Community Engagement Trip to Sri Lanka

 This year the Community Engagement Team of Georgetown University- SFS-Q went to Sri Lanka as volunteers to assist the Habitat for Humanity organization. 21 participants including students, staff and faulty traveled to Colombo to get a gist of the situation and understand the community in general. The situation in Sri Lanka grew worse due to the Tsunami in 2004 and the civil war that had emerged between the government and the Tamil Tigers. One thing I realized was that the Sri Lankan people were so warm and hospitable in their behavior that I never felt out of place. I hail from Bangladesh and by being in Sri Lanka I was able to feel at home. The aroma of the foods, the simplicity of the people and the natural beauty of Sri Lanka welcomed us all with arms wide open. Before the trip, my grandfather Mr.Wanker was excited about my visit and he indulged in narrating to me some of the memorable experiences he had in Sri Lanka back in the days. I had these expectations but never thought they would become real and true once I visited this beautiful country.






The real work began in Galle where we were staffed in the Volunteer Village and began working on 11 houses. The staff at the Volunteer Village greeted us with delicious local food and a secure environment every day after work. To me, this trip provided the tools to work in a disaster situation before travelling. I was able to use theoretical knowledge combined with the Jesuit values to understand the value of being a true Hoya. One value in particular resonated with the volunteer work we were doing -”Women and Men for Others”. Professor Andretta helped us understand the housing needs that emerged after Tsunami and the workings of the aid organizations both local and international.








In the beginning, the home-owners (the people for whom the houses were being built) seemed strangers to me. I felt that due to the lack of a common language there would be no way I could form a relationship, be it temporary, with them. But in these four and a half days we all spoke the language of humanity and forged lasting bonds with them. It was then that I realized that you don’t need solid means of communication. There is always this essence that builds and is reflected in the form of gratitude that emerged from the hearts of the home owners as they thanked us for our help. It completed the whole trip. Neither the heat, nor the mosquitoes, nor the nostalgia seemed to bother us and we felt that all our hard work paid off just through their illuminating smiles. From my heart, I can say it was all worth it for that small gesture.






In addition, I learned how to align concrete blocks and make concrete from scratch. I also learned a few Sinhalese words. Each time we took a break, we were rewarded with fresh coconut water and sweets by the home owners. I was always under the impression that we would be the only ones working on building the homes. But the homeowners also joined in to help us build their home. Some were masons by profession while others were farmers or army men. One of the home-owners told us that she was overwhelmed with the idea of building her own home but through our help she was able to finish 2/3rds of it in only 4.5 days. While I was working with another home-owner - Chamindi, there were times I was exhausted by carrying heavy bricks or cement and he would get hints about it and assist me in carrying them or reduce the amounts I had to carry. All the assurance that I needed was reflected in these small acts of kindness and gratitude. Speaking on behalf of the whole team, I think I can vouch that we have made a change and proven ourselves to be active agents in making that change; even though it constitutes a small portion.

by Bushra B. Alam  Mar 29th, 2012
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