Volunteer Handbook

Approved after evaluation Board meeting April 4, 2024




Medi Aid volunteer

Sri Lanka

History and current situation

Economy and poverty

Local laws and customs

The Sinhalese Cultural differences


To eat

Tuk tuk

Volunteer work in Sri Lanka


Resource Room


Arrival in Sri Lanka


Your project placement

Getting started on the project

Transport to the project

Working environment

In the classroom – rules

Lesson preparations

Being absent/sick

After the project

What can I expect and what should I bring?

Culture shock and other challenges

Packing up Clothing








Contact Medi-Aid



Street vendors

Accommodation at other destinations


Drink Spiking

Emergencies and natural disasters


Food and drink

Local transportation


General hygiene

Traveling with medication

Birth control

Hospitals: THINK AHEAD

Malaria Dengue Fever

Bird flu









Wounds and blisters




Glasses and contact lenses

Websites, addresses and telephone numbers


You will soon be leaving for Asia. You are going to have a special and exciting time as a volunteer/teacher/professional in a developing country. You get the opportunity to get to know the real Sri Lanka at a local level and to contribute a small part to the development of elderly care/disabled people. To ensure that you have a pleasant and carefree time abroad, it is important that you prepare well. This handbook contains all the information you need for your travel to and stay in Sri Lanka. So read it carefully. If you have any questions regarding all the information, please contact us. We are happy to help you with your planning.

N.B. The PURE manual for volunteers was gratefully used in the preparation of this note

Here is an initial checklist:

Medi-Aid registration forms Have you handed in everything?

* Registration form

* Curriculum vitae

* Copy of passport

* Passport photograph

* 2 references - from former employer or teacher

* Certificate of good conduct

* Personal health check form

* Passport: the validity of your passport must be at least 6 months upon departure from Sri Lanka.

* Travel insurance: for your trip and stay in Sri Lanka you must have travel insurance with worldwide coverage.

* Vaccinations: make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic as soon as possible to discuss the required vaccinations for Sri Lanka.

Medi-Aid volunteer

Medi-Aid's volunteer program specializes in offering volunteer work in reliable projects in elderly and disabled care in Sri Lanka where you can actually make a contribution as a volunteer. Medi-Aid provides good information, training and guidance before and during your volunteer work period abroad.

Medi Aid volunteer in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, Medi-Aid works together with a partner organization. Our sister board in Sri Lanka, Medi-Aid Lanka. Working with a local partner means that we can offer you a reliable and personal program.

Your contact in Sri Lanka during your volunteer work period is Medi-Aid Sri Lanka. Wimal Karunaratne is ready to help you with questions and/or problems during your stay in Sri Lanka. They also maintain close contact with Medi-Aid in the Netherlands. Contact details for Wimal can be found on the last page of this manual.

Sri Lanka

A travel destination in Asia that is still in its infancy is Sri Lanka. The beautiful nature, the many cultural sights and the hospitable people make a great impression on visitors to the country.

History and Current Situation

Sri Lanka has a complex history. The island was already inhabited in prehistoric times and Buddhism was introduced in the 3rd century BC. The Tamils ​​gradually migrated from southern India to the north of the island. In the 11th century they established a kingdom around the city of Jaffna. The relations between the two groups (Sinhalese and Tamils) were complex, sometimes peaceful and sometimes warlike.

In 1505 the Portuguese settled on the island. The Dutch followed a century later. The Dutch were mainly interested in trade with the kingdom of Kandy (spices, elephants, etc.). Therefore, they concentrated on building canals to allow transport to the coast. They established a number of fortresses for this trade, including in Galle. In 1602, Joris van Spilbergen was the first to establish trade relations with the prince of Kandy. In 1796 the British took over the island from the Dutch. It became a crown colony in 1802. The British populated the entire country and that is why British influences can still be seen. Descendants of Dutch colonists, among others, are referred to as 'Burghers'. Their influences can still be seen in all kinds of topographical names. For example, there is an island called Delft.

The island became independent as Dominion Ceylon on February 4, 1948. After independence, the government made Sinhala the official language of the island in the 1950s. Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike then decided to allow Tamil in some areas, after which he was killed by a Sinhalese extremist in 1959. He was succeeded by his wife, who became the first female Prime Minister. The unrest between the Tamils ​​and Sinhalese would flare up again from time to time since then. In 1972, the country's name was changed to Sri Lanka and the capital was moved to Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte. Struggles between the Tamil minority and the Sinhalese majority exploded in the mid-1980s. Since then, tens of thousands of people have been killed in the civil war. After 20 years of fighting, the Tamil Tigers and the government agreed to a ceasefire in February 2002, following negotiations mediated by Norway.

