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Kid Interviews III

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand


Alex and Leah Interview Each Other About their Experiences at The Elephant Nature Park
(May 6-19, 2013)

" When I went to the zoo and saw an elephant I was like, I will never be close to an elephant, I'll never feed an elephant, I'll never pet an elephant, I'll never wash an elephant. Now I have and it is really really cool" - Alex

"Sitting in the shade you are still sweating!" - Leah

"The first time I took a cucumber and stuck it on a elephant's trunk and then she ate it - I was just like - I FED AN ELEPHANT! It was magical!" - Alex

"I like Jokia, one of the blind elephants . . . she is really gentle . . . When Jokia first came to the sanctuary another elephant (Mae Perm) went to help her. It's like the other elephant is her eyes, helping her. They are always together and never leave each other. They are best friends forever." - Leah


You can learn more about the elephants in the ENP herd, and How You Can Help.
Be Sure to "Like" Save Elephant Foundation on Facebook!


We have a hard time imagining how our remaining adventures will top this one!

Posted by annevl 20:12 Archived in Thailand Tagged nature education elephant thailand kids world family school volunteer video interview homeschool Comments (3)

Elephant Nature Park Volunteering

The Mostly Messy Jobs that Keep us Busy

sunny 90 °F

P1070692.jpg DSC04297.jpg
We have been living in an elephant sanctuary. We wake to their trumpeting, feed them bananas. play with them in the river, and watch them behave like elephants. Our two weeks at the Elephant Nature Park have been packed with once in a lifetime experiences and plenty of hard work.
Turns out - it takes a great deal of effort by many people EVERY day to feed and nurture 35 elephants!

What have we been DOING during our time at the Elephant Nature Park?

Volunteers are divided into work teams and assigned morning and afternoon jobs for each day. An ENP Volunteer Coordinator (VC) is "in charge" of each group. Some jobs, such as cutting corn and picking lychee are off site and lunch is brought along.
Here is a somewhat abbreviated description of some of those jobs.

Elephant Kitchen

The Elephant Kitchen job starts with gathering many baskets of pumpkins and watermelon from the shelves, washing them in a big basin of water magnesium permanganate, and chopping them into quarters.
There are also a few baskets of watermelon that need to be peeled for the older elephants as well as bananas that need to be sorted into very ripe, ripe, almost ripe, and green. A great job for sensory relaxation is the peeling and mashing of bananas by hand for "banana balls", a special elephant treat. We also spent time extricating the seeds from tamarinds. Overall, a pretty light assignment and a great way to chat with fellow volunteers.

ALEX- Elephant Kitchen was my favorite job because it is cool to chop melons and pumpkins with a machete. It was hard unloading the watermelon truck but felt really good when the truck was empty. Mom says I can't play with my food so squishing bananas with my hands was awesome!

Cutting Corn

Elephants eat lots of corn! Every day, volunteers and staff harvest 300 bundles (stalks and all), load them in a truck, and deliver to the always hungry ENP residents. IMG_5259.jpgIMG_5252.jpgIMG_5247.jpgIMG_5245.jpgIMG_5254.jpgIMG_5265.jpgIMG_5251.jpgIMG_5238.jpgIMG_5153.jpgIMG_5143.jpgDSC04004.jpgDSC04005.jpg

Corn cutting was definitely our most physically demanding day. Our group left the park and were driven in the back of a truck about 45 minutes to a farm. We were all decked out in long sleeves and long pants as instructed. By 9am it was sweltering and there was no shade to be found.

We were handed machetes and set to work chopping down the stalks and making bundles. After about an hour we were told to gather up the bundles and bring them to the truck. The hardest part was carrying the bundles over 400 yards along a narrow strip of land in the middle of an irrigation ditch.
Fifteen trips back and forth gave me a brand new appreciation for folks who do this every day!

After loading the bundles in the truck we drove to yet another field, and after a break for lunch, started all over again.
The truck was filled to the brim with corn stalks and we all climbed on top for the journey home. Along the way we had to duck low branches and hold on tight over bumps but we made it back.

