I arrived to work for the British Council Sri Lanka on a Poya Day… amazed at the quiet and the slow pace in comparison to my previous post in Vietnam. After a year in the big teaching centre in Colombo, I wanted more challenge and joined the STEPS programme which was at the other extreme of the spectrum; far removed from comfort, living out of a suitcase and moving between Northern and Eastern provinces, teaching-intensive one-month courses for Public Servants in a post-conflict environment. It was amazing, an eye-opener, tough with few facilities, and students told me their sometimes gruelling stories of the conflict times. There were frequent power cuts and sometimes teaching took place outside under a tree but it was where I wanted to be and I stayed for two years.
I loved working with local staff because it made me feel really part of Sri Lanka. People got to know me as that white woman with a bike, and I lived upstairs in the house of a teacher and they treated me just like family… bringing me Kola Kande every morning.
It was post-war and the British Council was expanding to other areas of the country, a new Centre in Jaffna and partnership centres in Matara and Galle… so I left for a stint in Matara. It was really important to get people motivated and I was instrumental in setting up talent shows and storytime. I was the only permanent teacher at times... and loved working with local staff because it made me feel really part of Sri Lanka. People got to know me as that white woman with a bike, and I lived upstairs in the house of a teacher and they treated me just like family… bringing me Kola Kande (herbal porridge) every morning.
After spending around a year there… yes, you’ve guessed... I moved on to the other extreme of the country to the new Jaffna Centre where I trained on interesting projects with the Navy, NGOs and the water board. I have also worked in Kandy and so I am the only person to have worked in all the British Council centres in Sri Lanka.
I always feel that as a symbol the presence of the British Council anywhere in the world means so much and represents freedom. It’s a brave organisation. For a teacher working there, it is safe and secure and we feel well-looked after… there is scope, and support for development as a teacher.