In December 2004, Sri Lanka was hit by tsunamis as a result of a major seaquake, causing many deaths and injuries. This dealt a severe blow to tourism, which was just emerging after years of internal strife. The tsunami killed more than 35,000 people in Sri Lanka and more than 5,000 are still missing.

In 2006, violence flared up again: in a short time, 200 people were killed in fighting between the Tamil Tigers and government troops. Negotiations were therefore held again in Geneva, but they produced no results. After this, the war resumed and the 2002 ceasefire ended. The Tamil Tigers then occupied a lock, leaving 15,000 civilians without water.

In retaliation, the air force bombed a weapons depot under a school in Tamil area, killing a large number of Tamil Tigers and a number of girls. The unstable situation is greatly hampering Sri Lanka's economic development. Human rights organizations note that human rights are being violated by both parties. Norwegian mediation efforts have not had much effect.

The conflict flared up again in 2008, with the government army quickly making territorial gains. The city of Kilinochchi, which served as the unofficial capital of the Tamil Tigers, was captured on January 2, 2009 and on May 17, the remnants of the Tamil troops surrendered.

Today, more than 20 million people live in Sri Lanka and it is a multi-religious country, with almost a third of the population following religions other than Buddhism, mainly Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. The Sinhala community makes up the majority of the population, with the Tamils ​​as the largest ethnic minority, concentrated in the north and east of the island. Other communities include the Muslim Moors, the Malays and the Burghers. (Source: Wikipedia)

Economy and poverty

Due to its convenient location on the path of the major sea routes between West Asia and Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka has traditionally been a strategic naval base and a center of Buddhist religion and culture from ancient times.

Known for the production and export of tea, quinine, coffee, rubber and coconuts, Sri Lanka has a progressive and modern industrial economy and the highest per capita income in South Asia. Sri Lanka's natural beauty, tropical forests and beaches, as well as its rich cultural heritage (there are no fewer than 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka), make it a world-famous destination. However, large-scale tourism failed to materialize due to unrest with the Tamil Tigers and the tsunami in 2004. Now that there is peace, the country is slowly recovering.

Industrial products and tourism are the breadwinners for the island. Despite this, unemployment is high and many people live in poverty. The gap between rich and poor is also widening by the day. According to the United Nations Development Program, 22.7% of the population in Sri Lanka lives below the poverty line. (Source: Wikipedia)

Local laws and customs

A few facts at a glance: Sri Lanka is a multi-religious and originally conservative country. This is reflected in legislation and everyday customs. Most Sinhalese dress conservatively. Even when it is sweltering, the classrooms always have their shoulders, knees, bosom and stomach covered. Unfortunately, there are tourists in Sri Lanka who do not care about local dress codes. It is important for you as a volunteer and representative of Medi-Aid that you do this. As a volunteer you have an exemplary role. Especially on the project, in temples and when visiting ceremonies, you should always dress respectfully.

Sri Lanka has a very high religious sensitivity. Always dress and behave appropriately when visiting religious sites. The rules vary per religion, so be well informed locally. Never take photos with your back to a Buddha or Hindu statue. Disrespectfully touching a Buddha statue or wearing an image of it on the body (tattoo) is considered very inappropriate and may lead to criminal prosecution.

Homosexuality is (still) illegal and punishable in Sri Lanka.

Never come into contact with drugs in Sri Lanka! The legislation for this is many times stricter than in the Netherlands and Belgium. Even for the possession and personal use of marijuana, you can go to jail for years and count on a sky-high fine. The current government of Sri Lanka even plans to reintroduce the death penalty for this reason.

Photography of government buildings, embassies and military grounds is prohibited. Mnemonic: when there is security at the door, photography is prohibited. Always ask permission before photographing local people, especially monks.

Smoking in public places in Sri Lanka is prohibited. Smoking in non-public places is allowed. We recommend that you do not take cigarettes or rolling tobacco with you in your hand luggage as there is no duty-free import of tobacco products. There is a fine of €35 per 20 cigarettes.

The Sinhalese

The people of Sri Lanka are generally warm and friendly people who are proud of their traditions, religion and culture. We as Westerners can learn a lot just by observing local people and their lifestyle and vision. As a volunteer you get the opportunity to get to know the real Sri Lanka because you will work at a local level and may be invited to a wedding or ceremony of a colleague on your project. Grab such an opportunity with both hands.

Be prepared to make small talk as many Sinhalese are keen to practice their English. Personal questions about age, relationships and weight are not rude. You can count on compliments about your height, plumpness and the color of your skin (white skin is the ultimate beauty ideal in Sri Lanka). Don't be offended. You can always ask the same questions again and laugh about it together.