After we had showered off the grime, it was satisfying to watch the truck go around delivering corn to the elephants. I think they appreciated our efforts.

Poop Patrol

Well, what goes in must come out - so elephants poop quite a bit. Fortunately, their vegetarian diet means it is not nearly as smelly as one might think. It does, however require an army of shovel and wheelbarrow wielding volunteers to keep the place clean.
A bonus of this job is that while on poop patrol opportunities abound for elephant encounters.

Collecting Lychee

Lychee are in season here and a big favorite of the elephants. Our job - collect them by the basket full and return to ENP. This was another adventure in the truck day and we had a grand time climbing trees and pulling down the fruit. We had lunch with a local family and played with an assortment of dogs. Overall, aside from dodging some wasps, it was a lovely day.

We also got to see a very unusual rainbow. IMG_5356.jpg

LEAH - It was really fun because I got to go up a ladder and climb into trees and drop the fruit into the basket. The lychee is delicious. I just wish the insects didn't like them too.

Mud Pit

Elephants LOVE the mud! They use the mud pit as a way to cool down and as a natural sunscreen. Once a week, volunteers help maintain the water/mud level by getting in there with hoes and buckets. Our group heard the call of the mud and ended up in an all out extravaganza! Needless to say, Alex and Leah were part of the first wave of mud slingers!

We also planted banana trees, gathered rocks for making stone walls, cut bamboo poles, and an assortment of other odd jobs around the park.

Our Optional Jobs

The Elephant Nature Park is also home to 450 rescued dogs and about 200 cats. We especially loved playing with the kittens and puppies! There was always need for extra help with the dogs and cats so we tried to pitch in when we could.

An old residence is in the process of being turned into a home for some of the cats and we were told we could make whatever improvements we wanted. Other volunteers had already made great progress and we were inspired by some of their ideas. Noah took the ceiling down and we cleared away some of existing debris. Foraging through the scrap pile, we put together some cat friendly surfaces and activities. It feels good to have left something of ourselves behind.

Most of the dogs in the dog sanctuary were rescued from the floods a few years ago. There is a clinic on site and full time volunteers to feed and care for them. We were welcomed to go there any time to walk and play with the furry residents.

We have had an amazing experience here!!
If you are interested in learning more you can go to www.saveelephant.org

Posted by annevl 18:55 Archived in Thailand Tagged animals elephant thailand volunteering family_travel enp www.saveelephant.org Comments (4)

Welcome to the Elephant Nature Park

Day 1

View Southeast Asia on noahv's travel map.

We were up early to meet up with the the rest of the volunteers at the local Chiang Mai offices of Elephant Nature Park. While there, we met Lek Chailert - the founder, leader, and motivating force for the park. She may be small (that’s what “Lek” means in Thai), but she has an amazing power. After we filled out our volunteer forms, Lek showed us some of the birds that she rescued in a recent Chiang Mai storm. One had two broken legs, and Lek was exercising the bird’s wings while the legs healed. She has an amazing drive to help - a very inspirational person.
Lek and one of her bird friends

We left Chiang Mai around 9:30, and drove the 50km north to the Elephant Nature Park. On the way, we watched a documentary about the work that Lek is doing at the park.

Although we saw our first Asian elephants on the way, they were ones being used to do tourist rides. Knowing that we were heading to an elephant sanctuary where these types of elephants (as well as ones used in the logging industry) are being given a chance to recuperate and live a “normal” life made us a little sad for those being forced to work, but excited for our upcoming experience.

Pulling into the park was an amazing experience. Our first view of the park was from the top of the pass heading into the valley, and we could see the herd grazing on the banks of the river.

Once inside the park, we passed the dog sanctuary (home to over 400 dogs - many rescued from the floods in Bangkok a couple of years ago), and headed to “The Platform”. The raised platform is home to the kitchens (both the “human kitchen” and the “ele-kitchen”), as well as our meeting and dining areas. Around the outside of the platform is a a metal railing that serves as the pull-up feed bar for the elephants. Our first order of business was to help feed a couple of the elephants their lunch - a totally amazing experience to be that close!

