Medicine & Healthcare, Midwifery in Sri Lanka by Molly Povey
Before starting my degree in midwifery
Having a year before the start of my degree in midwifery, I decided to start a midwifery placement with Projects Abroad. I thought the project would give me vital experience and prepare me for the start of my course back in the UK.
About Sri Lanka
I chose Sri Lanka as it is a very interesting country and not somewhere you hear about all the time. For its size it has a lot to offer; hot beaches, mountainous areas, national parks, temples, historical sites, big cities as well as rural villages. It was also perfectly located for me, as I was interested in doing some solo travelling around South East Asia after my project.
The cultural differences were difficult to adjust to at first. The stray dogs, spitting and incessant horn beeping were all strange to begin with but it was the staring I never really got used to. My entire time in Panadura I saw maybe 2 other westerners who weren’t volunteers, so naturally the locals are very interested in you when you’re walking around the town. After a few weeks though you do learn that it’s just simple curiosity.
My Sri Lankan host family
For the whole of my 6 week placement I stayed with the Peiris family. They were the best welcome I could have asked for and made my stay in Sri Lanka something I’ll never forget. My host mother would come up to my room after she’d finished work and we would chat about our days. She made sure I had everything I needed and more!
The whole family were lovely, it certainly didn’t feel like I was staying with 5 strangers thousands of miles from home! The food was amazing; 10-15 different dishes, all delicious. The house was beautiful; there was even an indoor pond! We were very lucky in that the volunteers got the whole of the top floor including a balcony. It was great to have somewhere that was our own where we could relax in the evenings.
My Midwifery placement
My placement at Kathumati women’s hospital was certainly a memorable experience! Sri Lankan culture meant that maternity care was a world away from what I was used to in Europe, but the midwives were very patient and despite the language barrier would try and explain when I asked questions. They welcomed me despite my lack of Sinhalese; we would often drink delicious homemade ginger tea together on their breaks whilst they gave me fashion tips.
Being unqualified I was mainly observing in the labour room, but it’s more than I could have done back home and I learned an awful lot from it. Towards the end of my placement when I knew more about the procedures and how things were done I was able to follow cases quite well and check the women’s charts to see how they were progressing which helped a lot. I could also comfort the mothers, massage their backs and encourage them. Of course the babies were all adorable, if it was a slow day there were always lots of cuddles on offer!
Although I spent most of my time in the labour room I also attended many well-baby and at-risk baby clinics as well as antenatal clinics. These were a great break from the labour ward as I could get more hands-on with the mothers and babies, taking measurements, listening to heartbeats and examining any abnormalities. The baby record books are written in English too so I could really understand what was going on and why certain actions were being taken. There I worked with a really friendly doctor who spoke brilliant English and she explained a lot to me.
I also visited the postpartum, antenatal and neonatal wards as well as the breastfeeding clinic. All of these were really interesting and gave me more of a sense of how the maternity hospital works as a whole. On my last day of placement I saw 3 surgeries including one caesarean. I found it fascinating and was very pleased I’d got to experience so much during my time there. The only thing I would say is bring scrubs instead of a white coat if you can; every day was a struggle in the 40 degree heat!!
Overall I would say choosing this project with Projects Abroad was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I have a much better understanding of midwifery now and I feel that working in a hospital abroad has given me an edge when it comes to practice. As my first independent trip away and first time outside of Europe I was very grateful for the added support that comes with arranging something like this through an organisation like Projects Abroad and I’ll always remember my time in Sri Lanka and the brilliant people I met out there.
Extra activities and free time in Sri Lanka
One of the best parts about doing the placement through Projects Abroad was meeting so many amazing people. There were constantly new volunteers arriving, so always new people to meet! I still keep in touch with many of the volunteers, and I’ve already made plans to meet up with at least 3 of the friends I made in Sri Lanka.
Of course the Projects Abroad staff were great as well and made sure everything ran smoothly. They were always dropping by our house for lunch to see how we were getting on and if we ever had a problem they were keen to help resolve it. The monthly socials were a highlight; everyone meeting up for a buffet and going for a swim or playing games. The Cricket World Cup was especially good, although I had no idea what was going on!
After our placements all the volunteers in Panadura, the town where I lived, would meet up. We’d watch films at someone’s house, walk into town or go to the local pool when it got too hot to sit inside… which was often! We spent countless afternoons eating chocolate cake and drinking milk tea in the air-conditioned rooms of The Fab Café - just a 5 minute walk from our front door!
Being able to travel together at the weekends was also a bonus I wasn’t expecting. The volunteer contact list meant that you always had up to date numbers for all volunteers and could easily arrange weekend trips to the hill country or the beach. It was great to have a few days off and relax with friends after a hard week on the labour ward! We went to the rainforest and national parks, down gem mines, to party in Unawatuna and enjoy the brilliant views in Kandy - and lots more.