In August 2015, 20 year old Maya Welford began a month long Mental Health volunteer placement in Colombo, Sri Lanka with Sri Lanka Volunteers International (SLV). Maya’s placement involved running activities in mental health centres, special needs centres and on mental health wards, shadowing a psychiatrist and teaching English. The Jack Petchey Foundation awarded Maya a £280 Individual Grant for Volunteering to help cover the cost of the volunteer placement; she raised the rest of the money herself.
Before beginning her volunteering, Maya took a week’s training course to prepare her for the different projects she would undertake. She was trained on safeguarding children, given an overview of how people with additional needs are viewed and treated in Sri Lanka and advice about activities that can be used to develop different cognitive skills. She then began her volunteer work and placement in Colombo, in which she shadowed a psychiatrist and ran activities in various mental health centres. She also taught English to young adults and children within the local community.
Despite the fact that most of the volunteers on the placement we either graduates or postgraduate students of psychology, SLV accepted her application due to her acute interest in psychology and previous work experience in the mental health sector. For Maya, the placement has confirmed her passion for psychology and strengthened her resolve to forge a career in the mental health sector. Maya said “As an SLV volunteer I believe I have personally progressed, in particular through the therapeutic activities I ran in mental health wards. This was a completely new experience for me, and although it was emotionally challenging at times, I feel it led to my personal development and growth. In addition, my confidence in new situations has improved because there were many times where improvisation and flexibility were required which pushed and strengthened my abilities.” Maya also attended a Meditation and Art Therapy Workshop, which educated her about alternative modes of therapy for people with mental health issues; experiencing the therapies first-hand allowed her to evaluate their success with clients and consider their incorporation into her own sessions with service users.
As well as having a very positive effect on Maya’s knowledge and experience of mental health her volunteer work provided vital support to the clients she worked with. Due to a lack of resources, there is little to no financial provision for engaging patients in activities in Sri Lanka. Maya and the other SLV volunteers provided huge support to the mental health community, by providing sessions to stimulate clients which help improve their psychological wellbeing. By running therapeutic activities and engaging with clients at a psychiatric hospital, Maya and the other SLV volunteers provided valuable support for both the existing mental health services in Sri Lanka and the service users themselves.
Maya said; “The opportunity to engage in psychology in a non-western culture gave me a different insight into psychology that I was not previously exposed to. I feel it is highly important to understand other cultures and ways of life and this project really allowed me to learn this first-hand. The mental health and teaching aspects of the placement were personally very rewarding. Knowing that I made someone smile or laugh during a session at a mental health institute, or helping to improve student’s language skills made me really pleased to be there.”
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