This programme has been specially designed for those already studying or looking to further study psychology/mental health.
Please note this programme has been specially designed for those already studying or looking to further study psychology/mental health and may not be appropriate or applicable for those outside this. If you are wanting to gain an insight and awareness into mental health in a new environment and culture then this programmes aims to provide you with such an opportunity to do so within a community setting.
The mental health needs of Sri Lanka have continued to increase in recent decades and traditionally mental health services failed to respond to such developments. It is estimated that in tsunami-affected areas 40% of people suffer from common mental disorder and there is a 3% prevalence of severe mental disorder.
Sri Lanka’s suicide rates are amongst the highest globally according to the World Health Organisation and mental health needs in Sri Lanka today are as high as anywhere else in the world. In more recent times the country as a whole is moving away from the traditional cultural stigma that had always been attached to mental health in Sri Lanka. Whilst integrating mental health into the primary care of Sri Lanka’s public health system and private sector still remains challenging, more recently there has been encouraging signs that right tracks are being made to do this.
Such tracks originated in the late 1970’s with the emergence of a Non-Government Organisation – ‘The National Council for Mental Health’. Creations of medical officers of mental health (MOMHs) then followed for Sri Lanka with the aspiration of having a MOMH in each of Sri Lankas 276 subdistricts – at a ratio of one MOMH per 70,000 population. However such a ratio led to its own constraints with MOMH often suffering from excessive workloads: there were too many patients to see in the clinic or not enough valuable time spent with each patient in the clinic, shortage of essential medicines in clinics and inpatient units and a lack of community based psychiatric treatment settings.
Systematic training programmes have been introduced to help support mental health officers and for them to then pass on such trainings they receive downwards to the medical staff in their district. Such training included multiple discussion sessions and role-plays that facilitated active learnings and practising core competencies such as assessments of severity of depression / suicide and explanations of side effects to medications to facilitate adherence.
In line with this, emerging mental health issues such as coping with trauma and stress related problems, understanding and helping the mental health problems of those physically ill, rehabilitation of people with prolonged mental illnesses and raising awareness through community mental health education problems are all now being ingrained, accepted and made accessible to the general population as part of Sri Lanka primary healthcare both in government and private hospitals.
You should arrive into Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo (airport code CMB) on the selected Saturday start date. Programmes start on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month. You will be met at the airport by one of our local staff or an appointed driver who will be holding a named sign. They will take you to your accommodation where you will spend the rest of your day at leisure.
The programme ends on the Saturday of your final week and you should depart the accommodation on this day.
Can I use this program as part of a university or college placement?
It is certainly possible to use one of PMGY’s programmes as part of your university or college placement. Project staff can sign off any paperwork required by your course tutors. PMGY regularly receives medical, childcare, psychology and nursing placement students at our projects around the world and we have ties with some of the leading universities.
If you’re a course tutor and would like further information about how one of PMGY’s programmes could meet the placement requirements for your degree course then please contact us.
Is it safe to travel to PMGY destinations?
Although our volunteers work in the developing world, we always ensure our host locations are safe. Each programme has been extensively researched and has passed our strict vetting process. Our UK team undergo an extensive routine when establishing our in-country infrastructures and we continue to monitor our safety procedures on a regular basis. Furthermore, we monitor the stability of our volunteer destinations on a daily basis. Through our constant contact with consulates and embassies and our reports from our overseas teams, we are able to ensure that our volunteers are never placed in unstable regions.
The PMGY team have visited and participated in every programme we offer and verified them based on our own independent criteria. We carefully inspect every little detail of our set-up. From inspecting the living conditions, checking out the neighbourhoods you’ll be staying in, to tasting the food you’ll be eating – each and every programme we establish has gone through a lengthy and rigorous vetting process. Risk assessments have been written for all areas in which PMGY operate and our experienced local coordinators are always on-hand to manage any emergencies that may occur. Our UK team are always on the road reviewing our risk management procedures in the field and monitoring local conditions.
In emergency situations we have the necessary protocols and equipment in place and we are able to evacuate our volunteers from potential dangers. Our local coordinators are trained to deal with emergency circumstances.