For women: Sri Lanka has a real men's culture. There is a lot of unwanted touching, especially in public areas such as busy buses and waiting rooms. Never get angry, but clearly push away the hand placed on your knee or arm.

The traditional way of life of the Sinhalese, in which religion plays a major role, is a complicated way of life. The tips in the next chapter will help you adapt better.

Cultural differences

There is a chance that when you travel to a developing country, you take with you your own 'view of the world' and the way we organize and structure things in the Netherlands. You may then automatically label the Sinhalese 'view of the world' and their way of organizing and structures as wrong, just because it is unknown and different.

Personal dilemma between your own 'view of the world' and the Sinhala ideas about it can sometimes cause frustration. Stay calm, flexible and patient and see these moments as part of your own learning process about other cultures and customs.

Here are a few more tips for daily life in Sri Lanka:

* Always take off your shoes when entering a house or pagoda. It is rude to sit with the bottom of your feet facing someone. Always sit on your knees or cross-legged.

* Never use your left hand to offer or receive anything. The Sinhalese (and many other Asians) consider the left hand to be the 'unclean' hand because it is used to cleanse yourself after going to the toilet. Sinhalese do not use toilet paper for this, but water. This is usually in a bucket next to the toilet. If you want to use toilet paper, you will always have to bring this yourself.

* Avoid conversations about politics and religion. Sinhalese do not discuss this openly. Conversations are about personal topics such as family, children and other relationships.

* Never touch children and other people on the head. For the Sinhalese, the head is the most sacred part of the body and touching it creates an uncomfortable situation.

* Raising your voice or becoming angry is seen as weakness in Sri Lanka and results in 'loss of face'. Hold back and make a joke to end the conversation. 


Sri Lanka has three official languages: English, Indo-Aryan Sinhala (since 1965) and Dravidian Tamil. Other languages ​​include Sri Lankan Malay, Sri Lankan Indo-Portuguese and the almost extinct Veddah. Nearly three quarters of the Sri Lankan population speaks Sinhala.

Being able to speak a few words, numbers and simple sentences in Sinhala is very useful and fun. It helps you haggle on prices on the market and have more social contact with local people and children.

Here's a start:

Hello                                           Ayubowan

Thank you                                  Estootee

Good morning                          Suba udarsanak      

Goof afternoon                         Suba madiahanak

Goedenavond                          Suba sandayarwak  

Please (in question)                 Karuna kerala

My name is …                            Magey namer …    

Good                                         Hondi

Very good                                Bahoma hondi

Nice                                          Lassani


Sri Lanka has a varied and spicy (!) cuisine full of Indian influences. Typical is the so-called 'rice and curry' that can be found almost everywhere in Sri Lanka. This dish consists of rice with a large number of side dishes such as dal (lentils), papadum and your choice of fish, chicken or beef. Most dishes are spicy. The cheapest food is in local restaurants and street vendors. Hygiene in Sri Lanka is poor. Always wash your hands before eating anything and do not drink water from the tap.

Travel and local Transport

Medi-Aid takes care of booking your flight with a reliable airline. From Europe you can fly directly to the capital Colombo or, for example, via Dubai. Always check the visa regulations yourself when traveling through another country.

Traffic in Sri Lanka is known to be unsafe. Be alert when using public transport and preferably do not travel alone. Never drive yourself in Sri Lanka.

For women: travel on public transport in groups, never alone. There is a lot of unwanted touching on crowded, busy buses. Don't get angry, but be assertive and push the hand away.

Tuk tuk

From the accommodation where you are staying you can also drive to various places by tuk-tuk. Wimal is happy to help you arrange this and other forms of transport.



Medi-Aid takes care of your accommodation in Sri Lanka. This can be on the project but also somewhere else. This strongly depends on the breadth of the project.

If you experience any problems with the accommodation during your stay, you can discuss this with Wimal. They will always help you find a suitable solution.


You must apply for a tourist visa for your volunteer work period in Sri Lanka. We recommend that you arrange this before departure at the Embassy of Sri Lanka in The Hague. Here you can apply for a visa for 90 days in person. For more information see: http://netherlands.embassy.gov.lk/content.php?subotherpage=43

You can also apply for a visa online via the following website: http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/

This tourist visa costs US and is valid for 30 days upon arrival in Sri Lanka. You can have this visa extended in Sri Lanka for up to 90 days. Our coordinator Wimal will help you extend your visa.

PLEASE NOTE: NEVER indicate in the applications (online or in person) that you are going to do volunteer work, but that you are going on holiday/tour. A special business visa is actually required for both paid and unpaid (volunteer) work in Sri Lanka, but the application takes approximately 3 months and is very cumbersome. Our coordinator Wimal guarantees your volunteer work period in Sri Lanka on a tourist visa and has years of experience in this.

