Germano From Italy

Germano From Italy

Dear All,
This is Germano, an italian volunteer writing to you from Muthur, a relative small town under
the administration of Trincomalee district. Well, Muthur is one of the hundred thousands
unknown places in the world which is located in the Eastern province of Sri Lanka; one among
the others with its own past and present, unfortunately not a fairy-tale one; hopefully with a
brighter future.
I decided to have volunteering experience after I had realized that it was time for me to do
something useful; that of course does not mean something useful for myself such just working
for earning my own life and living in the comfort of my country. When I say useful I mean doing
something helpful for others who actually need some real support, doing something to be kept
for long in the future. The only thing I knew was that I could offer my volunteer service as an
English teacher and that I wanted to do that in an Asian country (just because when I think of
Asia countries I think about their meditative and calm atmospheres), so I started my research. I
looked in the list of project proposed by SCI and I finally found 2 long term project in Sri Lanka,
one held in Kandy, one of the main city in the Central Province, and the other in Muthur; I
applied with no hesitation. I didn’t know anything about those places at that time except for
some basic geography knowledge of Sri Lanka. At the end they proposed me the project in
Muthur as the main task was to teach English; I accepted with joy and started studying a little
more about Sri Lanka and Muthur area, convinced that I will have learnt more once on place.

It was dark when I arrived in Mutur, I could not see much of the surrounding, but I still knew I
was in a place out of the ordinary. Once I got off the bus, waiting for Emerencia (the lady in
charge of the Peace Centre) and Minna (the volunteer on duty at that time) to come picking me
up, people started stopping by me enquiring about everything such us my name, country, job,
status, and so on. I will have heard these questions again and again during my whole stay in Sri
Lanka.

I spent the first few days with Minna who guided me through Muthur and surrounding area.
Getting around Muthur without going unnoticed is almost impossible. People I didn't even know
waved and shouted their greetings to me (they still keep on doing that), but the fervor they put
in doing so made me feel like we had known each other for ages. Some just stopped to ask my
name and the country where I am from. Some who had a fairer knowledge of English language
spent more time by enquiring further. Others greeted and asked for my name while rushing
away on a Three Wheeler/Tuk Tuk (local taxi) or on a bike, thus leaving no time for a reply.  And
then there were children out of the schools at the end of their schedules, the same children who
still crow on sandy and dusty streets in the afternoon playing cricket with makeshift balls and
bats, some barefoot and wearing clothes covered by dust. I soon realized that all those people
had something they shared; and that is the smiles I can see upon their face no matter whether
they are Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists. a grin given by the curiosity and joy when they meet a
foreigner “Vella Caaran” (white man); well, they also call you “friend” and rarely “brother.  

I arrived in Muthur the second week of August, with the main task of teaching English language
for A-Level students. The course was planned to start soon after the end of their examination
period, which was at the begin of September. I reached my destination in the middle of the
exam period so, while waiting for starting the A-level English class, I was assigned to teach
English in a school of the area; the classes to be held soon after their daily examination. There
was no official time schedule, we just agreed on a words and went to school with my easy
english lessons which I daily prepared, but at the end the plan changed. It was impossible to
hold regular classes, so huge was student’s enthusiasm for having a foreigner teacher in their
school. As soon as they spotted me, the words “Vella Caaran” echoed throughout the school and
all students started gathering around, running, jumping, asking the already familiar questions
both in English and Tamil. I spend the first 2 days sharing they enthusiasm by playing football on
the bare school playing field, playing badminton match without without net. On the second day
I thought that I needed to set up a schedule to be followed in order to hold few effective classes;
so I did. I kept holding classes for 10 days until schools closed for holiday, and in the meanwhile I
decided to monitor the students performance in agreement with the school principal by
checking the examination results. The results showed that half of the students in that school did
not reach the minimum mark required by the government to access the next grade of education.
That result was far from being encouraging, so I wanted to go further and analyze the trend of
the last 3 year examination; the result was still discouraging and that means that still 50 % of the
students did not have an adequate level of literacy to proceed with their studies, thus
preventing them from developing to a better future. Several potential problems came up such
as: poor school environment (classroom are connected thus voices from a classroom to the
other next overlap creating noise and confusion, library with no furniture’s and no books, some
teacher has no specific teaching training or adequate teaching education, lack of basic
instrument to teach science or English language), lack of interest from parents for their
children’s education (a large number of family in the area of Muthur live in poverty, thus
education might not be a priority for them). I got the feeling like those students won’t never
have a good prospect for their life, so I started collecting information’s and ideas on how to
improve those students performance. It has been a hard work to collect information in order to
find out where the problem was and to look for actions to contrast the issue. At the end, it came
out a huge project proposal aiming at spreading awareness on the importance of education
throughout, to provide teachers with training on effective teaching methodology, and providing
school with adequate premises such us building of library and partition walls just to mention but
a few.  Well, it took 2 months to build this project proposal up, but at the end we were able to
submit it to the Australian government which had called for project funding; we are now waiting
for their reply. If they will reject it, we will look for other fund sources because we really think it
is worth it.
In the meanwhile the A-level English classes started and met new students preparing for joining
the University after their long A-level examination break. We will be spending four month
together, until January, when the course end. I can still remember the first 2 weeks of the
course and how they have improved so far. Although the ice breaking activities I regularly
conducted during the first days, it took maybe more than 2 weeks to see them talking freely.
They were so shy compared to the people I had met until that time that I seriously doubted
whether they were from Muthur or not, indeed. The curiosity I met in everybody and
everywhere in Muthur seemed constrained by a deep shyness. It has been rewarding to see

