After graduating with a degree in Psychology, Katie Taylor wanted to put the knowledge she had learnt to use, by working with people not fortunate enough to have the mental health provisions that people in the UK enjoy. Therefore in February 2017 she set off to Colombo, Sri Lanka where she spent eight weeks volunteering on a mental health placement with volunteer organisation SLV Global. The Jack Petchey Foundation supported Katie in her volunteering with a £280 Individual Grant for Volunteering.
Katie worked within psychiatric facilities with those with special needs, delivering creative therapeutic sessions. These sessions provided the service users with entertainment and respite from every day routines. It also encouraged them to engage in activities that helped them to develop new skills and support their independence. Staff at the psychiatric facilities in Colombo were often under-resourced and had limited time, so Katie and the other volunteers assisted them in their work and provided new ideas for activities and lesson plans that could be used at the facilities in the future.
The provisions for mental health in Sri Lanka are very limited and the possibility of receiving therapy or taking part in creative activities for service users is very low. The extra activities and support to psychiatric staff therefore had a great impact on the service users, giving them the chance to take part in new activities and develop their abilities. Katie also had the opportunity to shadow practising psychiatrists and attend educational workshops throughout the project which will improve her career prospects in the field of Psychology back in the UK.
When Katie wasn’t working with service users, she taught English to local children and young people. The English language is highly valued in Sri Lanka, particularly when it comes to career prospects, so through her English classes, Katie has helped to enhance her student’s future career opportunities.
For the duration of the project Katie and the other volunteers lived in homestays with Sri Lankan families which helped them to embrace Sri Lankan culture. At the weekends, they took advantage of their time off by travelling to new places, giving them the chance to learn more about the country and culture of Sri Lanka.
Looking back on her experience, Katie said “I feel the best part of my time volunteering was meeting such a mix of wonderful people! Whether it was other volunteers, locals in the community or service users in the project, everyone was so friendly and I’m sure I’ve met some people who will stay friends for a very long time. The experience really was invaluable to me, both personally and professionally, and it certainly won’t be forgettable!”
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