Trip Start Aug 11, 2013
Trip End Sep 17, 2013

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Flag of Sri Lanka  , Southern Province,
Friday, October 11, 2013

Helloooooo guys...

Last week was a good one really.. seem to have found a new lease of life and have an extra spring in my step...

On Monday morning was lesson planning as usual... It's been quite a challenge with the new group of volunteers, since I don't think they realised how structured the volunteering is. The point of SL is to go into existing schools and homes and build sustainable projects upon existing foundations - so that if we were ever to leave, they would be able to continue without us. For that reason, we have a great curriculum now that has to be stuck to each week - adapting lessons and activities for different ages, ability and project (be it normal teaching or a special needs home or childrens home). Anyway, let's just say the volunteers have needed a bit of a kick up the bum when it comes to planning lessons and teaching.
They also haven't been overly comfortable at HWH - which is understandble considering the conditions there... But that also makes the job of the coordinators especially difficult, which leads to bigger problems for me as psych manager, as it's down to me to make sure people are doing appropriate things with patients and also following the ward rota and timetable. A lot of them try to skip the acute ward which is really frustrating because they're the ones who need our help the most.. I'm sure they'll get used to it though, I know I was terrified when I first saw it all, and still am at times now - but when you see the feedback and the responses you get - it's all worth it really!

Instead of going to HWH on Tuesday morning, I went to Thidora for the first time, to cover for an absent coordinator. 
Thidora is AMAZING! I loved it so much.. It's a special needs project where people with downs symdrome mainly, are dropped off each morning by their families, and stay for a day of theatre related actitivies. There are some real characters - as always - and they just make you smile to be around. One man called Jude is so good at art, I sang him some of 'Hey Jude' by the beatles which he loved...After that for about twenty minutes he was talking and talking about all his favourite Elton John songs. How random - in the middle of Sri Lanka!
Thidora is especially nice as well because I saw how some families aren't afraid of the stigma of having a disabled child and still support them and love and care for them. It's so heartwarming and gives me hope that times may be changing here..
For our session there we had the theme of music. We taught them about different instruments and played some games and then made shakers out of empty water bottles with chickpeas and rice in them. We sat in a circle and did different rhythms and sang songs. It was just so so nice.
Half way through a guy came in late - he must have been in his 20s but with down syndrome so obviously his mental age was younger - but he was hilarious! He had a crazy bandanna wrapped roundd his head and his bag slung over his shoulder.. he honestly thought he was the George Clooney of Thidora. When he came in he went to each of the girls there (not volunteers, the thidora people) and stood by them while they showered him with kisses! It was so funny.. He then went round all the boys high fiving them. Quite the celebrity!

So after that session, I was really uplifted.. not that I hadn't been before - but it was just refreshing to be somewhere other than NIMH and HWH and to be able to let loose a bit more.
I did go to NIMH that afternoon and had another great session - good follows good I suppose!
Before that though, I found a great new curry place for lunch at the plaza. It was soooo good (yes, i am now addicted to rice and curry and am DREADING normal English food!!)
For some reason (namely because we're white) the owner allows us to serve ourselves out of the huge bubbling bowls of things - we had rice, dhal, chicken curry, curried green beans, poppadoms, coconut sambol (a coconut and chilli mix) and some tampula - a kind of spinach thing. It was so good - and we helped ourselves to as much as we liked - for only 150 rupees! (about 75p). - I'll definitely go back there - I even asked the guy to write down some recipes for me to take home and he obliged :) I'll have to make him one of my friendship bracelets as a thankyou - I'm rather talented at them now as it's one of the patients favourite things to do lol.

So after that I went on to NIMH - I was on the male acute ward by my own choice, since I can go on whichever ward I like now (aslong as I check on other wards during the session).
It was so much fun! Two of the patients spoke PERFECT English, which really really helps - since so many of them just want to converse with you!
Although they are technically the most severly effected patients in NIMH, they were pretty functional and not overly sedated. We had a great time playing rummy (or a game along those lines, a few patients just kind of and their own rules but that's fine - they were at least participating), making oragami crafts which many of them plan to give their children upon their release - and singing and listening to music. 
It was really uplifting to walk out and feeling like you'd just had a great day at work!

