The summer of 2011, I wanted to volunteer abroad. I had no idea where and no idea what kind of volunteer work I wanted to do. I wanted to travel, but travel with intention. I was simply looking for something different, for some new, challenging experience, and for an unfamiliar culture to learn about. I started looking online. The third-party volunteer organisers charged nearly five times what I knew the cost should truly be, making me wonder, who’s profiting here? The orphanages, hospitals, and schools are surely not seeing that extra money.
I then started looking into places I could reach out to individually, a program that would allow me to immerse myself in a culture (as cultural immersion is not something you get on those programs that take you and 40 other Americans). As a 22-year-old female, my parents were worried about my independence. I was even starting to become worried. How do I prove the legitimacy of some school or hospital or orphanage on the other side of the world? My father is a part of Rotary International: a fantastic organisation that supports a wide-range of good-doing programs all throughout the world. If Rotary sponsors something, it is certainly legitimate. I went to the Rotary International website and searched their database for organisations that posted a need for volunteers. I sent out emails to Kenya, Turkey, India, Uganda, Mexico, and Sri Lanka.
My response email from Tim Pare in Sri Lanka was all I needed to be on a plane one month later. He Skyped with my parents and eased their nerves in a matter of seconds, turning all of their apprehension in my endeavours to pride.
Tim’s email was my first connection with Sri Lanka. The enthusiasm, passion, and energy Tim displayed for the country, its people, and the Tea Leaf Vision project in those first few sentences centered me in on making Sri Lanka my destination for international volunteering.
There is no place more beautiful than Maskeliya, Sri Lanka, and no people so wonderfully warm-hearted. I never felt unsafe for even a second. Tea Leaf Vision is an oasis, a sanctuary for young adults desperately needing those walls filled with compassion, motivation, knowledge, and love. But Tea Leaf Vision quickly became a sanctuary for me as well. I found myself equally inspiring and inspired. The other teachers, all Sri Lankan, are some of my dearest, life-long friends. I cried leaving Sri Lanka at the end of the summer of 2011, but buried my heart somewhere in those tea fields and returned again in 2012.
To see the progress the school made over one year was mind-blowing. To see Sri Lankans my age not just teaching, but running a school impacting X young adults in their community every year made me proud to call them my friends. They truly changed me and my life perspectives.
There are so many beautiful parts of the country to explore, and if you do find yourself volunteering, you must go see it all. But I assure you, if you ever leave, even for a day, you will be thrilled to return back home to Tea Leaf Vision.