By Olivia Hemsuthipan – 1 week volunteer
My experience at Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary was one I will never forget. Before my trip I had read the entire website to soak up as much information about this place as possible, to be prepared for what’s ahead of me. When I arrived at the Karen village, it was exactly how I imagined it to be. Talia showed me around the village and the base, and introduced me to my homestay family. I stayed at Noh Boh’s house, with her husband and her two daughters. I had my own room, which was located in the house – other homestays have a hut located outside of their host family’s house, with a big mosquito net above the bed. The room comes with a lock, as the families would like you to lock your room when you leave for their peace of mind.
I have a squat toilet (which is normal for Thailand), where you have to squat down to do your business and then flush down with a few cups of water. The showers are mostly located in the same hut as the toilet and have a proper showerhead. At my homestay, they did not have one, so I did the simple bucket shower which I actually really enjoyed because it made it a more rural experience.
On the first day you will cook dinner with a staff member at your house, and you will experience a traditional geeju blessing ceremony to welcome you into their family. The other days basically go like this: Wake up & get ready, have breakfast at base at 7:30 am – your family will either give you your lunch before you leave to bring it to base, start hiking at 8:00 am for about 1-2 hours to find the elephants (depending on where they are roaming), spend about 2-3 hours with the elephants (which includes feeding bananas, taking photos, working on data etc.), then either have lunch in the forest or at base, after lunch everyone has some chill time to take a shower and relax a little.
Every day there are different afternoon/evening activities like writing a blog post, playing games, visiting the school or nursery, weaving, cleaning up the village etc. It really never gets boring! You will also be given a Karen lesson by a staff member, and the families really enjoy you trying to speak their language and making an effort to communicate with them.
Here are some general tips/things to be aware of: always wear clothes that cover your knees and shoulders, never break a circle – always go around, never put your feet towards food or point with your feet, don’t touch their heads etc. – there are some more things but you can ask or find them on the website (some of the things are related to Buddhism).
What I love about this experience is that it’s not just about the elephants. You get to stay at an authentic Karen homestay and really experience the rural village life. There are dogs, chickens, pigs and cows everywhere and you can often see the Karen wearing their traditional clothing. The people are very nice and welcoming which I think made me feel so comfortable and happy. Especially thinking about other villages that are basically made for tourists and not authentic at all, I can assure you that once you have been to this village, you will never want to visit places like the Longneck village.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet Kerri and Sombat as they were away the week I was there, but Talia, the Mahouts and the other interns and volunteers were super friendly, open minded and helpful. Without them it wouldn’t have been the same experience! I learned a lot about the elephants diet, behaviour, history and their personal background, as well as about the Karen culture and the data collection, goals and history of the sanctuary. It was such a personal and adventurous experience, that has helped me to understand the issues of elephant exploitation a lot better. I encourage everyone to visit Kindred Spirit, and have an experience of a lifetime. I will definitely use my knowledge that I have gained to try and make a difference. I can’t wait to come back and visit!