“Never doubt the power of one person to create positive change in the world.”
I don’t even know where to start with my 7 days volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park except I am now even more determined in my mission to create positive change. For everyone. And even more, I know the power to do so is in each of our hands.
If we want to make the world a better place all we have to do is do it.
The week started out on Monday morning 11/14 at the ENP office in Chiang Mai’s old city. In the office I met some of the other volunteers. Once we checked in, we were taken about an hour and half north of the city to the sanctuary. We had a quick orientation of park stuff and met our VCs (Volunteer Coordinators). Already I had become friends with 5 other amazing girls who were traveling solo. We bonded quickly and the 6 of us were all magically paired up as roomates. What luck!
Right away we were off to ele feeding time which was my first time up close and personal with an elephant. All of us were in awe. They are magnificent. And hungry! After ele feeding time is human feeding time. Oh boy, it’s buffet style and the food (almost entirely vegan) is so good. So despite the immense amounts of physical labor I did, I’m pretty sure I still managed to gain weight! After lunch is ele bathing time, we get buckets and head down to the river, where the elephants pretty much bathe us. The first afternoon we had a talk with Lek, who is the founder of the park. She’s an amazing woman, yet still told us that we were the angels for coming to the park and volunteering. It was an honor to get to hear her speak. We learned so much about what domesticated elephants go through in Thailand. It’s horrific. More on that here…
The first day is a pretty easy one, mostly a lot of education, orientation and getting to know each other. Day 2 is when it gets real. Every day we have two labor jobs that last about 2 hours each; morning and afternoon. Baby ele feeding is at 11am, ele feeding time is 11:30, ele bathing is at 1pm and those never change. Every morning you check the board to see what your group is doing that day. The jobs consist of: working in the ele kitchen to prep the food for each elephant, shoveling ele poop, watering the plants (way harder than it sounds…), cutting grass, cutting corn (hardest of all the jobs), planting pineapples (or ‘plating penaples’ as it was written on the board), shoveling sand, dung bagging, fertilizer duty or if you were lucky, ele walk. Ah, the ele walk where you basically get to take a walk around the grounds, meet the eles and see how the whole thing works. There is also a vet program you can sign up for where you get to follow the park vets on their medical rounds.
The labor is hard. There is a lot of shoveling and heavy lifting in the hot sun. It’s not for the weak or people who don’t like to get dirty. There are 1 day and overnight options for visitors who just want an elephant experience. Volunteering is legit hard work. Luckily, your fellow volunteers, park dogs and VCs make it not only bearable, but fun as well. Just know that if you’re planning on going to volunteer, be ready to basically be an ele slave. You prep their food, you feed them, bathe them, clean up after them… Hard work. But for as hard as you work, you have even more fun. With the eles, the other park animals and your new friends.
Some jobs were ‘easier’ than others. Working in the ele kitchen was probably one of the lighter jobs (if you can call it that) and we always had good music to work to thanks to Chet’s (one of our VCs) obsession with Lady Gaga. All of the other jobs are just plain hard. The hardest was cutting corn. We were taken in a big truck about 45 min away from the park (VC Jack joked that we were going to Burma) to a giant cornfield, where we were given machetes and told to take a row and start cutting. Once we cleared a large chunk of the field, we carried the heavy bales of corn to the truck. I injured myself every day. (I’m klumzy.) But the corn day we all ended up with cuts and bruises. Thankfully from the corn stalks and not the machetes…
Other activities during the week included: talks with park staff, educational videos, a visit to a local school, Thai culture and a language lesson. Some evenings we even had free. For my birthday, the ENP threw me a birthday party, complete with elephant cake! We also went tubing down the river (hijinks galore) and lots of other fun stuff. There was a bar and a massage parlor in the common area, so it wasn’t all work and no play. There was a lot of Thai Uno, a lot of Chang and a lot of laughs. I made the most incredible friends! Not something I expected, a true bonus.
There were of course the wonderful non-human friends I made too, the animals. ENP is home to about 35 elephants, many cows, water buffalo, 1 bear and about 100 dogs/puppies. All rescues and all there to live out the rest of their lives in beautiful harmony. Elephants are really amazing beings. Despite all the suffering and torture they have endured in their life at the hands of humans, they still let us take care of them. They have such complex personalities and emotional lives. They are extremely intelligent. Full of grace. Forgiveness. We can learn a lot from them. But they are also very silly, no matter what age they are. Eles know how to have fun! Of course, the babies are especially funny and the teenage boys a bit naughty.
Each one of them stole my heart.
So, if you are looking for a volunteer experience that will stay in your heart forever, this is definitely the place for you. It’s also a no-brainer. Everything is done for you. You just show up. It’s easy if you aren’t quite sure how to go about taking on a big experience doing volunteer work abroad. Of course, that’s what Love Infinitely Project is for. This is perfect training ground for my LIP Staff and a great way to begin taking on this kind of work. If you have any questions about how to get in contact with ENP, sign up for volunteering or how to organize this kind of trip, we can help! Send us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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