Arrival in Sri Lanka – Colombo

You will be picked up from the airport in Colombo by car or mini-van. The costs for the pick-up are included in the participant contribution. If you need a lift to the airport in Colombo upon departure, the coordinator can arrange this for you. These costs are not included. Getting started on the project The Monday after arrival is your first day on the project. The regular (care) lessons take place from Monday to Friday. During the first week on the project we ask you to be patient and flexible. Most volunteers indicate that it takes 1½ to 2 days before they feel at home on the project and know what is expected of them as a volunteer. Many projects expect volunteers to take their own initiative. There is often little structure in the programs offered.

Transport to the project

Transport to and from the projects is borne by Medi-Aid. Other costs are for your own account.

Working environment

The most important characteristics that you can bring with you as a foreign volunteer to a Sinhalese working environment are patience, flexibility and initiative. Time sense and punctuality have a different meaning in Sri Lanka and you will have to get used to the fact that people are generally late for appointments or forget them.

Finding your place on the project takes time and the first few days can be overwhelming and sometimes frustrating. You are enthusiastic and ready to make a positive impression, but your local point of contact for lessons/training is initially a bit slow in dividing tasks and responsibilities. Always remember that it takes time to build relationships with new people and develop mutual trust. This transition period (you may be taking over the duties of a previous volunteer) is just as difficult and exciting for the Sinhalese as it is for you as a newcomer. With the slow pace of lifestyle this may be daunting at first, but know that this is a typical emotion of volunteers working in a developing country. The longer you are on the project, the more productive you will become. But don't always wait for instructions; it is better to show your own initiative and ask for more work or responsibilities. Don't be afraid to see if you can provide assistance in other areas in addition to your assigned tasks.

You may have difficulty communicating in English with your local colleagues. Many Sinhalese develop an accent in English which is sometimes difficult to understand. Always speak slowly and clearly and in simple sentences.

Local people may invite you for tea. We recommend that you politely decline this as it may cause tension between families in the area. You can accept invitations for tea from project staff. It may also happen that local colleagues or students approach you personally to borrow money. We advise you to kindly but clearly decline this. As a volunteer, you have no obligation to financially support your project or the local people. Fortunately, most local people see it that way too. You can also be approached for romantic reasons. Realize that entering into a relationship with a Sinhala means a lot more in Sri Lanka than starting relationships in the Western world. It is often half a marriage. A Sinhala goes into an all or nothing love affair. That's fun if you're madly in love and serious, but it's difficult if you're not really sure.

As a volunteer you receive a lot of attention in the local community. You come from a Western country with a good education and that means that you are a role model for both local children and colleagues. We count on all our participants to actively help to ensure the positive responses that this program evokes within the local community. Respect local laws and social norms and values, dress appropriately and avoid offensive behavior.

In the classroom – rules

If you have been placed on one of the educational projects in Sri Lanka via Medi-Aid, you will receive the complete compiled reader from us. In addition, collect as much teaching material as possible before leaving for Sri Lanka and save it in your laptop/notebook or on a USB stick. Bringing a dictionary and a basic English grammar book can be useful.

All projects in Sri Lanka apply a number of important rules for students, local staff and foreign volunteers. Always follow these.


* On arrival: it is polite in Sri Lanka to politely introduce yourself to the contact person on your project and ask him/her how you can help and support. Try to build a good working relationship.

* Always wear clothing that covers the shoulders and knees.

 *Respect the working hours and arrive on time – at least 15 minutes before the start of your class.

* Follow the rules of the class and make sure the students do the same. Most projects have a sign in/out book. Use these.

* Behave positively and professionally.

* Respect the students and their parents and the teachers and treat everyone equally. It is not our job to criticize them. Observe, learn and see where you can provide support.

* Be creative, take initiative and involve students and local staff as much as possible in organizing and carrying out your activities.

* Ask your contact person for permission to take photos of the project.

* Ask your contact person for permission to visit family members of the students.

* Ask your contact person for permission if you want your own family or friends to visit the project.

* The projects can only work well if volunteers support each other. There is a 'hand-over' procedure in which existing volunteers hand over work and instructions to new volunteers,

There are project documents in which you can keep a log of your work. Do this! Keep a weblog or write a piece for the Medi-Aid website. Have fun!

Do not:

* Meet with students outside the program or in the evening.

* Bring valuables to the project.

* Giving/lending money to local staff or students.

* If you find yourself alone with a child – make sure there is always someone else with you.

* Entering into relationships with minors.

* Punish students emotionally or physically.

* Take pictures of naked or sick people. Be discreet when posting images on the internet.

* Drinking and/or eating during project time during training (water is allowed!).

