Volunteering in Sri Lanka

Discover volunteering opportunities in Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean.

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Sandun, fisherman from Negombo, Western Province, Sri Lanka. Photo: Harjono Djoyobisono
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The Sri Lankan kangaroo lizard is a small, ground-dwelling agamid lizard endemic to Sri Lanka. Photo: Harjono Djoyobisono
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Tuk-tuk in the rain, Ahangama, Sri Lanka. Photo: Harjono Djoyobisono

About Sri Lanka

Hanging like a teardrop beneath mighty India, mountainous Sri Lanka climbs from the Indian Ocean and continues to enthrall with its history, culture, traditions and natural beauty.

The population of over 21 million 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.

Sri Lanka is a traveler’s paradise with an abundance of beauty to experience and tourism has for many years been a large economic driver. Within hours you can travel from unspoiled beaches to the mountains at the country's centre. 

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. 

Sri Lanka's economy has grown 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 is one of a few South-Asian countries to rate as high on the Human Development Index, and while extreme poverty remains low, disparities in income and access to basic services persist.

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
  • Reconciliation

Read about our impact in Sri Lanka in 2019-2020

Life as a volunteer in Sri Lanka

Culture

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.

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.

Accommodation

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 has a wide range of markets and supermarkets selling most food items. Fresh fish and seafood feature heavily in the cuisine, however, vegetarians have a range of local fruits and vegetables to choose from. Imported food items are available but are more expensive.

Social activities such as cafes, luxury hotels, concerts and plays, and cinemas are most commonly available in Colombo. 

Transport

Public transport includes buses, private cabs, and three-wheelers (tuk tuks/auto rickshaws). Buses providing the cheapest form of transport but are not available at night. The availability of transport differs around the country.

Personal safety

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.

Accessibility

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.