After lunch, we got a tour of the facilities, and were assigned rooms and volunteer groups. There are 50 of us here for this week, with about a quarter of those staying for next week (we are part of those).
Our volunteer groups and schedule for the week - all subject to change, of course

We then all met for an orientation session with Lek, where she gave us a brief history of the park, an overview of the work that they do here, and a pep talk for the rest of the week. Unfortunately, Lek is heading to Cambodia tomorrow for other elephant business, but she’ll be back here for next week. We are all looking forward to learning more from her.

Our volunteer group

We all enjoyed our first opportunity to get wet with the elephants - standing in the river hurling buckets of water at these giants was an extremely fun experience, and we all got very wet!

We even saw one of the babies (a boy named Navaan), but his mom and nanny elephants were not in the mood to let us help bathe her! We watched from the bridge while they got a bath and then a snack.

Our volunteer group all got together for a group blessing from the shaman and elders from the local village, and given our “good luck” bracelets in the ceremony.

Then dinner - a great selection of food, but (surprise!) all vegetarian fare. Alex and Leah are both dealing with the menu quite well…
Now off to bed before our first full day of work, starting at 7am tomorrow morning. We’re looking forward to more elephant time, as well as more time with the dogs and cats - they are all over the place! This is truly an animal lover’s dream…


Today at the Elephant Nature Park, we got to learn the ways of the Elephants. First off, we arrived, then our guide showed us around, and then…we got to feel Elephants! Yay! Then we ate lunch then got to our rooms. In the afternoon, we went to the river and gave the Elephants a bath! That was super fun! Tomorrow, I hope it will be as magical as today.


Today I was filled with excitement and that first day of sleep away camp nervous energy - Did we bring the right gear? Will the people be cool? How will the kids react to the elephants? What will the food be like? Turns out being a resident volunteer IS like summer camp! Our first day was filled with introductions, orientations, the official reading of rules and even a blessing ceremony by the local shaman. We have been divided into work teams effective tomorrow and I’m confident that our life here will fall into familiar patterns soon. One of the gifts I had not anticipated is the other animals here. There are hundreds of cats and dogs who make themselves quite at home. We have a dog sleeping on our balcony and there is something so normal and wonderful about being greeted when we return “home” to our room.


Today was epic. I touched my first elephant, and I was so happy! We woke up at 8am to go to the Elephant Nature Park. We were picked up at 8 in the morning and got to the park at around 10am. We were shown the entrance to the park and the entrance to the dog park. Then we were shown the mess place where the elephant food gets delivered. It was a TON of food!

Then we were taken to the mess hall, and that was immediately followed by feeding the elephants. It was so awesome - I will never forget the first time I fed an elephant. After a tour of the park, we had lunch. After lunch we had a volunteer orientation - it was boring but I did learn a lot. At 4pm we all went down to the river to wash the elephants. We all got soaked! It was a lot of fun!

Posted by noahv 07:56 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand elephants elephant_nature_park Comments (6)

Volunteering as We Travel

Anne's Thoughts on Voluntourism

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
(Aesop, "The Lion and the Mouse")


I think of volunteering on our world trip not as a chance for us to change the world – it is more like giving the world the chance to change us.

Why Volunteer?

I came upon this compulsion to volunteer quite naturally. It may be genetic. My parents are Peace Corps Volunteers (I don't say "were" because even though their actual volunteer time was over before I was born - I've always considered it an integral part of their characters). My three sisters and I were raised in a home brimming with guests from different cultures, exchange students, and expectations of community service. Their stories of volunteering in Malasia (Mom) and Thailand (Dad) were filled with anecdotes of how much they had to learn - rather than accolades of what the locals learned from them. I have taken that to heart.