* Using drugs, drinking alcohol or smoking on the project.

Lesson preparations

Working as a volunteer in Sri Lanka is challenging, but also difficult. Prepare for a situation where it is not always easy to work out your plans and organize your activities. To avoid frustration, it is best to start with small preparations before departure: collect games that you can easily take with you in your bag (memory, domino, quartet, etc.), prepare lessons related to your subject. Are you taking a laptop/notebook with you to Sri Lanka? Then you can store all your lesson preparations in it and take it with you.

Being absent/sick

If you are ill or involved in an accident that prevents you from coming to the project, you must inform the coordinator immediately. In case of emergency, coordinator Wimal is available 24 hours a day.

After the project

The last day of your project is on a Friday. The last check-out option at the accommodation is the following Saturday.

When you return to the Netherlands or Belgium, you will receive an evaluation form from Medi-Aid in which you can indicate how you experienced the program. Based on this evaluation form, Medi-Aid Netherlands and Medi-Aid Sri Lanka work jointly and continuously on the quality of the program. You will also receive a certificate of participation from us.


Culture shock and other challenges

It is inevitable that you will experience some form of culture shock in a country like Sri Lanka. After all, you have placed yourself completely outside your own comfortable home situation and everything is different. The climate, the people, the habits, the smells, the tastes. And that can sometimes be a bit overwhelming.

Medi-Aid expects a high degree of flexibility and initiative from all its participants. If you have any questions and/or problems, you should initially try to solve them yourself by talking to your coordinator or colleagues on your project and your fellow volunteers. Your fellow volunteers can mean a lot to you in the first weeks of the program when you are struggling with culture shock, frustrations or homesickness. They often experience the same thing.

The Medi-Aid program is exciting and adventurous. But sometimes it can also be an emotional rollercoaster: some days are great, some are good, some are not so good, and one or two are terrible. When you're far from home, an off day can be overwhelming. It is then important to take a deep breath and look at the situation objectively. In most cases, a negative experience is short-lived and you will soon feel better again. Don't be ashamed: talk about it with others and look forward to a new day.


We recommend that you travel to Sri Lanka with a backpack or suitcase and a small backpack as hand luggage. Most airlines allow you to check in a maximum of 20-23 kg of luggage and you can take a maximum of 8-12 kg of hand luggage in a single bag or backpack.


The Sinhalese dress conservatively and respectfully. Always cover your shoulders, knees, bosom and stomach. Do not wear strapless or spaghetti strap tops, hot pants or mini skirts in Sri Lanka. This is inappropriate and you will attract a lot of unwanted attention. For men it is also important to cover the shoulders and knees. It is advisable to wear long trousers on the project. As a man, you can wear shorts in your spare time. Within Islamic communities, men must always wear long trousers. Never walk down the street bare-chested. During orientation, all volunteers receive 1 Medi-Aid t-shirt for free. These are perfect 'uniforms' for working on your project.

After sunset it is important that you cover yourself against mosquitoes. For comfort, wear loose-fitting clothing made of 100% cotton. 


- Running shoes/sneakers

- Slippers/sandals

- Lightweight water/wind resistant jacket

- Swimwear

- Pajamas and underwear (cotton!)

- Travel towel

- Sun hat and sunglasses

- Sunscreen and mosquito repellent

- Toiletries

- Tampons, sanitary towels and contraception

- Hand cleaning gel (wash hands without soap)

Most toiletries such as toothbrush, toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo etc. are available in Sri Lanka. Tampons are not available in some places. So it's a good idea to take some with you. Sanitary pads are available in many shapes and sizes everywhere in Sri Lanka.


- First aid kit (including plasters, bandages, betadine, creams etc.)

- Painkillers (paracetamol, ibuprofen, etc.)

- General antibiotic tablets and creams (ask your doctor)

- Medication for diarrhea and O.R.S.

- Multivitamins

- Personal medication (hay fever, etc.)


- Flashlight or headlamp

- Sewing kit for repairing clothes

- Padlock to lock the zippers of your backpack

- Money belt or small (hand/hip) bag for your money, cards, passport, etc.

- Books/games/ipod Laptop/notebook

- Passport photos

- Pen, notebook and lesson preparations

- Copies of your documents

For an extensive packing list, visit www.meeneemlijst.nl


The Sinhalese will find your background, country of origin and family life as interesting as you find theirs. It is therefore nice to bring photos of your family and postcards or booklets from the Netherlands or Belgium or your hometown. Do not take photos of (decadent) prosperity, such as your house or car.

Before bringing gifts, please contact Medi-Aid Sri Lanka first. Medi Aid can then see for you what the projects need most at that moment.

Pens, pencils, markers, colored paper, balloons, stickers, key rings, etc. are widely available in bookstores and much cheaper than in the Netherlands and Belgium.


