Hootville’s Brett de Hoedt is claiming to have singlehandedly changed the lives of several dozen children at St Anthony’s Boys Home in Kegalle, Sri Lanka after a week of volunteering over Christmas.
Brett and four friends spent their festive season in the idyllic setting levelling a cricket field, laying a new cement floor in a kindergarten and playing with the kids who range in age from three to 15. Most are not orphans but have been placed in care by authorities.
St Anthony’s is run by ‘Aunty Ollie’ Bartholomeusz and her husband Fred; both Sri Lankan born Australians. Ollie migrated to Australia as a teenager before returning 40 years later to run the home in honour of her mother. Ollie and her nine (yes nine) siblings and three adult children help run the operation from Australia.
The whole shebang is fuelled solely by donations, mainly from Australia and the UK as St Anthony’s receives no government funding.
A week is a short time to judge but all volunteers were struck at the quality and breadth of the care the children receive – good food, medical care, education, homework supervision and lofty ambitions both for their behaviour and working life. There was a lot of laughter, few tears and much stimulation.
Brett – for reasons we won’t discuss here – was selected to play Father Christmas to a somewhat bewildered audience. “I like to think I brought something special to the role,” said the self-proclaimed global aid worker and philanthropist. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself but I think 2012 could be the year for my first Tony Award.”
St Anthony’s is run by the Kathleen Keegel Children’s Fund which is looking for more voluntourists to raise revenue and enliven the children’s experiences.
Hootville and associate Evoco Design is creating a voluntourism-specific website to encourage more volunteers. The pro-bono effort will sell the idea that incorporating volunteering into your holiday is a way to get a richer and more authentic travel experience. And you know what – it’s true.
Volunteers can spend time at St Anthony’s anytime of the year but some specific dates are being set aside for significant projects. During these times Ollie and co will throw in some tourist sidetrips such as elephant orphanages, tea plantations, and cultural festivals such as the unbeatable Esala Pereahera. Dates are yet to be set for 2012 but expect a mid-year timeslot. Why not combine a week of volunteering with a week of pure bliss on an island holding many pleasures? It’s also expected that a second project will be held next Christmas holidays.
Brett will be promoting the upcoming trips. Even if you can’t go, you can donate.