After sufficient rest to accommodate for the time change, a presentation is provided by the leadership of Sarvodaya, Via’s partner organization. Sarvodaya works in 15,000 of Sri Lanka’s rural villages organizing communities in a process of self-development that now spans the entire country. This community development methodology has global implications and can be adapted for implementation in any location in the world.
We will then visit Sarvodaya in action in a rural village setting. It is in this context you will participate in a community-defined project such as improving a school or community health center. Here you will have the opportunity to engage in a home-stay experience. In the months before your arrival a specific village and host families will be identified to facilitate your stay, providing for a safe and immersive experience.
You may be staying with one family and some may not have running water or speak English. These are the moments when we are all pushed beyond what is familiar, and when we need our mindfulness practices the most! Alternatively, modest Sarvodaya regional centers or local hotels will provide accommodation.
Sufficient time will be provided to reflect and assimilate the village experience before heading on to visit several UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Temple of the Tooth, Sigiriya Rock and Dambulla Cave. Also incorporated into the itinerary will be visits to the Elephant Orphanage and the beautiful beaches of southeast Asia.
Prior to departure, an overnight at the Sarvodaya Peace Center is a tradition, in order to steep in the meditative space and incorporate the learning from the journey.
Check out a Sample Itinerary [view] [download]
Duration and Directions
Flights departing from Los Angeles take about 24 hours to reach Colombo, Sri Lanka. Depending upon the booking, flights go through Hong Kong or Singapore or Dubai. The time difference is 13.5 hours ahead of Pacific time. Traveling as a group from either a US east coast or west coast point of departure makes for ease of arrival and coordination. Ground transportation is included from time of arrival until departure to and from Colombo airport.
Upon arrival and after resting from the flight, an orientation will be provided including an introduction to the country including facts local customs and culture, safety, rules and expectations. Volunteers will also learn about Sarvodaya and some history of the community development work. The local team will provide an overview of activities for the week and background on the projects, people, and places where we will engage.
Via International is also prepared to offer a curriculum in support of this journey. This includes reading lists, pre trip seminars and post trip reflection modules.
Volunteers should be adaptable and flexible, willing to work as part of a team, and respectful of local traditions, culture, and customs. Those taking part in community development service projects need to be capable of doing physical work, although previous experience is not essential.
Food and Accommodations
A journey to Sri Lanka is also a journey of cuisine. You will experience local curries in their multiple varieties accompanied by rice, lots of fresh fruit and coconut. Sri Lankans eat with their hands, scooping the rice and curry together. You are welcome to try this! At every visit and multiple times during the day, a delicious chai tea is served either with small savory snacks or sweets. The sweets of Sri Lanka are known for incorporating sesame and jaggery (raw cane sugar) and have a very distinctive taste. For those with very sensitive palates and/or food allergies, accommodations are made to create mild dishes and offer more Western alternatives. Most meals are prepared by chefs of the local partner organization who have considerable experience hosting foreign guests.
When in Colombo, comfortable accommodations are provided at either the Vishna Niketan Guest House Peace Center or the Bandargama Educational Center of our local partner Sarvodaya. Simple rooms are surrounded by gardens and a meditation center. In the rural area, local hotels provide comfortable double accommodation, single is available upon request at an additional cost. Groups interested in village immersion are afforded the opportunity for a home-stay in the homes of families participating in the programs of our local partner. This offers the chance to connect directly with the culture, the daily life of rural Sri Lanka. Whether in the tea country or the rice paddy production area, the people of Sri Lanka are welcoming and interested to learn from you.
Community and Region
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island country in the northern Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of India. Known until 1972 as Ceylon, Sri Lanka has maritime borders with India to the northwest and the Maldives to the southwest. The tropical climate is home to 20 million people of diverse ethnicity. Approximately 70% are Sinhalese and Buddhist, 13% are Tamil and Hindu, 10% are Muslim and 7% are Christian. The most prevalent languages are Sinhala and Tamil, with English often the common bridge language brought by British colonists, as in India.
In 1983 ethnic tensions emerged with violent outbursts between the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority. Peace was achieved in 2009 but not before 100,000 people perished in this civil war. Most of the violence took place in the north of the country, in the Tamil region. Also in 2004, Sri Lanka was one of the countries most affected by the Tsunami, with 35,000 people disappearing in the aftermath.
There is an optimism in the country, a focus on educating youth, and a dream for a continued peace and prosperity to include the villages. Since 2005 the per capita income of Sri Lankans' has doubled, with one of the fastest growing economies in the developing world. The country has a literacy rate of 92% with 98% among its youth. Your visit will offer you the opportunity to experience a land emerging from poverty, tending toward self-reliance, a beautiful land, and a loving culture engaged in a mindful process for the future.
Via Local Partner Organization
Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is the largest people's organization in Sri Lanka. Sarvodaya is Sanskrit for 'Awakening of All' and Shramadana means to donate effort. It began over 50 years ago in one village and has grown to more than 15,000. In addition to the island-wide integrated community development program implemented in those villages, the organization is currently involved in resettlement, reconstruction and reconciliation activities in the war affected North and East of Sri Lanka, and "Deshodaya", a National Reawakening program which aims to promote good governance and democracy.
Sarvodaya is clearly rooted in Gandhian and Buddhist traditions, but actively engages people of all religions and ethnic backgrounds. Events at the village, district and national levels often begin with non-denominational meditation and invocations from the perspectives of all religions represented. Sarvodaya builds houses side by side for Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus. Peace teams are led by Muslim, Christian and Hindu Sarvodaya personnel. The Movement consciously directs its efforts to people of all religious persuasions. Its purpose is not to proselytize but to help participants see their common humanity.