By Hannah Tozer – 2 week volunteer (16/07/17)
I am close to finishing my two weeks here in Thailand at Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary and can honestly say the experience has been unique, different and awesome!
Staying here in the village has made me realise how different people around the world live. In the case of the Karen people, I already had certain expectations such as the cold showers, but it was still a shock of how different it was to modern life at home. I have grown so used to having what would be classed as luxuries here, but somehow I didn’t find it too hard to adapt. It has made me appreciate having things at home such as a proper bed and hot showers, because even though I already knew that a lot of people around the world don’t have these things, knowing and experiencing it for yourself is a completely different experience. As it turns out, I thoroughly enjoyed the cold shower, as I would always be hot and sweaty after a hike!
The people in the village will always smile and say hello, and they’ll ask you things like, “where are you going?” or, “are you happy?” – the latter of which was a question my homestay often asked. It may seem odd at first, but it’s just cultural differences and is no different to asking, “how are you?” They do their best to make you feel at home and are very friendly. This is all part of the many reasons why I’ve loved being here.
This project isn’t just about the elephants, but is about the community as well. I have had a Thai massage by a blind man in the village (who was very good) and have weaved a basket with the help of the basket weaver. The Thai massage I managed to relax after getting over the pain, but weaving a basket I found easy, calm and relaxing. I definitely recommend the basket weaving, and the Thai massage! The basket weaving is also cool because you can take it home as a present for someone and has a nice hand-made touch.
Hiking around the hilly forests of Thailand everyday can be tiring but it is worth it to see the elephants. These elephants are semi-wild which means that they are watched over by the mahouts while living in their natural habitat. This is the best way to see elephants, you can tell they are happy as they have lots of space to roam about as opposed to in a zoo, and you can also observe them doing things that they wouldn’t be able to do in a elsewhere such as pushing over trees, getting covered in mud and playing with vines.
We even got to feed them bananas and stroke Boon Rott who is the most social elephant and the only one that is happy to let you pet him after feeding them. Meanwhile, the other elephants we left alone after feeding them but Boon Rott would come up to us and follow us on his own accord. The first time I saw the elephants, I was amazed at their beauty and strength. They are some of the most fascinating animals, and this bunch is no exception.
The project currently has 4 elephants; Boon Rott (the social butterfly) Gen Thong (the naughty child who throws temper tantrums by pulling at vines) Mae Doom (Boon Rott’s crush and aunt to Gen Thong) and finally Too Meh (the grandmother). These elephants can be fascinating to watch, and Gen Thong is very cute as he is still quite young.
The volunteering experience has been organised very well and there was a lot of variety. For example, the first day I was here I taught English at the school, the second day the local women came to base to sell their hand-made goods such as scarves, bracelets and even rings with elephant hair! There was also basket weaving, teaching English at the nursery, Thai massage, pick litter up in the village and making English worksheets for the school.
Overall, this experience has been like a two-in-one package: working with elephants and working with the community, which is great as you often don’t get to do both. Seeing elephants in their true habitat is the best and most rewarding way to see them!