Once you arrive in Sri Lanka, contact your family and let them know that you have arrived safely.


A mobile phone is very useful in Sri Lanka and there is generally good coverage. Medi-Aid will give you a telephone with a Sri Lankan number. All SIM cards in Sri Lanka work according to the prepaid system. You can buy credit at local shops and kiosks. If you want to use your own phone in Sri Lanka, it may not be 'SIM locked'. Check with your service provider. For international calling we recommend using Skype. Please note: Never use your Dutch/Belgian telephone number in Sri Lanka. The costs of this are very high. Some participants got into trouble because they ended up in the Netherlands or Belgium with a telephone bill of several hundred to sometimes a thousand euros.


The accommodation in Sri Lanka often has WiFi, internet that you can use as a volunteer. The internet is often slow. That is normal in a developing country.

Contact Medi-Aid

We will also stay in regular contact with you via email. We would like to hear from you about your time in Sri Lanka. You can also send us a link to your blog.


The Sinhala currency is called RUPPEE. 1 euro = 200R. Check the up-to-date exchange rate: www.ruilkoers.nl

In addition to (a small amount of) cash, we recommend that you bring a debit card with ATM option, a credit card and possibly American Express traveler's checks. This way you are not dependent on one piece of plastic, but you have several options to get money. Spread your money and cards over your hand luggage, so that you do not lose everything at once if you lose your money belt, for example.

Inform your bank before departure about your stay abroad and that you will be using your card here.


When you start your trip, keep all your important papers (such as passport, airline ticket, credit cards, traveler's checks, etc.) in your hand luggage. In Sri Lanka you can leave your backpack in your room. With a padlock you can lock important items such as a laptop, iPod, etc. in the backpack before leaving the room.

Sri Lanka is generally a safe destination for foreign tourists and backpackers. Always use common sense and be observant, especially at night. Do not carry large amounts of money or wear expensive watches, sunglasses or jewelry. Never leave your bag anywhere. In some areas there is unrest from time to time and a curfew may apply. For information about this, we recommend that you regularly visit the website of the Dutch embassy in Sri Lanka. Most of the advice below is logical and often also applies in the Netherlands and Belgium. Some advice applies specifically to travel and stay in a developing country.

Street vendors

In tourist areas there are always people who want to sell you something. Stay polite, but clearly say “no thank you” if you are not interested. Sometimes locals expect a 'tip' for giving advice. Be careful when people approach you on the street or beach to give you advice. They are sometimes not as friendly as they initially appear. This is of course a generalization and you will have to judge the situation on the spot yourself. Always be suspicious in the following situations:

* Someone wants to take you to a guesthouse/hostel for free or for very little money.

* Someone wants to look after your valuables while you go out.

* Someone offers to take you out for a night (and then drinks/eats at your expense).

Accommodation at other destinations When traveling to other destinations in Sri Lanka and surrounding countries, it is important to realize that most guesthouses and hostels do not meet Western standards in the areas of fire safety, for example. You can take a number of precautions yourself to ensure the safest possible stay.

If you are not happy with the locks on the door of your accommodation, please request another room. In many cases you can lock the door or a locker yourself with a padlock. A rubber door stop ensures that if someone manages to open your door, they cannot enter.

Always check where an emergency exit is and whether the windows can be used for evacuation in an emergency. In Asia, many windows have ironwork (against burglary) that you cannot penetrate. Most guesthouses and hostels are not equipped with a fire alarm.

You may consider bringing a portable smoke/fire alarm. There are many on the market. The FlareSafe from Flarebrands is a flashlight, smoke and panic alarm in one - see www.flarebrands.com


Like everywhere else in the world, you need to be more alert at night. In Sri Lanka it gets dark early every evening. Never walk alone on the street at night.

Pickpockets and so-called 'bag snatchers' are active in tourist areas in Sri Lanka. You can easily ensure that you don't become a target by not carrying a bag with you at night. Wear a money belt that you can hide under your clothes with a small amount of money and your phone. If someone threatens you, always hand over your belongings. Never risk getting hurt for a phone or a little money.

In the event of theft of valuables, you must always report this immediately to Wimal. For your travel insurance, you need a police report of the incident to be eligible for reimbursement.

Drink spiking

This is the term for poisoning your drink. Drink spiking occurs in nightlife all over the world, including in Sri Lanka. The goal of whoever poisoned your drink is to steal your stuff or worse, spend the night with you. The poisoning makes you unable to remember anything and many people become temporarily unconscious.

To prevent drink spiking:

* NEVER accept drinks from people you don't know well. NEVER taste drinks from people you don't know well.

* NEVER leave your drink anywhere.

