Girls usually come as a pair and spend 2 – 3 weeks in one or two homes. They help the girls with their early morning domestic chores, they may accompany them (walking or on bicycles) to school and during the afternoon they play games, help with home work and generally interact in English.
We were fortunate to spend just under four weeks in the Kallar and Kalmunai Sparkes homes. At each we were welcomed by the reverends and house wardens who were very hospitable and made us feel at ease. The girls have a contagious energy and passion for life, and are eager to play games including wink-murder, cricket, hairdressers or even just helping us apply mosquito repel-lent! They were aways enthusiastic, despite their intense routine, rising at 4:30am, school at 7:30 and then private lessons in the afternoon. While the language barrier was a challenge, it was also an opportunity for us to find other means to communicate, making our volunteering a more creative and valuable experience. As Sparkes Homes is partnered with the Methodist Church, both Kallar and Kalmunai place great emphasis on religious worship. Both homes were very inclusive, allowing us to attend their daily prayers and sit in on Sunday church services. We felt part of their community.
We found that Sparkes Homes has a strong academic focus. The housemothers at both Kallar and Kalmunai were previously girls there and had achieved exceptional results, leading on to university education. They are now role-models for the girls. We were especially impressed by the work ethic at Kalmunai- the girls here have a keen desire to learn and often requested english classes with us in the evenings! We had our first formal teaching experience in Kallar with English teacher Miss Louie. She kindly arranged for us to independently lead some of her local after-school classes. This was a brilliant gateway into Kalmunai, where we were invited to teach primary children at Wesley High School. We ended up going into around 20 classes! It was daunting and testing, trying to con-trol classes of thirty children whose language we could not speak. But we loved it. We were also able to work with the Special Unit (handicaps) class, which gave an insight into alternative teaching methods through sport and play. The school principal and Vice principal were very helpful, explain-ing to us how the school functions and giving us an understanding of the Sri Lankan education system.
One of the best things about volunteering at Sparkes Homes is the chance to be inventive and pro-ductive. While the girls were at school, we devised new games to play and different lessons to teach. In Kalmunai, we were given an opportunity to design and paint a mural. This meant quickly deciding a location and then acquiring the equipment needed so the girls could take part. These large scale activities were exciting to organise and enabled us to really connect with the girls and get to know their individual personalities.
Despite many of them having experienced abuse and difficult circumstances in early life, they are persistently positive. Despite having few possessions and a simple routine, they always find ways to have fun. Their resourcefulness inspires us, showing that there are more fulfilling ways to live with-out the distractions of materialism and social media. One of our highlights was taking the Kallar girls to the beach. Their excitement and deep appreciation of their environment was wonderful. Volun-teering at Sparkes Homes gave us the opportunity to meet amazing people, develop new skills and immerse in Sri Lankan culture. It has helped us to see beyond our conventional western way of life.
I spent just under 3 weeks with the lovely girls in Sparkes Homes Kalmunai. From day one they made my job so easy! They were always so full of energy, excitement and love. Teaching them English was not only incredibly rewarding, as they are all such fast and keen learners, but also a lot of fun as they were all enthusiastic participators in the learning games we would play. The girls also attempted to teach me a bit of Tamil, of which I tried and failed to grasp! Our daily activities included playing cricket, throwing water balloons, drawing with chalk, singing songs, playing cards, doing jump rope and sticking stickers on absolutely everything, which the girls never got tired of! Everyone in Kalmunai made my stay there so amazing and it was so great to see that a few weeks of entertainment and games made the girls so happy. They all have so much love in their hearts and I will certainly never forget the relationships I made with the girls in such a short period. Saying goodbye was very hard and admittedly a few tears were shed. Thank you to everyone in Kalmunai and I really hope to return in the future.