Every story he tells seems to have a disastrous ending. He isn’t trying to scare you though, he just wants you to take what he’s saying seriously. Safety is important.
Malcolm Fan is a charismatic speaker and his scary stories are all examples from his work as an advanced care paramedic in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. He spent three weeks in Sri Lanka in August 2016, travelling up and down the island visiting Uniterra partners. Garment factories, vocational schools and even the WUSC Sri Lanka office learned about first aid best practices and policy.
It was a whirlwind of long van rides and trying to sleep while he was driven from one end of the country to the other. But by the time he left, he’d trained hundreds of workers who will then share their knowledge with hundreds more.
Hear more about the work he did as a Leave for Change volunteer, under Uniterra’s corporate volunteering program. Learn more about the program here.
“So, where is Sri Lanka?” he asks after a pause. He looks down, then up, not sure how I’ll react. Will I think he’s foolish or unworldly for not knowing?
It’s the question I’m most often asked when I tell people I’m going away. The easy answer is that it’s an island just south of India. I hate this response though. It feels too simple.
I don’t think anyone is foolish for not knowing where the country is, but I hope they’ll give me a chance to explain more than the basics.
The first thing you should know and one of the reasons I wanted to go to Sri Lanka is that it’s beautiful. Do a Google Image Search and scroll through the photographic proof of how gorgeous it is.
But that’s not the whole reason—I’m not quite that shallow—and it’s hard to explain unless you know a little bit more than how to find it on a map.
You should know that I’ll be eating a lot of curry. Which is good because I love curry. I’m not sure how high my tolerance for spice will be, but I can adjust. I’ll take the tears and runny nose in exchange for delicious food.
It’s also worth knowing that Sri Lanka is incredibly hot and I’m incredibly fair. I expect to be sunburned and sweaty for most of my time there. I’ve been investing in lighter clothing than I would typically wear in an Ottawa summer.
Sri Lanka is kind of like a mini Australia in that it has a wide variety of animals, many of which are found only on the island. This is making me nervous, because Australia is terrifying.
Speaking of animals, there’s the elephant in the room. Sri Lanka had a 30-year-long civil war. It ended in 2009, and even though the country has had seven years to recover and rebuild, there is still work to be done. (Further reading: This Divided Island by Samanth Subramanian)
That’s partly why I’m going. I’ll be working as a communications intern for Uniterra, a program run by the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI). They do development work around the world, helping ensure women and youth have a meaningful place in their societies. They are also trying to set up programs in such a way that people they help can continue working long after the development agencies are gone.
I like to tell stories. I’m a master of journalism student at Carleton University, a former editor-in-chief of the Fulcrum, an occasional radio host for CHUO 89.1 FM and a freelancer. My role is in sharing the stories of the work Uniterra does in Sri Lanka.
If you’ll follow along, by the end of August we’ll all know more than the outline of an island on a sea of blue. This country will mean something more than its civil war, its proximity to India or even it’s beautiful beaches.
Of course I’ll mention geography when people ask where Sri Lanka is. However, I want to let them know there are more important and interesting things than what you can find on Google Maps.