By April Blair (1 week volunteer)
Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary is a prime example of a foundation that supports conservation of elephants in an ethical way. Knowing that they keep an elephant herd within the forest and do community outreach, I was delighted to spend a week there volunteering on their project.
Arriving at a remote mountain village home to a Karen tribe, it was quiet and idyllic. I was lucky to have a homestay with a friendly Karen mother who was very hospitable. Sleeping on a flat mattress and waking up to the sounds of pigs squealing and villagers preparing for their day is a pleasant contrast to city life. Karen villagers live a patient and skilled lifestyle when it comes to their trade. Farming, cooking, gardening, crafting and building with the resources around them Karen people are very capable. For example, the women weave goods. I admire their close knit community spirit, where doors are open to neighbours and children play freely outside. Family is the basis of the village with generations staying in the same locality. As you can see in the photo, mothers are caring and close with their children.
When I taught English in classes at the school, most of the children participated and were interested in the new activities. However, there was an obvious need for English teachers there as learning the alphabet, a basic start, was a slow progress and some would not be engaged with the lesson. The village is definitely a place that requires the assistance of native English teachers so Kindred Spirit support the community greatly.
Mornings would be the start of the daily hikes to the elephants. I was grateful for the misty, cool mornings as hiking up mountains with the sun beating down was excruciatingly hot. Hiking on unstable slopes that were muddy and slippery was not a safe terrain, but the mahouts moved about in slippers in the forest without breaking a sweat. For me it was struggling to climb up without slipping and I would often feel at defeat to the altitude and heat. Walking for hours through rice paddies, corn fields, trees and streams were worth it to observe the elephants forage.
It was astonishing the four elephants were free from chains and bull hooks, and were calm with human presence. They would come over when called and would happily devour on pumpkins that we fed them. It was amazing to have the chance to be up so close with them, although being surrounded by hungry elephants can be scary. The mahouts were there to control their elephants and protect us, but the elephants did not pose a danger since they have a strong relationship with their mahout. The elephants in the herd get on well and display interaction which is interesting to observe.
It was the week for elephant and rhino awareness as the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos 2016 was on Saturday 24th September. Kindred Spirit hosted their own awareness and march in the village. The school was involved as the children coloured in the march signs. It was fun to see them be creative as well as teach them the English. At the base there was an elephant awareness board, including facts about elephant poaching. On Thursday we held the Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary’s march signs in the forest with the elephants. I felt proud to be a part of the cause and contribute to Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary’s fantastic work!