More Than I Could Have Imagined
I have just finished my first week here in the village of Huay Pakoot, Thailand. My experience so far has been more than I could have imagined, and I am feeling incredibly grateful for it all. Although I have experienced many new things in a short amount of time, there are few experiences that have stood out to me the most. An experience I would like to mention is when I went to go see one of the elephants named Charlie. Charlie is one of the younger elephants who was rescued from a camp about 4 years ago. There was something about this particular elephant that truly struck me. I noticed that he was swaying side to side and bobbing his head up and down rather vigorously. I have learned that this behavior is stereotypic, and is a result from animals that have been held in captivity. I have always watched videos online about animals behaving this way and have even given presentations in college about the types of negative impacts captivity can have on animals. Seeing this behavior in person was a whole different experience. It was unsettling and almost too realistic. I am happy to know that Charlie is now living in a more natural and suitable environment. I believe that it is important to be aware and learn about the kind of impact captivity can have on wildlife. Although it was sad to watch Charlie perform this kind of behavior, it only reminded me of why I am here volunteering in the first place. I would love nothing more for Charlie to grow out of these stereotypic behaviors and life the healthy life he deserves.
Third Time’s the Charm
This being my third venture out to Huay Pakoot I feel somewhat well versed in the way of the village. This really mainly just boils down to already knowing the short cuts to certain people’s houses, knowing some Pakinyaw and knowing that coffee club exists. So, the really important things clearly. But in all seriousness being back in this village, it feels like I’ve never been away.
The obvious thing to say about this village is that it makes you appreciate what luxuries you have in western society. However, I personally feel that when you get to know the villagers, see how happy they are and their quality of life. The emphasis is not on what they lack, but conversely what they have in abundance. One aspect of life in the village that I have noticed far more acutely this time round, is the sense of community. A sense of community which I believe is lacking in life back in the UK. At this time the villagers are harvesting the fields for corn, that will go into feeding the livestock. Everyone gets involved in harvesting the fields, because it benefits everyone in the village.
Although I love the elephants, I am challenging myself to involve myself in more of the community. Last time I was here I never once ventured to the school. I’ve helped out with Grade 4 already. They were damn crazy, and the energy they have is just something I can longer relate to at my tender age of 24. I haven’t backed out of my teaching assistant duties yet though, so they weren’t that bad. I deliberately chose a class that my friend Cliodhna was teaching, because then if I feel like I might back out, I’ll feel guilty about letting my friend down, and therefore not back out.
Every Single Day Brings New Discoveries
Ever since I was young I have had an appetite for adventure. I have always known that when I got older I would pack up, travel, and do my part to help make the world just a little bit better. With the world at my fingertips and a little help from modern technology, I began my journey heading east towards Thailand. I found myself living in a small remote village in the northern mountains called Huay Pakoot- helping Asain elephants of all things. Living in a new country is not only educational but every single day brings new discoveries.
I came to learn about the village from GVI, an organization committed to making an impact on the SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals- “a collection of 17 global goals designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”). When I first arrived to the village, my host mom, Jeree, did her best to make my little hut feel comfortable. She styled the room with a homemade rug, a branch lined with hangers, and the bed made up with princess sheets completed with a canopy mosquito net. She showed me the shower, well my bucket I would use to shower, and introduced me to the legendary squat toilet. Adjusting to this new lifestyle wasn’t exactly second nature. Everyday proposes a new challenge, but my biggest challenge thus far is the language barrier. The language of the Karen people is Pakinyaw- it is only spoken in the village and most of the locals do not even know how to write it. In full transparency, learning a language where “milk” directly translates to nipple water has never seemed harder. But even though all the challenges, I have never felt more at home. Doing something so hands on and meaningful is exactly what I want to do.
My organization has eight elephants we help with. We collect data, teach english to the community, and help the locals to prepare to one day have this village be an ethical way for tourist to come to Asian to see elephants. These elephants are rescued from circuses and tourist camps- they are now as wild as possible. They still need a little help though. Each one has their own Mahout- basically their own personal caretaker- and the bond between the two is a love like i’ve never seen. Their relationship is poetic and effortless.
I’ve learned more in this one week then I thought was humanly possible. I never thought I would be so connected to an animal, excluding my dogs of course. I encourage anyone who reads this to ask yourself how you can get involved in something you are passionate about. The world needs a lot of help and just doing a little good everyday will help more than people are aware of. If you are to take anything away from this reading let it be this- asian elephants are a beautiful, endangered species and they belong in the wild.