Volunteering in Sri Lanka: a wealth of opportunity
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It’s early evening in Kosgoda, Sri Lanka, and I’m walking on the beach down to the sea’s edge. I’m carrying two buckets, full of maybe 25 baby turtles each. We’ve just dug them out of the sand with our bare hands, and now we must take these tiny little things, barely the size of your palm, down to the sea and let nature take over. Turtles have to be released on the sand, as opposed to being plopped into the water, so that they remember the sand so that in later life when they are grown and need to lay their own eggs they will remember the way back home. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. They’ve got to get into the water as quickly as possible to be safe from the marauding birds, and to help them, they are guided by the moon’s reflection on the sea, which draws them towards it and into the water. The problem is the light is fading, and every time I take a picture the flash goes off and they race their tiny little flippers towards me. The only way around this is to sit in the sea, whilst being bashed around by the waves. I was in Sri Lanka to volunteer at the Kosgoda Turtle Conservation Project with two other teenagers: Mable, a 19-year-old English girl, had chosen to travel before university, had already been to Vietnam, India and Cambodia, and was travelling through the Real Gap organisation. “I was interested in teaching English and working with animals and put it into Google and this was one of the first things that came up,” she said. Misa, a 24-year-old Swedish girl, had taken a different route. Although she came across them in the same way as Mable – via Google – she decided to contact the project directly. She negotiated her own deal, so unlike Mable she got all her meals, water and accommodation included. Do you need to travel through a company or is it best to do it yourself? As Mable pointed out, sometimes the extra support comes in handy. She said: “Once you’re out there it’s the organisation that managers that can help you, not the people at home.” When in Vietnam she had all her money stolen and could have been in a lot of trouble. “I called Real Gap and they were really helpful,” she said. Gap years have become fantastically popular over the last decade, but with the rising university fees have they become a luxury for the rich? Going to countries like Sri Lanka is very expensive, plus if you do it through a gap year company, it is even more so. Can you really justify doing both? Or do you have to choose? We’re young and these opportunities come once in a lifetime, and if you can you have to take every opportunity offered. So, yes, let’s do both.
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