look, this a girl who didn’t walk, when she was brought to the center years ago. Now, she is walking and running around the place,” said the physiotherapist, and I felt such a rewarding feeling in her voice.
Another project was a Buddhist temple renovation which involved painting walls and fences with elephants. Yes, be ready to get your hands dirty, but the ambiance is different – you get served a big variety of food prepared by village people, you meet smiling monks, you do meditation and find out that a monk can have a Facebook profile!
I then traveled to the turtles project in the southwestern beach town Ambalangoda. And it couldn’t have started better – two days old baby turtles to be released in the ocean. They were so tiny and hyper active – put all together in one tank, and moving and dancing around – it looked like a turtles soup. Super cuties!
The day-to-day activities are related to protection and rehabilitation of sea turtles, because they are protected reptiles. Unfortunately, mostly due to human action, there are disabled turtles to take care of as well. Their stories are different – some have lost one or both flippers due to fisherman’s net, some are blind, some have fish hooks in their throat, some have eaten too much plastic.
A local coordinator associated with turtles project loves animals and feels very responsible for turtles. Also, it was clear that he truly cared that all volunteers get involved and enjoy their time there. He worked with us and the turtles all the time, guiding us on tasks such as food preparation (cleaning and cutting sardines) and supervising the feeding process. Sometimes, working with the turtles even turned wet!
Cleaning turtles and their tanks was another important task. It was done with sand and dried coconut shell brush. Of course, no chemicals. Furthermore, you may not apply any lotion or whatsoever on your body parts which might get in contact with a turtle or tank water.
A local beach cleaning was part of the project, during which we gathered several bags of sea “treasure,” meaning plastic bottles, toothbrushes, slippers, Legos etc. Here I came to realize how serious this subject is and remembered all those internet articles about plastic in our seas. Maybe next time I will join a project raising awareness of plastic pollution.
We all recognize volunteering as a contribution to a local community, but, in addition to that, I see that I’ve contributed to myself, too. A win-win situation. One can definitely become more rich by volunteering vacations. It is also a great way to visit a country, meet locals and to see how a local system works. I have gained new great friendships and had an unforgettable time. I AM HAPPY, and my friends can’t stop telling me how much my spirit enlightens whenever I mention volunteering time in Sri Lanka.
If you are considering volunteering, choose a project and really do it. Even if a financial part might not be the easiest one to sign up for it, do it. It is one awesome experience.
Three weeks later after coming back home, my heart is till there, in Sri Lanka.
Stuthi Chandimal, Tharaka and Dhammike! – Ilze