Joanne Murray, BSc Psychology

I wasn’t even sure exactly where Sri Lanka was when I spotted an amazing volunteering opportunity there.

I joined Sri Lanka Volunteers Global for five weeks. It’s a newish organisation and it caught my eye as it was started by psychology graduates, which fitted with my studies.

I stayed with local families while teaching English and working on a variety of projects with people who have learning or physical disabilities.

As a psychology student I was constantly calling on my studies to work out how to work with individuals, recognising their limitations and abilities and adapting to that. It was a learning curve. We worked on projects with people who desperately needed help but had no-one else supporting them, other people were institutionalised, whereas, in the UK, they would be living independently.

It was challenging to see such a different approach and to see people living in often terrible conditions, such as a group of 20 men with a variety of learning and physical disabilities who had found each other and lived together caring for each other, with no help other than from SRV. However, it was wonderful to be able to help and to see how much the people we worked with looked forward to and loved our sessions.

We had to get creative with our projects  to ensure we were stimulating people and building their skills, for example when we worked with people with visual impairments we got out the pom-poms and glitter – all the stuff that’s good to touch – and I made a book of textures for one man who was very isolated. He loved it.

I had no summer plans and wanted to get out of my comfort zone. It was a bit of a shock. I’d never travelled to a developing country or done anything like this. It was terrifying – I even almost cancelled my flights. There was a new challenge every week but the support was fantastic.

In the short time I was there my confidence grew so much. I was thrown in at the deep end but the organisation’s attitude was let’s make this happen and it has rubbed off on me. I grew up there.