I have previously worked as a volunteer abroad to learn a new language and to gain working experience with children, but this time I wanted to gain skills and experience more relevant to my Psychology degree. SLV. Global offered me a unique opportunity to work in a variety of settings for people with mental health concerns in Sri Lanka, where mental health services are rather scarce.
My main worries were the language barrier and the climate in Sri Lanka. I knew beforehand that most of the activities at the projects would have to be mostly non-verbal, which was completely new to me, but it’s incredible how much you can communicate non-verbally! I also knew the temperature and humidity would be quite high, but we all got used to the constant heat and the crammed buses.
Doing a mental health placement in Sri Lanka for five weeks has definitely expanded my perspective on matters of mental health, especially as it is a whole different culture. Regardless of which country you are in, there should always be a focus on promoting positive mental health, especially for those with difficult backgrounds and limited resources. It was evident that some of the individuals in the permanent homes or psychiatric wards were there simply because they had nowhere else to go, possibly due to the massive stigma attached to mental health issues.
I had the opportunity to work in psychiatric wards, drug addiction clinics, orphanages, and residential homes for adults with special needs where we engaged service users in positive therapeutic activities. As a team, we constantly tried to boost service users’ confidence, self-esteem, and key life skills by doing arts and crafts and music and dance therapy, among other things. It wasn’t always easy – spending all day working and traveling to projects in crowded buses, preparing for projects after work, getting numerous mosquito bites and not getting a minute to yourself – but it was worth it when we saw the participants’ efforts and increased moods.
I worked on some unforgettable projects, met amazing people, and got to travel on weekends to explore the beautiful gem that is Sri Lanka. These are memories I’ll cherish and never forget, and I would highly recommend anyone to volunteer abroad to challenge yourself and your perspective of the world!
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