When you join PMGY we will send you a Volunteer Handbook. This document addresses a range of issues such as health, safety, visa issues etc. Furthermore, our UK team are only ever a phone call away should you wish to discuss any aspect of your upcoming programme. When you arrive in-country, you’ll be given a comprehensive safety briefing during your orientation course by our local coordinators. We will go through everything from emergency procedures, how to use local transport and cultural differences. You’ll also be given the opportunity to purchase a local SIM card, something we strongly suggest, so you’re contactable at all times. We will provide you with a full list of the important contact numbers that you’ll need to know.
All our local teams are experienced development professionals who have years of experience in hosting international volunteers. They are our representatives on the ground and will assist you 24/7 throughout your stay. Whether you need to call home, travel at the weekend or require urgent assistance – they are there to support you.
While we cannot guarantee your volunteer experience to be 100% trouble free we have taken all the necessary precautions to make sure each programme is as safe as possible.
Your level of hands-on involvement is dependent on your experience, duration of programme and willingness to get involved. The doctors will assess your capabilities and assign responsibilities accordingly. Those with little or no medical experience will assume a largely observational role. If you are studying medically related degree, then you should have more opportunity to undertake some more basic hands-on involvement. However, please note we can never guarantee hands-on experience, as the decision ultimately lies with the medical staff.
Our psychology programme has been set up to provide participants with the opportunity to gain a broad overview, understanding and insight into mental health care and needs within a different culture. The programme is based in the Galle District which was one of the worst affected regions from the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami and to this day today has left lasting impact both physically and mentally on Sri Lanka people.
As part of this, such activities and programmes will include participants shadowing and observing mental health doctors during consultation periods with inward patients at hospitals and clinics who will all have varying forms of mental illnesses for you to gain insight into. The doctor will aim to translate and explain as much as possible to participants when the consultation with the patient is taking place and will speak good English so be able to debrief and receive questions from you accordingly. It is important for participants to be flexible in the environment they are in and appreciative that a doctor’s schedule is busy so the doctor may not be able to translate and explain to you each patient consultation.
Generally speaking the first line of treatment for mental health patients in services and on wards remains medication. It is a lot more available and accessible than say therapeutic medications such as creative therapies and meditations that in reality can often not be received by those with mental health needs.
Participants will spend time at the heart of community projects working with and providing care and attention for mentally disabled children in a government school and/or NGO. Participants will be expected to be dynamic and creative in preparing fun engaging activities and games such as arts and crafts/drawing and painting as a mechanism to help support creative therapy amongst children who have mental health disabilities. The children will range from small groups of around 5-10 to groups of up to around 30-40 children.
Participants will also get the opportunity to take part in an Ayurveda seminar which is a medicine system rooted in the Indian subcontinent and consists of practises that promote the use of herbal compounds, special diets, and other unique health practices. The seminar will explain a different dynamic and perspective onto how patients are treated with regard to mental health and the traditional Sri Lanka medical system. Participants will also be welcome to a lecture from a Buddhist monk who will explore how Buddhists and Sri Lankan people are dealing with mental health problems and how core values and practises such as meditation and beliefs are helping with this.
PMGY volunteers are based in Ambalangoda, which is a lively oceanside town situated on the South West Coast.
It is traditionally a fishing community but is famous for being the major production centre for demonic wooden masks. The traditional masks were originally designed to be worn by performers in kolam and other southern Sri Lankan dances, but are now mainly used as souvenirs. Many families hang a mask on their front door to ward off evil spirits.
The town has all the amenities you could require such as banks, hospitals and shops including a very popular ice cream shop. There is also a central bus and train station, which has good links to all the major destinations you are likely to go to. Plus, the beach is only a 5 minute tuk tuk ride from the Volunteer House.
Hikkaduwa has long been among the most popular of Sri Lanka’s beach spots. It has a lively and fun vibe – definitely a backpacker town. It is also your best bet for evening drinks and meals out during your time with us. Furthermore, the surfing in the Hikkaduwa region is quite well known and gets the best surf during its dry season, November to March.
Bentota is a good option for those looking for a relaxing weekend by the beach. It is one of the more established beach resorts on the west coast of Sri Lanka with a number of activities available to you. You can go on a river cruise, visit a turtle hatchery, check out Sri Lanka’s tallest Buddha statue or try out some of the many water sports available. There are also plenty of affordable guesthouses as well as beachside bars and restaurants to keep you entertained at night.
