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2 Week Specials, Medicine in Sri Lanka by Tharanya Thiruchelvam

A beach in Sri Lanka

Medicine is something that has always appealed to me. Living in a western country, I had never considered the infrastructure in a developing country. Do they have a system like the NHS in the UK or is it all privatised? I guess that’s why I chose Sri Lanka - to see a central health system in a developing country. Of course, I also was going for the weather, beaches and sense of adventure (after all, it was a short holiday as well as an educational experience).

Medical placement

My host family

I think this is what I was most worried about: whether or not my host family would like me. I don’t even know why I worried, to be honest! My host family were some of the kindest people you could meet. My host mum in particular would call me and all the other girls in the house “her daughters”. She would call us down for lunch or dinner and hover over us making sure we were alright and getting us anything we needed. It felt like a home away from home. Plus they had a cat called Kitty!

Mountain view Sri Lanka

My placement

The two hospitals I volunteered at seemed a bit daunting at first, especially seeing the sight of people filling the hospitals. Not only were the hospitals overcrowded with people, but also stray dogs and cats. Spending time in these hospitals has been the most eye-opening experiences of my life. Seeing doctors dealing with the few resources they have at their disposal was inspiring.

I experienced the diversity of specialities from paediatrics to general medicine. We observed doctors in the labour room, which made me not want to have children; although it was amazing and I almost cried! We also watched a hernioplasty in the operating theatre. These have been some of my most precious experiences from the hospital. Most of the doctors were lovely and very sociable. I would advise future volunteers to go in with an open and understanding mind; the interaction between patient and doctor are worlds apart from the same interaction in western medical systems.

As well as the mainstream medical system, I also experienced the practices in an Ayurvedic Hospital - the traditional medical system of Sri Lanka. We saw how they manufacture their oils and medicines and we even tasted some. I felt immersed in the cultural history of Sri Lanka and found it interesting to learn about the philosophy.

My Free Time

Weekend in Sri Lanka

Spending time with people I wouldn’t normally meet was the most enjoyable aspect of the trip; even just going out to get some juice was entertaining! I was about fed-up with the card game Uno by the end of the trip, and was even introduced to a new bell card game by some Dutch friends.

By far the weekend trip to Kandy was the best. We went to a tea factory, went to the Tooth Temple, saw Kandyan dancing, saw elephants and the list goes on! Projects Abroad definitely struck a good balance between work and our free time. The only thing I would improve is to stay longer! I genuinely miss the mornings, waking up to go to the hospital for the day and returning in the evenings to chat and play Uno until one o’clock in the morning sometimes.

Travelling around Sri Lanka

As you can probably tell by my long name, I am Sri Lankan and have family living there, which was a great excuse for me to stay for six weeks and travel around the country. Projects Abroad made it really easy to travel before or after a placement and I would highly recommend it, because during your project and packed volunteering schedule, you don’t get to experience many parts of the country. Sri Lanka in particular has such a wide range of cultural activities and tourist hotspots.

Tharanya Thiruchelvam

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