* If your drink tastes strange, stop drinking immediately.

* If you feel nauseous or dizzy, tell someone you trust immediately.

* Pay attention to your own safety and that of your friends.

* Realize that drink spiking not only occurs in busy discos and bars, but also at private parties and in quiet restaurants.

Emergencies and natural disasters

In the unlikely event of an emergency or natural disaster, please contact:

- Your homefront

- Medi-Aid Netherlands and Medi-Aid Sri Lanka Sri Lanka

- The Dutch Embassy in Sri Lanka (see the last page of this manual for details).

You follow the advice of Medi-Aid and the Dutch embassy in Sri Lanka.


As previously indicated, much accommodation in Sri Lanka does not meet Western standards in the field of (fire) safety and hygiene. Medi Aid provides accommodation at a basic level.

Food and drink

Hygiene levels will vary greatly and it is your responsibility where you choose to eat. The water from the tap in Sri Lanka is not drinkable. Always drink filtered water. That is for sale everywhere.

Local transportation

The roads outside the major cities in Sri Lanka are in fair to locally poor condition. The driving behavior of bus, taxi and mototaxi drivers varies greatly.


Despite the poverty, health care in Sri Lanka is reasonable to good. We recommend that you pay extra attention to your health while traveling because this can make the difference between a good or terrible time abroad. Your health is largely your own responsibility. With a few small precautions, you can make the most of your time abroad.

Before leaving for Sri Lanka, you must make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for vaccinations, possible malaria tablets and personal medication. Take the vaccination booklet with you to Sri Lanka and write down your blood group.

With good preparation you will experience few health problems in Sri Lanka. In addition, there is the reassuring thought that Medi-Aid is always there to help you. Below we highlight a number of important health risks and advise you on how you can best prepare for them.

General hygiene

Maintaining good general hygiene is always important, but especially when you live in a developing country. In warmer climates, bacteria multiply rapidly, dirt attracts many pests. A few tips:

- Always wash your hands with soap or disinfectant hand gel after using a toilet and before eating anything.

- Shower regularly and wash your clothes.

- Clean (or have cleaned) your room regularly and store food and drinks in lockable boxes or in a refrigerator (this will prevent visits from vermin).

- If you are sick, disinfect the toilet with a toilet cleaner after use.

Traveling with medication

If you take personal medication while traveling, make sure that you receive enough from your doctor for the entire duration of your trip. A letter from the GP explaining the medication (in English!) can be useful at border controls and when you need a repeat prescription en route.

Birth control

Do you take the pill when traveling? It is possible that the pill in combination with malaria tablets or other medication does not work properly or causes unpleasant side effects. Discuss this with your doctor.

Hospitals: THINK AHEAD

Familiarize yourself with the nearest hospital in each city or town where you stay. Imagine that you are sick and how you go to a doctor. It is important to always know where to get medical help in an emergency. Most (private) hospitals in Sri Lanka are of good quality. Avoid local clinics. Blood transfusions, as well as the use of hypodermic needles in hospitals in Sri Lanka are known to be safe. During your stay on the program, please contact Wimal if you are ill or want to see a doctor for other reasons.


Malaria is a disease spread by mosquitoes. This mosquito is active during sunrise and sunset. The symptoms of malaria are: high fever, extreme headache, vomiting and diarrhea. In Sri Lanka you are at risk in some areas. You can take tablets during your trip to prevent malaria. Discuss your travel plans with your doctor or travel clinic and seek advice from them. For more information about malaria see the World Health Organization website: www.who.int.

Dengue Fever

Like malaria, dengue fever is also transmitted by mosquitoes. The disease occurs in more than 100 countries in Africa, North and South America, Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. Dengue fever is highly prevalent in Southeast Asia and the Western part of the Pacific Ocean, including in Sri Lanka.

The symptoms of dengue fever are: sudden high fever, extreme headache, pain behind the eyes and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. After a few days also extreme pain in the muscles and a rash of red bumps. You should always seek immediate medical attention if you experience these symptoms.

There is no vaccination or tablet cure against dengue fever, so it is important that you protect yourself against mosquito bites. The mosquito that spreads dengue fever is active during the day, especially in the shade and when it is cloudy. More information about dengue fever can be found at www.who.int.

Bird flu

Bird flu occurs in several countries worldwide, including Sri Lanka. Take these simple precautions: Avoid live animal markets, poultry farms, and other places where you may come into direct contact with birds. Poultry and egg dishes should always be thoroughly cooked. For more information about bird flu, visit www.who.int.


The number of HIV infections in Sri Lanka is relatively low. UNAIDS reports that 0.1% of the population has been infected with the virus. As a Medi Aid participant you acknowledge and accept the fact that during your volunteer work period you may come into contact with adults and/or children who have HIV or AIDS.

