x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Holidays with a warm heart

Dozens of Pakistanis will travel to Sri Lanka this summer to volunteer in orphanages and schools.

Volunteers will get the chance to work in orphanages and schools as part of their trip.
Volunteers will get the chance to work in orphanages and schools as part of their trip.

DUBAI // Dozens of Pakistanis will travel to Sri Lanka this summer to volunteer in orphanages and schools.

The Overseas Pakistanis and Sri Lankans Society (OPSS) in Dubai is working with the Volunteer Sri Lanka project and has launched Tourism for a Good Cause. The aim of the campaign is to promote the island as a tourist destination, but also to give volunteers the chance to combine community work and sightseeing in a single trip.

"Since the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, the tourist industry is really booming," said Mobisher Rabbani, the Dubai entrepreneur who is the president of OPSS. "The beauty about this project is that it aims to encourage people who would already perhaps be going to the island to use some of their spare time to help out at a school or orphanage.

"It's proved particularly popular with young people in the community and I think whoever takes part will get an amazing life experience out of it. So far about 60 people have been in contact asking for more details and expressing an interest."

Janaka de Silva, the founder of Volunteer Sri Lanka, said he was delighted with the response. "The volunteer accommodation is a homestay arrangement, and not a hotel."

The volunteers will get the chance to work with orphans, helping them with their homework. They can also work with nursery schoolchildren with special needs, care for the elderly or help with building work. Mr de Silva also wants to start skills training for IT, sewing, carpentry, building, plumbing and electrical installation.

Armina Javaid, a 26-year-old auditor, plans to spend up to three weeks in Sri Lanka volunteering.

"I found out about it through a friend and thought it was a wonderful idea," she said. "I want to do some teaching in the schools if possible, but to be honest the whole experience is going to be amazing.

"The good thing about it is that you still get the chance to have a holiday as well as do some good work to help the community."

Zareen Shah, 29, a make-up artist who has lived in Dubai for 22 years, discovered the organisation through Facebook. "I try to do philanthropic work when I can and have done some fund-raising following the earthquakes in Haiti, as well as collecting supplies for survivors of the floods in Pakistan last summer. I've never been to Sri Lanka before, so I'm really looking forward to it."

She is planning to spend a week in the country in July and is encouraging her friends to take part.

The campaign to get more volunteers has been backed by Sarath Wijesinghe, the Sri Lankan ambassador to the UAE. He is pleased "that so many people from Dubai are taking an active interest in helping people less fortunate than themselves".

"Tourism has gone up by 40 per cent since the end of the civil war and we are seeing more and more people from the UAE going there on holiday," he said. For more information e-mail Janaka de Silva at janakadesilva1@hotmail.com

nhanif@thenational.ae