A year ago today, I walked out of the office of my big girl job in Washington DC. My goal was to take some time to travel the world and see many of the places I had always dreamed of seeing. However, that wasn’t my only goal… I also had plans to volunteer on each continent in programs geared towards environmental and animal welfare, two things that are very important to me and define many of my passions.
Over the last 12 months I’ve done just that. I’ve traveled from South America to Europe, then onto Africa, and now I’m in Asia. I have seen amazing places, met some amazing people, and learned a great deal about the environmental issues we are facing as a planet. I’ve rescued and researched animals, some on the brink of extinction, learning how our treatment of the environment affects their innocent lives.
All of the volunteering I’ve done (about 6 months total) has been very different – as one would expect – depending on the location. In Peru, it was about building up biodiversity in a protected area of the jungle while in Italy it was more about working the only real green space the city has and teaching children the importance of nature and being kind to animals. It has been a phenomenal ride and I’m so thankful for everything I’ve learned, especially about myself.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect here in Asia working on this elephant project. I have been here 3 weeks now and I’m realizing, my contribution is more about the money I paid, and less about the work I’m doing. Very little of the physical work I’m doing is really a selfless contribution to the project. For instance, we water and cut bamboo so we have the experience of feeding the elephants. However, I understand that that may be the best case scenario given the circumstances.
These elephants are still owned by their mahouts. The Thai initiative is not to change that, but to provide assistance in keeping their elephants out of mentally and physically harmful situations. But the government assistance is never enough. So the money volunteers provide goes to further support these families, allowing their elephants a life without riding or walking through crowded or noisy city streets as tourist attractions. While I still feel like more of a tourist here than a volunteer, I can come to terms with the fact that maybe, this is the best way to help for now. I’m certainly not complaining about having time with these beautiful creatures.
I have one more week on this project and I’m going to try and make the best of it. The elephants are beautiful and the people are kind and friendly. I can’t ask for much more than that, though I do wish our work and not just our money went more towards helping the community achieve larger goals.
Next week I set off on my last big hoorah of this amazing trip – a 4 week/4 country group tour from Bangkok to Bali. I’ve not done a group tour like this yet so it should be interesting and fun! I will be back home in exactly 2 months and I’m starting to get serious about entering the work force again. This means I need to make these last few weeks amazing and get the most out of this 14 month experience. I’m sure that won’t be hard to do!