While working on your project, you may provide medical assistance to children and colleagues. Then think about taking care of wounds. To protect yourself against contact with blood, we recommend that you carry a set of latex gloves with you. These are available at local pharmacies.


To prevent unwanted pregnancy and venereal diseases such as HIV, syphilis and chlamydia, it is important that you use good quality condoms. Bring a supply from the Netherlands or Belgium.


Even in small amounts, alcohol affects your coordination and reaction and judgment. Getting drunk can mean unknowingly putting yourself in a dangerous situation. Never drink with people you don't know. Avoid locally distilled drinks such as rice wine as the alcohol content may be too high.


All forms of soft and hard drugs are illegal in Sri Lanka. Its possession and use, to any extent, can lead to criminal prosecution with very high prison sentences or the death penalty. Male volunteers in particular can be offered drugs on the street in large cities. Always decline this politely but clearly. Never be tempted to smoke a joint or use other drugs in Sri Lanka, even if other foreigners or local friends do so.


Unfamiliar food and travel can make you constipated. This is usually not serious and you can solve it by eating plenty of fiber-rich foods and drinking plenty of water. The best source of fiber is fruit and vegetables.


'Traveler's diarrhea' is a well-known term among backpackers. It happens to almost every traveler at least once abroad. When you have diarrhea, it is important that you continuously replenish the fluid in your body by drinking a lot of water. Travelers sometimes end up in the hospital due to dehydration.

In case of a mild form of diarrhea you can replenish the sugar and salt in your body by using O.R.S. (Oral Rehydration Salts) to be added to drinking water. Anti-diarrhea medications such as Immodium are useful when you are on the road and do not have easy access to a toilet. If you have severe or bloody diarrhea, you should always see a doctor.

This is a useful mnemonic to prevent diarrhea - PEEL IT, COOK IT OR FOGET IT! Peel your own fruit. So don't eat apples, but do eat bananas, mangoes, lychees and pineapple. Vegetables should always be well cooked or stir-fried. Avoid shellfish, salads and cheese.


Just like with diarrhea, it is also important in case of vomiting that you replenish the lost fluid. Drink small amounts but do this regularly. Cola and Fanta contain sugars and are therefore an ideal drink when you lose a lot of fluid.


It is useful to have a set of well-known painkillers with you for headaches, muscle pain, toothache and menstrual pain. Choose individually packaged tablets or capsules in blister packs. Tablets in jars and effervescent tablets in tubes can absorb moisture from the air in a tropical climate and thus become ineffective.

Wounds and blisters

Bring a disinfectant liquid, such as Sterilon, to disinfect small wounds and blisters. Make sure you have a set of plasters and bandages to cover wounds. Disinfectant alcohol wipes are also useful.


Be careful in the sun! The sun is many times stronger in Sri Lanka than in the Netherlands and Belgium. So you burn much faster here. Always use sunscreen (at least factor 30), wear covering clothing, seek shade and wear a hat or cap. Listen to your body and rest when you are tired.


If you are exposed to ultraviolet light for too long, you can get sunstroke. The symptoms of heat stroke are: stabbing headache, nausea, fever and vomiting. In case of sunstroke, the best thing you can do is: shower with lukewarm water, drink soluble aspirin and drink at least 6 glasses of water (2-3 liters). Then continue drinking small amounts of water frequently until you feel better.


'Heatstroke' is a dangerous condition in which the body is no longer able to regulate its own temperature due to exposure to extreme heat. The body temperature rises quickly and causes very high fever and fluid loss. Other symptoms of heat exhaustion include: headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, muscle cramps, fatigue, lack of appetite, pale skin and a weak heartbeat. In case of heat exhaustion, see a doctor immediately. Try to drink small amounts of water frequently. When exhausted, drinking a large amount of water at once can be dangerous.

Glasses and contact lenses

Do you wear glasses or contact lenses? Then we recommend that you take a spare set with you abroad. For some people it is no problem to wear contact lenses in Sri Lanka, while others have a lot of trouble with the dust and dirt. Never use tap water when handling your lenses and wash your hands with contact lens solution to limit the risk of an eye infection.

Websites, addresses and telephone numbers

Medi-Aid Netherlands

Benedendamsestraat 17a

4233 EN Ameide

W: www.medi-aid.nl

T: +31 619989250 

E: info@medi-aid.nl

Dutch embassy 25 Torrington Avenue Colombo W: T: +94 (0) 11 2510 200 Embassy of Sri Lanka

in the Netherlands Jacob de Graefflaan 2 W: www.netherlands.embassy.gov.lk T: 070-365 59 10 2517 JM The Hague

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