I’m a fan of visiting destinations that are slightly under the radar of other travellers and Sri Lanka perfectly fits the bill. An island located at the southern tip of India, it’s perhaps overshadowed by its south-east Asia neighbours.
So, if you’re looking for a unique country in which to carry out voluntary work abroad, look no further than Sri Lanka. The scenery is spectacular, the people welcoming and you’ll be within easy reach of the surrounding nations should this trip form part of a longer gap year.
To get an idea of what Sri Lanka has to offer to volunteers, check out my guide below.
Work with elephants
For a truly unique experience, book your volunteer space at Sri Lanka’s only elephant sanctuary. This haven looks after elephants that have been heavily used in the tourist industry, among other reasons. The creatures are amazingly intelligent and you’ll start to notice they each have their own personality traits. If you like to be hands on, this is the project for you. You’ll learn everything from looking out for signs of ill health to how to read the animals’ body language. Did you know elephants can be taught to follow commands? You can instruct them to lift tree trunks, lie down and walk – it really is amazing to see.
Not that you’ll ever get bored caring for these beautiful creatures, but you’ll also teach English and maths to families in a local Buddhist temple a couple of days a week, or help at the eco farm with the production of fruit and vegetables.
Head to the island of Kosgoda
Whether or not you’ve swam or dived with turtles, we can all appreciate their beauty. Head to the island’s Kosgoda and you can help prevent these creatures from becoming extinct. Your efforts will be especially welcomed, as the area was badly hit by the 2004 tsunami, meaning families are still trying to rebuild their homes with the little money they have.
Despite having amazing beaches, Kosgoda does not attract as many tourists as it used to.
The turtle reserve was also badly affected. Fewer tourists are around to help fund it, while a lot of its infrastructure was lost. It’s a great feeling to help those in need, and you’ll be doing it in some of the most breathtaking scenery you’ll ever come across. One of the ways in which you can protect the turtles is helping newly-hatched babies become strong enough to be released into the ocean. Another part of the volunteer work I think is brilliant is getting the chance to teach locals conversational English. Once you’ll see how eager they
are to learn, you’ll no doubt make the effort to pick up a few words of their language too.
Aid the locals
For a volunteer project that offers a little bit of everything, head to Sri Lanka’s Wasgamuwa National Park. Wild elephants roam here close to the locals, so you’ll be helping people learn how to live with the creatures in peace. Part of this includes supporting farmers
who are financially struggling to plant crops that the animals won’t be attracted to eat. Problems arose when they started to eat the sugar cane grown here and citrus crops have proven to be a good alternative.
You’ll also be able to travel to Polonnaruwa to a primate research camp. Here, you can observe the monkeys, as well as help with conservation efforts to save the endangered purple-faced langurs.
There are loads more volunteering opportunities in Sri Lanka – if you’ve been lucky enough to go there, leave your experience below. Who knows, you might end up persuading someone to go for it and book a gap year!