Sophie Allen: Why YOU should volunteer to help in Sri Lanka’s Deaf schools!

Posted on November 7, 2012

SL (Sri Lanka) Volunteers is a small volunteer organisation which sends students and graduates from the UK and Europe to Sri lanka to work in development projects and schools.
In Jan 2012 SL Volunteers started to send Deaf people from the UK to Sri Lanka to volunteer in Deaf schools. It is my job to find more Deaf volunteers for next year!

I owe my involvement with the Deaf world to the Sri Lankan Deaf community.

Eleven years ago, I spent 12 months in a Deaf school in Sri Lanka teaching written English. Of course, for the first three months it was actually the Deaf kids teaching me sign, and once I had got a good grasp on their language, I was then able to give back.

Since then I have gone back to Sri Lanka year after year to work at a Deaf school in the south. When I heard last year that SL Volunteers were starting to send Deaf people to Sri Lanka I contacted their head of operations, Lucy Nightingale, to ask if there was anything I could do; due to my experience and contacts there.

After my initial involvement where I introduced Sri Lankan Signs to the first two Deaf volunteers, I was asked to be the project manager of the Deaf schools projects. In addition I was to act as in-country BSL/English interpreter for the first week of the Deaf volunteers’ time there. Since then I have recruited, trained and interpreted for eight more Deaf volunteers (two in June and six in October).

[Molly Canavan and Sara Kendall- Deaf volunteers Oct 2012]

SL Volunteers work in three separate Deaf schools which are spread out between the west and south coasts of Sri Lanka. The work the volunteers mainly do is teaching written English. Sri Lanka has three spoken languages (Sinhala, Tamil and English) so it’s a very important skill that our Deaf volunteers pass on. There are also projects where Deaf volunteers teach English through Drama, and scope to teach about Deafhood and Deaf culture.

Most Sri Lankan Deaf schools don’t have Deaf teachers and so many children are lacking a positive adult Deaf role model. The Deaf volunteers we recruit are active members of their respective Deaf communities and are looking to ‘give something back’.

However as Lucy always stresses; a good intention is not enough. Without the right support and training, a volunteer who wants to ‘help‘ can go in and do more harm than good, especially if they only stay a short time. That’s why a BSL interpreter is provided for the first week during training, and why we now insist that all Deaf volunteers must stay at their projects for a minimum of 3 months. The biggest complaint I always receive from the Deaf volunteers is that their time in Sri Lanka wasn’t long enough!

Volunteers stay with local famlies, and at the moment, we are looking for local Sri Lankan Deaf families to host the volunteers during their time there.

Sri Lanka has a huge Deaf population; there are on record 26 deaf schools there! Despite the Deaf community strengths; rights and access for Deaf people are minimal. It is through our Deaf volunteers that I hope we can push forward the development of education for Deaf people in Sri Lanka and enable relations to be built between the Deaf community in Sri Lanka and the rest of the world.

We need Deaf people who are passionate and committed to apply for this programme. The next date to volunteer is the 4th of February 2013- and the deadline to apply is the 4th of December 2012. We have 6 places available. The cost is £1000 (flights not included) and the duration of each project is 3 months.

To apply, please email Sophie:


As well as project manager for the deaf schools programme, Sophie is a fully qualified interpreter and fully appreciates the Sri Lankan head wiggle.

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