Galle is always a favourite of ours. The UNESCO World Heritage protected Galle Fort is an 18th-century Dutch walled town with chic shops, grand colonial houses and beautiful beaches. Unawatuna beach is the place to be for a lazy weekend by the sea. There are plenty of places to stay, of differing price and quality. Unawatuna has a good nightlife and a number of activities you can get up to – jet skiing, scuba diving, glass boat cruises and even surfing (although you may need to head a little further up the coast for this to the town of Habaraduwa or Ahangama).
Located in the centre of the island, surrounded by green hills and full of cultural significance – Kandy is the cultural capital of Sri Lanka. The city hosts the Temple of the Tooth Relic (the sacred tooth of the Buddha), which is a famous pilgrimage site. The picturesque central lake on the other side of town offers a more relaxed feel than the busy town centre.
Kandy has quite a lot to do. The cultural dance shows are worth seeing particularly combined with an evening view of the Temple of the Tooth Relic. There is also a huge botanic garden just 15 minutes out of town by bus.
YALA NATIONAL PARK
If you’re looking to witness some wildlife during your time in Sri Lanka then we recommend heading over to Yala National Park, on the southeast coast.
You will be met on-arrival by a member of the PMGY Sri Lanka team who will be wearing a PMGY T-shirt and holding a PMGY sign. We advise all volunteers to wear their PMGY t-shirt (if they’ve purchased one) as this helps us identify you at the airport.
Once you’ve met up with our local team you will be driven to our Volunteer House in Ambalangoda. The journey takes around 2.5 hours.
During your time with PMGY in Sri Lanka you will live in our Volunteer House/s. The accommodation is basic but comfortable. You’ll be living with other PMGY volunteers from around the world, so you’ll make plenty of friends along the way.
The majority of our projects are NOT within walking distance of our Volunteer House. PMGY will take you to and from the project each day. This will either be by tuk tuk or minivan; in most cases it will be tuk tuk. The cost of this service is included in your Programme Fee.
The Volunteer House is located just outside of central Ambalangoda, in a peaceful part of town. Each room has bunk beds, up to 9 people per room (same-sex rooms only, unless a couple). Volunteers are provided with fans in the room and their own mosquito net and bed linen. You will have cupboard space to store clothes and accessories; we encourage you to bring some small padlocks and/or store any valuables with Ashika in the safe located at his house.
Bathrooms are shared. Each bathroom has a shower and western style toilet. The water is cold but this shouldn’t be a problem as Sri Lanka is hot and humid all year round! The house has Wi-Fi (although intermittent) and a communal area for volunteers to hang out. There is also a kitchen with a refrigerator to store any items you need to keep chilled.
A member of our local team will also live at the house. This ensures you have round the clock support and security.
Please note that in the summer months we do use extra accommodation to cope with the extra number of volunteers when the main volunteer house reaches capacity. Such accommodation is again basic but comfortable with a western bathroom and located a short distance away from the main volunteer house. You will be sure to mix with volunteers as a whole at projects as well!
You will be served three meals per day at the Volunteer House. Most meals are traditional Sri Lankan dishes that can be typically quite spicy. Sri Lankan cuisine consists of a lot of rice and the meat is mainly fish or chicken – vegetarian options are always available. A weekly menu has been introduced that blends Sri Lanka cuisine with Western cuisine so you will know in advance what is on the menu for that day! Below is an example of the meals we serve our volunteers:
Breakfast – Egg, toast, fruit with tea.
Lunch – Dhal and spinach curry, poppadums, paprika tofu and rice.
Dinner – Mixed vegetable noodles, tomato curry, omelette and poppadoms.
All meals are freshly prepared each day. If you fancy some western comforts, you will find plenty of restaurants serving western meals in the nearby town of Hikkaduwa. Hikkaduwa is a 20 minute journey from Ambalangoda and the cost to get there by tuk tuk is around £3 per way. This is a popular place that volunteers go to in the evening, as it is a trendy backpackers town.
* Please inform us in your application if you have any dietary requirements. Couples, families and older volunteers will be accommodated to suit their needs.