Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Sri Lankan summer


As part of ASCL's Sri Lanka project, four student groups went on expeditions to the island this summer to help in the schools. Devon Bianchi, a year 11 student from St Wilfred's College, South Shields, shares some of her diary of the experience.

Day 3: Sunday 23 July

After working hard on Friday at the training day to complete final preparation for the trip, everyone was really pleased when Saturday came so we could finally set off.

We departed school at around 7am and friends and family came to say their goodbyes. By the time we arrived in Colombo, the time difference meant it was around 10am - 4 1/2 hours ahead of Britain.

The bus journey from Colombo to our accommodation was a bit too long so most people went to sleep. However, we did stop twice, once for breakfast (raw eggs and flea riddled tea) and then again at the comically named Happy Banana restaurant where the meal consisted of, surprise, fish. The general feeling is that Sri Lanka's food is not all it's cracked up to be; yet we feel guilty leaving it.

A while later, we arrived at the house of the family we would be staying at for the next two weeks. They were delighted to see us and anxious to please, providing a glass of juice for everyone and scurrying around. A short while later we had been wined and dined with another concoction rustled up from the sea.

Day 4: Monday 24 July

Today we visited the school for the first time. We arrived there at around 7.45 am just in time to catch the last five minutes of the morning assembly. Everyone was quite clearly taken aback at the sight of 3,000 children in pristine white uniforms carrying out their exercises in masses of long lines.

The cultural difference hit us immediately as we realised that every single pupil was taking part and joining in with the movement.

In our country, and our schools, even when singing hymns and things, the majority of people do not make the effort to participate. However, the Sri Lankan children seemed to genuinely enjoy the whole idea of education and school.

When we got out of the buses we were greeted by several children who gave us a flower each as a sign of welcome. Their manners were impeccable and they said thank you to us for coming to their school. We were then taken into an assembly and introduced to the children.

After that, we split into four groups to sort out the work we were going to do for the school. These teams were: gardening, sport, painting and English. Each team was taken around the school so they could find areas to work on.

When we were walking round the school, we attracted a lot of attention from the pupils. They were obviously pleased to see us and rushed over in a huge mob, thrusting pencils in our faces and begging for us to sign their books. I felt like a celebrity surrounded by fans longing for my autograph. It was such a strange experience.

After wandering around for a while, exploring classrooms and chatting to the children, we all met up again to bring our thoughts together and to draw up a rota for the different jobs.

The meeting was lousy to begin with. There was a severe lack of order and everyone was shouting their arguments so nothing could be heard and no progress was made. However, we realised we were getting nowhere so we settled down and discussed the rota in a sensible manner.

Painting Team

Welcome message on board

  • school badge?

  • flag?

  • handprints?

  • Outside walls

  • maps?

  • alphabet?

  • rainbows?


  • paint

  • brushes

  • ladders

Gardening Team

  • No access to water - problem!

  • Ground work? Preparing area for herb garden

English Team

  • Got timetable

  • Activities - drama etc

  • Get them to speak more fluently

  • Group performance with music and drama at end of four days

  • Conversation - weak area

Sports Team

  • Give 1.5 hour lessons after school

  • Rugby, football, athletics etc

  • Mark pitches out

Being in the school made me, and probably most of the team, realise how much I take for granted. The children were always happy and smiling and they don't have half as many privileges as we do. It made me think harder about moaning about trivial things.

After finishing work at the school, everyone enjoyed a trip to the beach where we relaxed and swam in the sea. Upon returning home we received a surprisingly nice meal of noodles and potato curry. The chef took us into the kitchen to explain how the food was made and what it consisted of. Everyone found it really interesting to learn about the local specialities.

Day 5: Tuesday 25 July

Today we started work in the school. We went to English classes in groups to work with the children.

Most of us decided to approach the lessons in a fun manner by teaching the children games and songs such as 'Hokey Cokey', 'Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes', 'Ring a Ring a Roses' and 'If You're Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands'.

The children really involved themselves and loved the whole idea. We were really surprised at how much enjoyment the children got out of the simplest games. It gave us a huge sense of achievement when we saw the smiles on their faces.

This afternoon, we went shopping in Tangalle. The girls all bought saris and when we got home we were shown how to wear them properly by the Sri Lankan family. They dressed us in different styles, such as the way the royals wear their saris.

Our review session tonight was really productive as we carried out a 'complete the sentence' style of review. Someone mentioned that they liked the way we were getting involved with the Sri Lankan culture and all of the team agreed with this point, since we have been eating the Sri Lankan food, picking up some of the language and trying out the clothes.

Day 6: Wednesday 26 July

For the first part of the day we split into two teams - one taught English and the other went to buy equipment.

The group returned with things for painting and gardening so a lot of people worked on those jobs. The walls of the garden are starting to look really bright and colourful. We received many compliments from the children.

Additionally, we made a large improvement to the garden by beginning to put a pipeline down the middle in order to irrigate the land.

When the school day was over we began the sports coaching. We ran classes in netball, cricket, rugby, athletics and football. Most people said it went really well but Nicholas said the cricket coaching didn't work because the children are so advanced that they wanted to just play games.

Day 8: Friday 28 July

In the morning, after a few hours, everyone started to get really tired so Martin (the group leader) called an emergency break in the classroom. Most people fell asleep and others just relaxed.

From talking to the children we started to learn a lot more about Sri Lankan culture and how different it is to our own. We also learned how scared the children are of the school principal because of fear of punishment.

Day 9: Saturday 29 July

Today was our relaxation day so we spent a whole day at the beach. We definitely needed the break because of all the hard work we'd done during the week.

Day 11: Monday 31 July

At the school it was the first day of the English camp. There were 15 groups of students so each of us went to sit with one group.

We started off getting to know the students more and they stood up and described themselves. After that, they had to ask us questions and collect information about us, before presenting it to the rest of the group. It was relaxed and friendly.

Day 12: Tuesday 1 August

Most people were in the garden all morning because our teaching wasn't required until the afternoon. However, Helen, Andrew, Ali and I went to help with a computer class. It wasn't very productive because all the kids were crammed round a single computer and they didn't get a chance to try many things out for themselves.

Day 13: Wednesday 2 August

This morning we went to a temple with two classes from the English camp. We each chose a group of kids to walk around with so they could explain different parts of the temple to us. For example, we learned that Buddha was clearly recognisable because of his long ears and that his tongue could cover his whole face.

Everyone's spirits were a lot higher today because we all seemed to be bonding more with the kids. When we got home some members of the group decided to cook an English meal for everyone. We all ate chicken, chips and beans and it was delicious.

Day 14: Thursday 3 August

Today was our last full day at the school. All of the groups did their presentations. Everyone tried really hard and put on performances such as 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears', 'The Three Little Pigs' and a remix of 'Oh Happy Day'.

The kids seemed to really enjoy themselves and it was quite sad when we had to leave. One of the boys started crying. They all gave us presents such as bookmarks and bracelets.

After school we went to the beach before coming home to pack our bags for tomorrow. When we had our meal, a traditional Sri Lankan band came to play music. Everyone was singing and dancing until late at night.

We all agreed that we would be very sad to leave the family tomorrow.

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