To be fair, we’ve been home for a week. But it has taken me that long to get to wrapping up this blog. I think partially because I wasn’t ready for the trip to be over. In a way, it still doesn’t feel over. I still wake up in the morning and have that first thought of, “what’s on the schedule for today?”
We really had a great time. At least, I know that I did. Of course all the activities we did, places we went, and people we met were amazing. Of course we were lucky to have great weather and safe travel conditions all along. Of course we enjoyed seeing the temples, jungles, cityscapes, mountains, rice paddies, and all the other beautiful scenery.
But really, and there’s no way to say it without sounding cliche, the best part of this trip for me was our students. When you get any group of people together, you never know how the dynamic will be. We really had a special group this year, and it was so great to watch them become friends and explore Thailand.
I was most impressed by the fearlessness of our group. Not that they were reckless, but rather that they were willing to try anything and happy to embrace the challenges that came along. Anais juggled elephant poo. Abi ate a frog. Kate spent a whole day ziplining, even though she’s afraid of heights.The list goes on.
Our group worked with elephants, cutting corn and chopping pumpkin and hauling bananas and shoveling sand. We got sweaty, dirty, muddy, bug-bitten, hot, and tired. We planted rice and climbed mountains. When there was a 6-hour van ride followed by another 4 hours getting thrown around in a muddy truck, they didn’t complain. When it poured in the jungle for days straight, they got really good at playing cards. They even embraced what was perhaps our most daunting task was the late-night rest-stop dinner on the highway the last night. (Sorry about that one, folks.)
I think this summer was a testament to the benefits of throwing yourself head-first into a challenge and embracing it. I can’t thank the students and their parents enough for a wonderful summer, and I hope some of you will be back to join us on future adventures.
As you can tell, we’ve had a busy few days working on these conservation projects and trying to get them started. Everyone’s at least got the beginning of something to bring back with them at the end of the trip. I’m impressed with the drive to tell others about what we’ve seen and learned, whether through writings, presentations, videos, or other outreach.
Today is our last day at Spicy Thai, which is bittersweet. We’re sad to be leaving, but that just shows how much we’ve enjoyed it here.
For the next week, we’ll be participating in the Journey to Freedom project run by the Elephant Nature Foundation. We will be outside of the city, away from phones and internet, volunteering in a hill tribe village for the week.
Goodbye Chiang Mai, hello jungle!
We are currently wrapping up our conservation projects, yet mine has just begun! While on a trek last week we visited the Hmong tribe’s village. The Hmong tribe, along with refugee workers are farming villagers. Keeping in mind that our Tour Director, Noom, has been supporting this village for many years I decided I would bring people from my community to Thailand to continue Noom’s good work. This village has a broad spectrum of needs and I am going to bring a group of students with a wide variety of interests to help this community meet some of its many needs.
Before my group leaves for Thailand, we will have accomplished various tasks including raising money for the Hmong villagers and refugees, collecting clothes to give to this hill tribe, and presenting their needs to our community during an exhibition of my schools work.
It is going to be a great time preparing this trip!
April 1st: Arrive in Bangkok PM, take bus to Chiang Mai
-Thai cooking class all day
-Optional Sunday walking night market
April 2nd: Leave for Elephant Nature Park
-Grass cutting in the morning
-Tour of elephants in the afternoon
-Stay overnight at ENP
April 3rd: Leave for Journey to Freedom
April 4, 5: Journey to Freedom
-(We are choosing activities after we know all of our options)
April 6th: Leave Journey to Freedom
-Go to hot springs and stay the night
April 7th: Hot spring trek
-Trek to the Hmong village
-Visit the Shaman
-Rest night in village
April 8, 9, 10, 11, 12th: Help in the village
-Build a house for the villagers
-Teach students English
-Teach them about agricultural techniques, (they use slash and burn which is bad for Thailand’s natural lands)
-Various evening jobs for the villagers
April 13th: Doi Suthep hike and visit temples
April 14th: Jungle Flight Zipline
April 15th: Depart from Bankok AM, arrive in Denver that night
This Itinerary only includes the main daily tasks and will most likely change, but roughly outlines my proposed trip.
