By Anna Ullmann (3 week volunteer)
I initially decided to volunteer for Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary because I was looking to work on a project that focused on wildlife conservation, but it turned out to be so much more. Not only was I able to observe the amazing elephants thrive in their natural habitat, but I also got to spend time collecting data for their research project on elephant association. Every day I could count on seeing their elephants interact with each other and respond to their surroundings.
In coming to Thailand, I was also hoping to find a new cultural experience. Of course I experienced some of it by simply spending time there, but I didn’t quite feel immersed until I met my homestay family. As was expected, our level of communication was limited due to the language boundary, but it never became an issue. In the three weeks that I had been in the village, I began picking up all the necessary phrases to let my homestay mother know that I was very comfortable, that the food was always delicious, and to where I was going.
During the day or after dinner we would sit down together with our books and simultaneously teach each other our language. Soon enough, I was cooking dinner with her family and wading through the river to help set up their fishing nets. We would go arm in arm making sure that none of us fell in. Since I happened to be in Thailand during the Festival of Lights, and the village wasn’t celebrating it together, my homestay mother (along with the staff and a few of the mahouts) came together to create our own miniature version. We created little floats decorated with flowers and candles to send down the river.
The list of things we ended up doing together endlessly continues. I loved participating in everything from watching TV with them, to sitting together by the fire to stay warm. I was taught how to sew flowers on one of the traditional shirts that was hand woven and multiple nights consisted of playing games with the two children of the household. I brought the card game UNO as a gift from home and it soon became a very popular activity that other children would also come to join. Another very unique experience was attending a village wedding. Since my homestay was going, they invited me to join. I got dressed up in the traditional clothing and jumped into the truck with everyone that was going to the wedding. I ate endless new food, listened to songs, attended the ceremony, and took pictures with the bride and groom afterwards.
Through all of these activities it was always made sure that I was happy and enjoying myself. This amazing hospitality was never limited to just my homestay, but it came from the entire village. Everyone was really friendly whether it was a sweet smile as I walked by, or inviting me to drink tea with their families in the morning. The locals were definitely one of the best parts of my stay.