It's day 4 of the new academic year in Sri Lanka. The school grounds are under siege from parents armed with brooms, machetes and traditional digging implements, who are carrying out shramadana, a contribution of physical labour to their children's school. This is community in action.
The classrooms have been painted in pastel colours and the tables and chairs in bright gloss; the rooms are now clean and tidy and ready to be filled with up to 42 students.
I work as a volunteer teacher of spoken English in two government schools, after retiring from education in the UK two years ago. I live in south- west Sri Lanka, a coastal region of beaches, tourist hangouts and the rural villages where our students live. These villages are very different from the areas that have luxury beachside villas and five-star hotels.
Our days begin with assembly in front of the Buddhist shrine. In the larger of my two schools, this means serried ranks of up to 1,200 students wearing white uniforms, with boys in shorts and girls in dresses, their hair in plaits tied with red ribbons. The children chant in Pali and then sing the national anthem as the school, Sri Lankan and Buddhist flags are hoisted into the air.
Students are given a drink of milk in the mornings, which has reduced the number of hunger-induced faintings during these lengthy assemblies. They are a serious business.
I teach spoken English to all year groups, with the help of two gap-year students from the UK in each school. Students in government schools usually learn English from the age of 8, but we start them at 6. There is no textbook learning: we sing, dance, chant and speak to complement the more formal language lessons the students have with Sri Lankan teachers.
English is taught in all government schools, so many Sri Lankan teachers read and write English well - especially the English teachers - but they have few opportunities to speak it.
At 10.30am, we have a break and the students eat a meal of rice and curry, cooked by local mothers who volunteer and receive rice, sugar and coconuts in return.
Lessons end at 1.30pm. The school empties and briefly becomes the domain of the local monkeys, who hide away until it's safe to emerge from the trees, some with babies clinging to them. They're after our bananas.
Then the after-school programme begins at 2.30pm, with cricket, football and a debating club until 4pm.
I will stay in Sri Lanka until at least August. Every day brings new delights and experiences. I meet extraordinary people and hear their stories, teach charming and lively students, watch amazing wildlife and eat fantastic food.
What a brilliant decision I made by coming here. I have not regretted it for a second.
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