Going the extra mile | Secondary projects in Sri Lanka

Tristan Minihane, volunteer from 10/11 talks about the secondary projects he set up while teaching English in Sri Lanka.

The year I spent in Sri Lanka teaching English was incredible. Living among a peoples whose culture is so distinct from your own means that you see things develop in a way different to how you see things develop back home. You are in the driving seat; you are no longer a passenger. What astonished me most about the project in Sri Lanka was its velocity. It developed so fast.

The project brief told me I would be involved in EDP: an English Development Programme. But that wasn’t half of it. We spent the days alternating between four schools teaching English in the classroom, but what I really want to talk about are the secondary projects that started and grew as we were there – in particular, the sports we organised after school.

I remember the day where it all took off, the moment when everything began. Three boys – Kalpa, Ushan and Ramish – all older boys at the top of the school – visited Finn, my partner, and I one baking hot school day break-time. We sat down with them, had a conversation that pushed them to use the utmost of their English capabilities, and had, by the end, a plan to set up under 19’s cricket, football and rugby teams that would each practise in the school with us one evening of the week.

What happened next was startling: boys and girls, in every year group up and down the school, were assembling in parties, conversing, searching through their English books and knocking on our door, asking “Hello Mr Finn and Mr Tris. Can we have grade 8 cricket practice, please?” or “Grade 9 football practice, Tuesday?” or “Grade 7 rugby match Wednesday?” The word had spread like wildfire: some foreigners were here and they were prepared to offer afterschool activities.

At first we were quite taken aback by it all. Their enthusiasm was overwhelming. Now, I played sixth form cricket, and Finn was a first team rugby player until he broke his shoulder, and we could both kick a football – but when it came to actually coaching the sports, we hadn’t the slightest of knowhow. Yet, despite the inexperience, every pupil, even the boys who were older than us, seemed to trust us, to put faith in us that we knew what we were doing. And that gave us confidence.

Between Finn and I we could recall enough drills and exercises we had done at school, prior to adapting our own, and before long, we had a school of squads for whom we organised a host of inter-school matches and intra-school tournaments. Somehow, not even six weeks into the project, we were teaching a standard school day in the classroom, heading home, scoffing lunch, then heading straight back to school for two sports practices until the sun went down. Where previously there had been a deficiency of sports and afterschool clubs, suddenly there was a league of them.

Between the six of us – the four Project Trust volunteers and two others we worked with from an associated charity – we covered sports practices in football, cricket, rugby, badminton and volleyball, as well as arts, singing and dancing clubs; at one stage I even found myself teaching afterschool French lessons. But there was one thing that stood out the most, something that developed the most spectacularly.

“Project development wherever you go is personal and indispensable. What Sri Lanka taught me is that if you offer something good then people will ask for more of it. From there you can proceed to give what you want. But most of the time, on projects like the ones PT offer, the enjoyment and appreciation in the eyes of the people you are helping and the smiles on their faces, are what make you want to give more – the rewards are unlike anything else. When two people from different cultures meet and communicate, it’s not just teaching projects and sports clubs that evolve, but human relationships too. And it is those relationships that develop to change both them and you immeasurably.”
Tristan, Sri Lanka, 10/11
There were two girls who lived in the house at the end of our garden. Their names were Sachini and Chachini. About three months into the project their father approached us and asked if we would tutor his daughters in English. We began in January and in the eight months that followed the development in their English was so rewarding that visiting them for tuition was the highlight of my week, and it stayed that way until it came to September and it was time for us to leave. By the end they had become like little sisters to us both.

I think what had the most profound impact was how each project seemed to spill over into another. The boys and girls, with all their enthusiasm for sports and for clubs, looked to improve their English so they could chat with us about the global cricket climate or that famous footballer they had heard about. I recall that first conversation I had with the awkward 17 year-old Ushan where we struggled to get get a mutually understood meaning across, and I compare that to the head boy Ushan eleven months later who was giving Finn and I a farewell speech in flawless English at our leaving assembly.

Tris teaching English in Sri Lanka