Last Sunday I volunteered as a Course Marshall for the MS Walk & Fun Run. It was unbelievably fun and a rewarding experience. Props go to all the participants.
It took place at Lake Burley Griffin in the heart of Canberra City. Many passers by stopped and told me how amazing I was, thanking me for volunteering my time. Yes, I was there to encourage and guide the runners, and to radio in any injuries or problems, but the participants truly deserve a bigger hand.
What got me thinking about volunteering at a local event was my time in Thailand. In February, 2017, I travelled to Chiang Mai, Thailand, and volunteered for a week at Elephant Nature Park. By far the best experience of my entire life!
You are surrounded by lush mountains, given three delicious meals a day, and help with the feeding and cleaning of elephants. I have loved elephants ever since I was a little kid and I thought they were the stars of the zoo. ENP has 70 elephants, 600 dogs and 200 cats that need all the love and care they can get.
Your accommodation is basic, but your neighbours are literally elephants! The first morning we were woken up by elephants at 4am. It was awesome. I later found out it was because the staff were coming in to prepare breakfast, which set off the dogs barking. A blind elephant was distressed and her friend had to call out and let her know everything was ok. I mean, adorable, right!
Here’s a typical day: 7am, breakfast. 9am, work – example; shovelling elephant poo. 11am, lunch. 1pm, work – example; unloading food trucks and feeding elephants. 3pm, free time to hang out and watch elephants.
Believe it or not, shovelling elephant poo was the most popular job. This job enabled you to be around the elephants the entire time. We could watch baby elephants playing together, and our guides could tells us the stories of where each elephant came from.
Some came from elephant circuses. They would be blinded from the lights, whipped and forced to do tricks. Some came from illegal logging and had broken legs that never healed properly. Some had been used for street begging, and some had stepped on land mines.
There is a lot of abuse behind the scenes of animal tourism in Thailand. Did you know baby elephants are taken from their mothers and kept in cages, hit with hooks, to “train them” to can give tourists rides? Tigers are drugged so tourists can pet them. Even the sucker fish at markets, who eat the dead skin off feet, are in a world of pain. They live in fungus and bacteria (which tourist put their feet in, eww!) and are force to eat that fungus and bacteria.
I saw a lot of footage of animal abuse I can never un-see, and heard a lot of stories I will never forget. The commercialism of animals was too much to deal with and resulted in me turning vegetarian.
I met wonderful people at ENP, many I could consider lifelong friends. I highly recommend you to look into Elephant Nature Park. Click here for all the dets.
Alternatively, this may have sounded horrendous to you. That’s absolutely fine! I do encourage you to find an experience that speaks to you. ENP was on my bucket list for years, and I will never regret the experience.
What’s on your bucket list? Leave a comment if you have had a crazy adventure, or am hoping to in the future. You have the freedom to do what ever you want, you just have to take the steps in order to get there.