them going a step forward and beginning to share their curiosity and being more participative
during the lessons. I do not feel like being their English teacher, I feel more like being a source of
general knowledge, a wide-open window overlooking to a boundless world, an opportunity to
freely express their opinion in a quite hard context.
I have met lot of people here with whom I have shared culture, knowledge and opinions. This is
the case of the persons I have met since I got here for the evening English classes. I hold these
classes at the Peace Centre which is the place where volunteers stay during the project. They are
all adults with an interest in improving their English speaking level. We have discussed a large
number of diverse topics, we have shared open –minded opinions, we have agreed and disagreed
point of view, we have compared our lifestyle, religious beliefs and so many other things. We
have organized some dinner, some ride on a bicycle, we have seen places, we have discovered
lot from each other and found out that we are all the same under different aspects.

Among those people there is also the neighborhood; all those people who stare and wave at
you when you cycle or walk on the street, all their children stopping and talking in Tamil, those
who I used to meet at school who invite me playing cricket (I finally have a clue on how to play
cricket), and other children  who just come and visit the Peace Centre without notice; they
arrive and start drawing, sometime on a piece of paper, sometime on my hand or harm while I
try to move their attention to a piece of paper, but they had decided to tattoo my skin. They
look happy, so I let them carry on. There is also the orphanage with its big family to be counted
as neighborhood since the building is next to the Peace Centre. This is a big family made up of 21
members, all of them young boys aged between 8 and 17 years. When I have some spare time I
visit them and spend some time playing cricket or football on the orphanage background. They
are very active and keen to learn lot of things such as singing, dancing also, everything that let
their energy go out. They deserve a better future for their life and the only way to build it is to
commit themselves in achieving good schools result, but unfortunately, it seems that most of
students within the community do not perceive school education as an important step for their
life. That is the hardest job, changing their view toward school education. That is why I am now
planning to develop a long term volunteering project with the orphanage in order to allow
future volunteers to dedicate most of their time to the orphanage. I strongly believe that a
constant contact with different cultures can be the moment where they can learn further and
find the motivation for achieving good results.

I am now planning to develop a project proposal on disability in Muthur. I found out that
something needs to be done on this field by chance. It was when I was conducting the teachers’
survey at the schools during the previous project; it resulted that quite several students
categorized as “slow learner” (which is considered a low cognitive disability) did not receive a
specific educational program and teachers were not trained to teach special need education.
Here in Muthur there are the so called “Special Needs Education Units” which are small classes
where trained teachers deliver special need education to all categories of disability. I have just
started investigating further in order to find out more and see what it can be done.
To conclude, I can say that this experience is offering me the great chance to contribute
somehow to the improvement of this community; being here is a way for them to gain
knowledge and in some case competencies. I always show my country on a map with the aim of

making them aware how big the world is, how many different places there are on the globe
hopping to trigger their curiosity to travel one day soon. I am also learning a lot throughout this
experience both practically and as a person.  But I sometimes feel like I am not doing enough; so
many things need to be improved. This place need lot or resources, both material and human
support. A constant presence of volunteers with different skills would definitely benefit the
community in many ways, giving them the knowledge and make their curiosity rise constantly
and to keep their motivation flying high. I invite all those who are now reading this article to
joint such an experience and share the most they can; and I invite those who are planning to join
to a volunteering project, to spend the longest they can, because the longer you stay, greater
the benefit will be for the community, wherever you go.