15 students from Wilmington Academy took a trip of a life time this month, travelling thousands of miles across time zones. All to take part in local community projects in part of the world hit by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. After two flights and a 24 hour journey they arrived in a small town called Ambalangoda.
The students set about four projects that ‘gave back’. Renovating a local temple involved painting the entire outside of the building, many locals came to thank the staff and students and provided authentic homemade food gifts which were served daily by the monks. Such a humbling sight especially as the local salary per month was only £15 for most. Students worked side by side the Buddhist monks gaining a true insight into the philosophy of Buddhism.
The second project saw students help clean and look after endangered sea turtles. They even had the opportunity to release the turtles. The reality of plastic waste in our oceans really hit home. The students witnessed a turtle aged 125 years, who can no longer submerge himself due to plastic he has swallowed from the ocean, that sadly now keeps him afloat.
The third project involved working with rescued domestic elephants. Students washed and scrubbed these majestic animals and fed them after – up close to nature.
The final project was teaching English to children who recognise the importance of our language and their future life chances. Our students planned and delivered lessons in the living room of a local lady who tries to support the poorer children in her local community.
After the projects had finished, the students continued to discover Sri Lanka. From a safari in Yala national park, trekking Mini Adams peak in Ella to watch the sunrise over the mountains, tea plantations and the local economy driven by tea, traditional dance, an evening in discussion with a monk, walking the UNESCO Dutch fort and time at the Elephant orphanage not to mention exploring Kandi.
Through all of the exciting projects and experiences the students were part of, their emotions were battered by a visit to the Tsunami museum in Galle. On arrival they walked to a ruined home, where they met the lady who owns the museum. The museum is actually the ruins of her home, destroyed by the wave. The exposed footings and now make shift walls display unseen images and witness accounts that found staff and students fighting back the tears. Beautifully written accounts of parents who could not hold their children against the will of the wave, messages of hope that loved ones still might be found 14 years on, images of destruction that they could never imagine or comprehend. The unmarked graves of hundreds of people, many of whom were children, who never found their way back to their families. The second wave took 60 000 Sri Lankan lives and the visitors were humbled to see the strength and humility of the lady who through her story has since raised over £350 000 for local health charities.
Rebecca Roberts, Head of College said: “I was immensely proud of the compassion shown by all of the students. The journey certainly exposed us to how we all can spend a few days of our lives giving back and I’m proud to be part of a community where our students, our future leaders want to make a real difference to some of the poorest communities in our world.”