Volunteering in Sri Lanka
Discover volunteering opportunities in Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean.
About Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has a population of over 21 million people and is made up of several ethnic groups and religions. The majority Sinhalese make up 74% of the population, with Tamils (11%), Muslims (nine percent) and Indian Tamils the largest minorities.
The nation has faced a number of significant recent challenges. The Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004 led to 35,000 people losing their lives along with the destruction of homes and businesses, and the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings also had huge impact on the country's economy and tourism. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic and political dynamics have resulted in the country facing major challenges. These have impacted foreign exchange reserves and the availability of many essential items including fuel, gas, medicines and foods.
Sri Lanka's economy grew steadily from the conclusion of a 32-year civil conflict between government troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009. The island nation was one of a few South-Asian countries to rate as ‘high’ on the Human Development Index, and while extreme poverty remained low, disparities in income and access to basic services persisted. The 2022 economic and socio-political crisis has impacted this significantly with a major downturn in the economy and related impact on poverty levels.
Australian volunteers in Sri Lanka
Australian volunteers have supported a wide range of partner organisations in Sri Lanka to achieve their development goals since 1980.
Volunteering opportunities in Sri Lanka support communities across a range of development priorities, including:
- Economic development and business
- Tourism development
- Gender equality
- Disability and inclusion
Manchula from our Sri Lanka team was introduced to this Pineapple Curry recipe by a colleague at a program partner. It was so delicious she decided to make her own version.
Download the recipe for Pineapple Curry
Life as a volunteer in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankans are generally warm and welcoming. If volunteers put in a little effort they are likely to find it easy to participate in the local community. Volunteers may receive invitations to visit people’s homes and attend functions, however, Sri Lankan domestic life tends to be quiet with less activity during the week. Due to current (2022) economic challenges and shortages of fuel, domestic gas and other basic supplies the social nature of Sri Lankan communities may be somewhat curtailed.
While the country as a whole is quite conservative, Colombo is less so. Volunteers are encouraged to be considerate of the feelings and values of their neighbours, landlords, and colleagues, and not assume having overnight guests of the opposite sex will be accepted. Although situations can vary.
Our in-country team and/or partner organisations assist volunteers to identify suitable, secure, and affordable accommodation.
This accommodation will differ based on where volunteers are located and may be a small house or an annex attached to a family home with a separate entrance. Water and electricity will be available.
Food and lifestyle
As in most capital cities in South Asia, Colombo usually has a wide range of markets and supermarkets selling most food items, however, given the 2022 economic crisis a number of items may not be available and retailers may have reduced or depleted supplies (particularly those that are usually imported). Fresh fish and seafood feature heavily in the cuisine, however, vegetarians have a range of local fruits and vegetables to choose from.
Social activities such as cafes, concerts, plays, and cinemas are most commonly available in Colombo.
As a result of the 2022 economic crisis, public transport is less accessible than in previous years. Public transport usually includes buses, private cabs, and three-wheelers (tuk tuks/auto rickshaws). Buses provide the cheapest form of transport but are not available at night. The availability of transport differs around the country and at present is based on the availability of fuel.
Since the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings there is a heightened awareness of security and a visible security presence throughout the country.
Female volunteers may experience harassment on the streets. Although this can be irritating, volunteers often find ways of coping and are able to effectively conduct their work and life. Generally, Sri Lankan women do not go out alone after dark.
Large public protests (and related security force responses) are occurring at present. These are related to the 2022 economic crisis and dissatisfaction with the government by the protesters. These protest sites must be avoided by volunteers as they represent a security risk. The protests also take the form of roadblocks, so route planning is important.
We’re committed to ensuring that international volunteering is inclusive and accessible to Australians from a range of backgrounds, with diverse perspectives, identities and abilities.
To support this, access and inclusion plans are available for volunteers with disabilities to assess their needs and ensure their living and working requirements are fully considered. Indigenous Pathways is an Indigenous-led program that focuses on providing culturally safe, flexible and tailored support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers.
Before applying for a volunteering assignment in Sri Lanka, please do some further research on living in Sri Lanka and the organisation you are hoping to volunteer with. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to discuss expected living and working arrangements with their recruitment officer.
We asked our volunteers in 26 countries across the Indo-Pacific region to send us photos of themselves with a sign showing the number of days they have been on assignment.
Read how volunteers celebrated in Sri Lanka