Volunteering provides a unique opportunity to get involved in something bigger than ourselves – to forge relationships and open portals to understanding. I do believe that we have something to contribute, but I expect that the line between teaching and learning will be blurry at best. I am most looking forward to the people we will meet and the experiences we will share. I have SEEN things that have changed my perspective - but it is in the DOING, that risky leap of faith, the willingness to LEARN – that changes lives. I want that for myself and for my family. We can stretch ourselves to be more than tourists. For me, volunteering as we travel is more important than merely “seeing the world”.


Can you be a volunteer and a tourist at the same time?

Yes, of course! However, all you have to do is Google "volunteer thailand" to come face to face to face with the overwhelming number of options out there. I've found that narrowing them down requires time, patience, and clear personal "want/don't want" criteria.

While researching volunteering possibilities, I've found the term "voluntourism" or "VolunTourism" used predominantly by tour operators marketing a "unique experience" and a chance to "give back" to the communities involved in their specific trip. The package deals seem to cater to mostly "gap year" backpackers and retired folks - but some accommodate families - and look really cool. It is certainly tempting to have someone else in charge of arrangements - but I would say that paying to have the volunteer experience quickly went on the "don't want" list. There is no shortage of free or almost free volunteering opportunities the world over - they just require a bit more creativity and planning to arrange.

Our Version of Voluntourism

Well, we ARE on a budget, have limited time, and are travelling as a family - so we pretty much need to piece together our own opportunities. If we can do it - anyone can! Here is the WHERE, WHEN, WHAT, and WHY of the volunteer experiences we have lined up so far . . .

  • PERU July - October 2012

Cusco - We have made a personal connection and enrolled in 6 weeks of classes at an immersion Spanish School (AMAUTA) and their affiliate Travel Agency (DOS MANOS) in Cusco, Peru. We love that they have arranged for us to stay with a Peruvian family, the rates are super reasonable, and that Alex and Leah will have a teacher all to themselves. They also have contacts with local volunteer projects including a school. After 6 weeks of class we will be free to decide how to spend our time and where to stay - we'll be leaving ourselves open to opportunities. I'd especially love to put my ESL Certification to good use. Our hope is that spending four months in Cusco will give us time to participate in the community, learn some of the language, and appreciate the culture more richly.

  • CAMBODIA March/April? 2013

Ponhea Kraek - Our sponsored child, Neng, lives in this rural Cambodian village. We have been exchanging letters for the past 2 years and are excited to meet each other in person. We are asking Plan to make arrangements for us to spend time volunteering at the local school and hanging out with Neng and her family.

  • THAILAND May 2013

Chiang Mai -
Elephant Nature Park Oh, yeah, the kids are super excited about this one!
To volunteer here as a family we submitted an application, were accepted, and signed up months ago for our two weeks in the middle of May. This experience will be not only about the elephants. We will be living in a hut with no running water, getting up early, helping prepare communal meals, and putting in full days of labor - How could we not learn and grow from that? There is a fee associated with volunteering but the money goes directly to supporting the rescue and advocacy efforts of Elephant Nature Park - so I'm OK with that.
More articles about the Elephant Nature Park:
The Nation (Thailand)

  • CHINA June 2013

We are still working on setting up specific arrangements for volunteering in China - but we have a couple of great contacts there who have offered to help us with placements at:

a Panda Sanctuary outside Chengdu, and

an Orphanage near Beijing

Staying Connected

It is inspiring to read about the adventures of other travelling families. The Earlywines are my favorite. Here is a link to their blog about volunteering in Peru. Vagabond Family is also proving to be a great tool for connecting with families engaged in long term travel. Special thanks to BootsnAll for their Indie Travel Challenge and "giving back" blog posts that inspired this one.

I hope that we will all catch the volunteering bug during our trip - and don't recover from it when we return to our life in Seattle.

Thanks for reading, I look forward to your comments.

Posted by annevl 15:33 Tagged peru thailand china spanish family volunteer teaching esl language_school Comments (6)

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