Volunteer Project in the Spotlight: Prem Nivasa

If you haven’t already seen I was lucky enough to spend the last two weeks in Sri Lanka visiting our amazing volunteer projects and getting to know all the wonders that Sri Lanka has to offer. For any of you who haven’t explored this beautiful island, then it should definitely go to the top of your travel list for 2017/2018. The people, the food, the variety – you just can’t beat it!

prem nivas volunteer project

Whilst visiting our projects, there was one that particularly stood out; Prem Nivasa. A children’s home run by Catholic Sisters based in Moratuwa, south of Colombo. It is currently home to 52 children between the ages of 0 to 8 years old.

 

Children and Care in Sri Lanka

gap year volunteering Sri Lanka

Children in Sri Lanka are left in homes for a whole host of reasons. These include teenage pregnancies, parents that can’t cope with their children and children that are disabled and parents are unable to provide the level of care that they need.

Child care in Sri Lanka has a good track record and many children’s homes are supported by the State. However, with 13,214 children currently documented in the care system, there is a desperate need for donation funded homes.

 

Understanding Prem Nivasa

Sri Lanka gap year travelling

Prem Nivasa is one of these homes. They rely almost entirely on donations from individuals and groups to run the home.

The home sits behind large blue gates on the main road between Colombo and Panadura. As you walk off the bustling street through the gate, the peaceful atmosphere hits you. Set in beautiful surroundings with lots of outside space to play, you feel like you’ve found a slice of paradise.

The sisters based here work tirelessly to provide a caring, stable environment for the children. From cooking their meals to educating them, to dressing and playing with them. There’s a lot to do and walking through the home you can see that they struggle with limited resources.

Once I’d met with the sister superior and she’d given me her welcome and blessing, we headed to look around and meet the children. As we walked, we met groups of other people also visiting. Some were donors deciding whether to invest, some were parents inquiring into adoption and some were the families making the decision as to whether to re-home their child into Prem Nivasa care.

All with our own agendas, we wondered the halls of the home.

 

The Set Up

volunteer work with children abroad

Our first stop was those aged under 1. In their own beds, in two rows, the kids looked fascinated by all the faces at the window. Whilst we could look at the young babies, only the nuns are allowed into this section. The babies need to establish healthy stable relationships and this can only be done by permanent staff.

We then head around the corner. There are two classrooms that are full of excitable kids. Just like any other nursery and primary school, it’s manic. The kids are messing around, being taught basic concepts and skills and extremely interested in where you’re from and what you’re doing.

Downstairs has a large dining area and a playroom. Young children that don’t attend school yet spend their days here. The other children come down to join them in the afternoon. The room is sparse and the children are sat often all alone. The two women caring for the group are helping change one of the girls and tend to another boy.

A boy leant towards the window and pushed his head out. They have bars on them to ensure the children can’t fall out and so he pushes his small hand through the bars to touch mine. Whilst he looks at me, I am struck by the love these children have in a desperate situation, all he wanted was to hold my hand…

It was heartbreaking and I couldn’t help but be aware that whilst I was walking around another child’s future was being decided. You can’t fault the work of the incredible nuns that dedicate their days to helping these children. They give you the motivation and determination to get involved and work alongside them to give these kids the best start in life you can.

 

Our volunteer’s work

This is exactly where our volunteers step in. From working in the classrooms, painting timelines, maps and other stimulating aids, to helping downstairs with the disabled children and to playing with the kids. They offer an extra pair of hands that helps all of the 52 children to get the attention that they need and want.

One of the volunteers working at Prem Nivasa, was Sri Lankan by birth and had been put into the home at a young age. Adopted from the home, she grew up in the Netherlands. She returned aged 18 to the care home as a volunteer to give back to the place that had helped her so dramatically in the beginning.

It is stories like this that made me realise just how fundamental these homes are to children (and their parents) that need to use them. They offer a vital support to children that would otherwise have nowhere else to turn.

 

Get Involved, Volunteer, Make a difference

This is the story of just one of our projects – the care program in Sri Lanka. All our projects each have their own story and background. Keep your eyes out for another “Project in the Spotlight” to read more about the incredible work that you can contribute towards.

Jenny McWhirter
Jenny McWhirter
Jenny joined The Leap team in 2015, and is our very own in-house gap year advice agony aunt. She leaped with us back in 2012 and has now returned to help run our popular advice blog, and will also be one of the first people you speak to if you're interested in joining one of our gap year travel programs.
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