Mutur experiences


“One of the clearest things I got in my mind and also one of the most painful of coming back to my country (Catalonia) was the fact of knowing that, even though I could show hundred of pictures and tell thousand of stories, I wouldn’t be able to explain everything that living in Mutur (Sri Lanka) has meant for me. I have chosen to do an international volunteering for different reasons. But the main one was to learn and live together within a community with a different culture and religion, far away from the western standards, trying to reformulate and develop a new personal perception of the northern countries and query its values and mines too.”

Sri Lanka is a country placed in the Indian ocean, in the south of India, with a surface around 65 thousand square kilometres (more or less the double of Catalonia) but with a population of twenty million of inhabitants. But the most characteristic and probably the major touristic thing is it's multiculturality. Buddhism is the main religion, but there are also Hindus, Muslims and Christians. They have two official languages, Tamil and Sinhala, English being very relevant in the country as well.The civil war, due to a territorial dispute, unleashed a wave of slaughters of dozens of thousand people killed on both sides, the self-called TIGERS and the ARMY. After thirty years of war, the country was left in an unsustainable economic status (although it could have been one of the potential first countries in the Southeast of Asia thanks to its resources) and a divided society.

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The capital, Colombo                                                       Sinhala school, Mutur

Theoretically, as I had been informed, my main assignment in Mutur (a coastal village in a rural area) was supposed to be promotion of peace and disarmament. But once I arrived there, I was surprised to meet a peaceful and infinitely respectful community. The civil war was so tough that all that the people was looking for after its end was to rejoin their families and hope for a better and prosperous future to come back.
If I had to summarize Sri Lanka in one word, I think It would be “diversity”. It’s a quite risky word to use as it’s very easy to be too obvious and simple, because when you travel to a country of Asia for the first time, everything looks new and different. But with no doubt this country has deserved it. Not only because of its variety of religions (and their own festivals and rituals), but also due to its inheritance from Portuguese, Dutch and English colonies, and moreover because of the people.

Along my stay I had been able to meet and live with people from different cities of the country, people from different religions and different social-economic status. Their various personalities made all of them a whole universe to explore and understand, at the same time that I was welcomed and hugged by their immense hospitality.

In Mutur I lived at the Peace Center, a really big house with a big living room where classes for special needs children were made in the morning. The house was located in the middle of the neighborhood called “Rice Mill”, an area that used to be fulfilled of rice fields, but it became the right spot to build the NGOs’ houses for the most affected families after the tsunami of 2004.
I still remember the first day I arrived at the Peace Center and the welcome that Buhari, the coordinator, gave me. He was a tall and elderly man, but with a very young spirit, always updated with the last international news and with a long experience with NGOs. His role was to find the right function and position for each volunteer, depending on her/his qualities and capacities.
My idea was to try to promote a culture based on peace through group dynamics and other activities but, as I said, it was obvious that the multi-ethnicity of the community and their daily interactions showed how this was not a priority need. However, to teach spoken English was a real need because, even though they went through a strong language investment at some point of their history, most of them were not able to understand or pronounce correctly in English, what makes difficult to keep a normal conversation. One of the main reasons was that Mutur doesn’t have much influx of tourism, so they don’t have any motivation to use it.
This is how I started my volunteering, helping in some English classes that 3CD (the organization that hosted me) was doing with some pre-university youngsters of the village. The grammar was taught by a local English teacher, while some international volunteers and I were responsible for taking this learning to the practise with activities and games. It was another way to test their skills improvising in English. The aim was to motivate them to keep learning English as an investment for a future with more opportunities. Some other days of the week I also went to the Sinhalese school of Mutur (Sinhala people in Mutur are a minority). It was a small school with a few students per class, some of them from humble families with a lower socioeconomic status. At the second week of my stay, I started a class of martial art. More specifically, classes of Taekwondo for adults. They received it with great joy, as martial arts in Sri Lanka are not much practised.

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Classes at Mutur Central College                                   Working in the Peace Center backyard

All these activities kept me busy along the weeks. In my free time I liked to fix or improve some things of the house we were living in. Actually, the Peace Center itself has been growing and improving with all the different repairs made by the volunteers that it hosted. I didn’t know much about plumbing or electricity, but I found out that I could help with the abandoned garden of the backyard. With Shiro’s help (the local girl that lived with us) and the collaboration of some volunteers, we spent many hours trying to turn over that small jungle into a beautiful flower garden that would give a comfortable welcome to the special school students. With some other volunteers, we also started more ambitious projects like a campaign to clean and keep the streets free of plastic (an actual severe problem in the whole country). Another project designed and started was a donation campaign to improve the conditions of the special needs school.
Despite this, it was not only the experience you get by doing an international volunteer far away from home. I’ve taken with me all the memories of the different curries tastes of the rice, the sight of hundreds of exotic flowers, the simple fact of walking everywhere with flip-flops or barefoot, having my legs threaten 24 hours by mosquitoes, living the festivals of the different religions, trying to learn they language, travelling everywhere by public transport, sweating endlessly, drinking the same tea but with different tastes, swimming in the Indic ocean and a long etcetera of thousand experiences in only six months.
But I haven’t lived the best memories by myself, I didn’t find them alone. The local people have given them to me. They opened their house to me, where they’ve fed me with the best dishes. They’ve delivered me their heart with their hospitality, happiness and respect. They hugged me with their religion, taught me an integrity and belief that made me admire them so much. I got time with all of them to talk about a thousand subjects. We laughed together, we shared our sadness, we fell in love, we also had a few misunderstandings due to the cultural shock, but we always have come to understand each other. And all of this has been possible because we knew how to mutually comprehend and respect.

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Last day dinner                                                              Breakfast at one of the student’s house

And once at home (the one in Catalonia) I cannot stop questioning myself whether, after all that they gave me, I gave them all that I could provide. The volunteering movement has a great power to make big changes in small communities. But as long as these changes are well coordinated, and work as a team, I know that I somehow helped many people individually. But what if this collaboration or social service was directed to the community instead? What if instead of it being me and a few more international volunteers, we would have been a well-established and organized group to fight for a more ambitious goal, or simply, an objective that would benefit a wider number of people? Volunteering is the service of people for people. We serve for a more prosperous future - to make the world a more equal community of communities. We must open borders, but above all, open our vision.
True Love is born from understanding

-Peace Center​-

Poldi Galmes López


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