Wednesday followed along the same lines - a great session at HWH in the morning and another good time at NIMH in the afternoon! Patients were really responsive - some of them call me captain now which is funny. A lot of them have also been saying I look like Princess Diana....WHERE that's come from I have no idea!! Weird....haha

Trying to keep this brief since mum told me it takes her over half an hour to read my entries usually (sorry guys!!) but must tell you about Victoria Special Needs!

Vic is a home for 'differently able men and women' although we only volunteer at the womens side - for our own safety and comfort really.
Vic is a great project, but varies just as greatly.
On wards 1,2,3,5,6, and 7, each patient has their own bed, with a shelf full of their own possesions. It is so personal and homely in comparison to all other homes that the atmosphere was just so nice.. Some even have hobbies like knitting and sewing, and make things to sell to visitors (family members of other patients). On one ward are 3 sisters, all with some disability. One has a deformed spine and can't walk and I watched her sister strap her into some sort of frame and help her walk up and down the corridor, it was so sweet and made me think of Naomi and Meg and how much we care for eachother. It must be so nice for those girls to have eachother.

Ward 4 at vic is a little bit different... It is the acute ward - and whilst the other wards are the best I've seen at these kind of institutions - the acute ward at Vic is the worst.

There are seven 'cot beds' around the edge of a completely tiled room, which are home to women so emaciated and with bodies so contorted, there's no way you could even tell if they were woman, man or child. It is honestly so shocking to see. They are purely skin and bone.
They are completely uncapable of any form of self-care, and (an example of some of the negative nursing) nurses give them minimal care also.
In fact, the woman aren't even toiletted - they live, eat (if they can eat) and sleep on a bed with a hole in the centre of it...through which if they have the strength and capability, they can angle themselves over in order to go to the toilet into some vast trough underneath. It is extremely....primative?! It's heartbreaking.
Although one of the women on the ward (luckily placed in the far corner) has some behavioural issues, the rest are no trouble. The one women has a habit of urinating into her hands or cup and throwing it at you - oh yes, I'm used to a golden shower coming my way - luckily always managed to dodge it though! And also makes herself vomit and flings that too - the things we have to laugh else you'd cry!!
But the others... I felt like they were just helpless children, despite them being 30, 40, 50 years old. They were so underweight and under-developed that they look like adolescents.
With one women, I sat for twenty minutes just jingling bels near her ears so she could see them, stroking her hand, speaking to her - just sensory stuff so that she knew that someone was there.

I was really disturbed when a nurse came to give them a cup of tea.
The majority of the ladies can't sit up and have deformed the nurse yanked their head back and poured the tea in. She was doing it too fast and you could literally hear this one woman drowning on it. It's so difficult because we can't say anything - that's how the place works and who are we to barge in and tell the nurse off - it's frustrating and upsetting, but we can't. Also you have to remember - there is no mental health training for nurses here - they all do the same course and then are placed somewhere...some don't have a clue but it's not really their fault. I guess seeing how the patients are treated, they just conform and do the same. It's a real shame but I guess all that can be taken from it is the value of knowing that by going there and visiting these women - they will know that someone cares, and hopefully nurses will see how we treat them and take a leaf out of our book!

Right... this entry is far too long isn't it - sorry!
I'll end it by saying the rest of my week was great!
Thursday was world mental health day and so I was at NIMH and HWH and doing activities with the patients.
I met an artist who had come in to commission a piece for an exhibition at NIMH... He had used art as his own therapy when going through depression and now does workshops at institutions around SL - his stuff was beautiful and I've bought some postcard versions of it. It was great to see and openness to self help and an understanding of mental health, much more like in the western world.

I went to the beach this weekend.. Was rainy on Saturday (effects of the cyclone in India) but sunday was the usual blistering sunshine so topped my tan up a bit which had started to fade!

Looking forward to coming home now - but also apprehensive - I've got so used to life here!
People will want to admit ME in England when I walk around saying hello to strangers and telling everyone where I'm going and where I'm from....


Hope all is well over in cooooooold, windy England!


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