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Spirituality and Peacemaking through Community Engagement

It is rare to be given the opportunity to engage in rural life and truly experience a culture 3,000 years in the making. Sri Lanka offers the visual splendor of tropical beauty and beaches, contrasted with a mushrooming urban economy experiencing all the challenges of exponential growth. Meanwhile the rural villages seem to live in the world of a century ago.

During your journey you will participate with Via International’s partner Sarvodaya in Shramadana (share the work) experiences working side by side with village residents in community-defined projects to support resettlement, reconciliation, and reconstruction efforts in areas recovering from the effects of war. Discussions will center around consensus building and inner work.

You will learn about a nation-wide effort to support human and village development that has, against all odds, survived and thrived for 50 years. In order to place yourself in this unique context, visits will be made to specific sites that will enhance your understanding of the history, Gandhian principles, and culture of Sri Lanka.

Details

Typical Program

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.

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.

Orientation

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.

Volunteer Requirements

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.

Click here to view the packing checklist.

Check out a Sample Itinerary

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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 Organizations

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.

Impact

  • Discover the political, religious, and cultural constructions of community and develop a global lens for comparison
  • Learn effective leadership approaches for creating mindful social movements to mobilize community change
  • Analyze the community and spiritual aspects of social movement in order to identify areas of support and challenge
  • Understand how leadership is exercised within Sarvodaya in alignment with Gandhian and Buddhist thought
  • Participate in community-defined service projects supporting education facilities and health centers

You will be observing and actively listening to our community partners throughout your time in Sri Lanka. Engaging in this manner, creates a dialog across learning communities that improves self-awareness, an understanding of ethical leadership, and mindful action. Experience and exploring mindfulness activities helps to develop a global perspective on social movements as they relate to peace-building and development. You will engage in mindful discovery, participation, and reflection around the community leadership model of Sarvodaya. Many of you who seek to become life-long learners will have an opportunity to have a new world view, a new perspective of our human family.

Testimonials

  • Loyola University Maryland “I highly recommend Via International as a great host agency for meaningful immersion programs, both domestic and international. They are rooted in the community with years of experience and relationships, organized and offer great educational input for the participants. They have everything you need for a comprehensive experience.”
    Andrea Goicochea, Assistant Director International ImmersionsAndrea Goicochea, Assistant Director International Immersions
  • University of Colorado Boulder
    “Via International is an excellent partner in engaging students in grassroots community development. During our recent service-learning trip to Bolivia, they proved responsive to our needs and adept at working with community partners and navigating local realities. The students came away with a remarkable understanding of local issues and global interconnectedness.”
    Karey Sabol, Director of International ProgramsKarey Sabol, Director of International Programs
  • Stonehill College
    “Our first experience working with Via International was exemplary.  The communication with the organizers was thorough and timely.  All aspects of the trip were carefully considered and taken care of with great respect to our group needs and the needs of 
    the receiving community. Our students walked away with a heightened commitment to learning about indigenous peoples, immigration and migration into the United States and a desire to educate their peers, friends and families regarding the information they learned.  We are definitely partnering with Via again and are grateful for such an educational, fun and life changing experience.”
    MaryAnne Cappelleri, Campus Minister for Service Immersion ProgramsMaryAnne Cappelleri, Campus Minister for Service Immersion Programs

Gallery

With over 20 trips and 300 participants per year, students around the world are capturing images and videos of our different voluntour sites. The best ones are featured here. Submit yours today by clicking here.

University of San Diego – January 2016
Video Credit: Rachel Berry
January 9-21, 2016
Sri Lanka

University of San Diego – January 2016
Video Credit: Stephanie Barnes
January 9-21, 2016
Sri Lanka
Graduate students from the University of San Diego (10 students and 1 faculty) traveled to Sri Lanka for a service break trip. With Sarvodaya, they participated in peacemaking through community engagement.

University of San Diego – January 2016

Video Credit: Megan Peterson
January 9-21, 2016
Sri Lanka
Graduate students from the University of San Diego (10 students and 1 faculty) traveled to Sri Lanka for a service break trip. With Sarvodaya, they participated in peacemaking through community engagement.

Program Fees

Program Development

Is a key expertise of Via Staff providing faculty and student leaders collaborative input to refine itineraries. We create unique access to local partners and coordinate all pre-trip activities.

Travel Services

Provide 3 meals-a-day including snacks and clean water, lodging at community site, adventure activity and museum entrance fees, first aid supplies, and 24-hour supervision. (Via transportation optional)

Educational Services

Create dynamic cultural exchange through a full-time Regional Coordinator and translator, presentations by local experts and partner organizations, discussions on regional issues and initiatives, community preparation and participation support.

Community Support

Covers the cost of volunteer work projects, bringing vital resources to community-driven initiatives, and funding the purchase of tools and materials that facilitate the visitor experience.

Sustainable Development Support

Provides an important donation to mission-based initiatives for year-round program development of micro-creditnutritionleadership educationecology training, and sustainable development initiatives.

Via's Integrated Model

We’ve designed our programs to provide high-value, affordable travel while maximizing volunteer and educational impact. Via provides full-service support and coordination to simplify logistics for group leaders and engage seamlessly with community-driven initiatives and local community members. Via’s regional facilitators and educational program development provide and integrated approach that offers visiting volunteer groups a deeply immersive, inspiring, memorable, and transformational experience that is safe, stable, reliable, and impactful.

We are very proud to offer this level of access and impact. A group of 14 participants can volunteer in Sri Lanka for a 10-day learning immersion at an estimated cost of $1950 per participant. To receive and exact quote based on your organization’s specific needs, please complete the form below.

For More Information or to Request a Quote

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