For my conservation project I wrote an article about elephants! I plan on sending it to “The Elephants Voice” magazine that the Elephant Nature Park publishes, and “SEA Backpackers” magazine. I also plan on sending it to my local town newspaper. The spacing is a little weird but here it is.
Elephants in Thailand: A Complex Problem
This summer I visited Thailand and learned about the Asian Elephant. In Thailand, the number of Asian Elephants is dwindling. It is estimated that there are less than 1,000 left in the wild and about 3,000 in captivity, while in the early 1900s there were estimated to be about 400,000 in the wild and captivity in Thailand. The amount of jungle and forest in Thailand has decreased and is therefore decreasing the amount of space for the elephants to live safely. They either work in shows for tourists or beg on the streets; while street begging is illegal it sill goes on.The elephants are mistreated and abused. Elephants are taken from their mothers when they are babies and are trained using a torture training method. Mahouts, or the elephants’ caretakers, beat them with metal hooks and starve them. They put the elephant in a crush and beat them until they are submissive. A crush is a tight cage made of wood that forces the elephant not to move. The majority of captive elephants are trained with this method when they are young. In elephant trekking camps, elephants often get injuries or infections that are never treated. The elephants are forced to continue working until an injury either gets too bad for them to move or they become too old to make money.
For my conservation project, I decided to make a curriculum for a unit that could be inserted into the Environmental Ethics elective at my school.
The objective of the unit will be to have the students realize the complications, facets, and possible solutions to the situation of elephant conservation in Thailand. In order for this unit to be interesting to the students, I decided to put them in a scenario where they are each assigned roles that are directly connected to this dilemma: some will be illegal loggers, some will be conservationists, some will be mahouts, some will be elephant-tourism profiteers, some will be elephants, and one person will be the King of Thailand.
Along with having readings and watching videos that give them insight into this problem, they will be in charge of learning more about their specific role and how it relates to all the others that are assigned. For most of them, the goal will be to live; to be able to obtain, somehow, the monetary means to survive. For elephants, the goal will be to live happily. For conservationists, the role will be to work towards having a healthy, growing jungle and to help the elephants in obtaining their happiness.
The different roles (elephants not included) will be given a set monetary amount that will accurately correlate with the amount of money they make in real life. The King will be in charge of a much larger sum of money than the other roles, but that will, again, correlate with the amount of money the Thai government gives to each of the groups every year.
Over the course of two weeks (8 classes total, 55 minutes each), it will be the students’ job to create a sustainable, realistic solution to Thailand’s dilemma concerning illegal logging and the mistreatment of elephants. They will need to take into account – and therefore learn about – Thailand’s financial situation, the laws concerning logging and treatment of elephants (the former of which isn’t being enforced), how the logging industry operates, Thailand’s multifaceted relationship with its elephants, what measures are being done to save the elephants and the jungle, and how the elephants are currently being treated.
At the end of the two weeks, the students will be graded in two parts:
1) 1. How well the group as a whole did in working together to come up with a realistic, erudite and insightful solution to Thailand’s crisis.
2) 2. How the students’ respective roles fare in the face of the changes; are they able to make a living? Are their needs met?
As you can probably see we’re all “finishing” up our conservation projects. For my project I decided to spread what we learned in Chiang Mai and at the Elephant Nature Park to my school, Bard High School Early College in New York City. I decided to write an article to my school newspaper. Of course, after much deliberation and confusion over what my project should be, I didn’t start my article till this morning! Unfortunately, a first and last paragraph is all that lives in this computer and so that’s all I will be posting as of yet.
Volunteering at ENP
Elephants have always been mysterious to me; I saw them as something I would never experience besides staring through bars at the zoo. It wasn’t till February of last year that I thought of learning about and conserving the Asian Elephants. When I found out about the opportunity to travel to Thailand this summer with the program Loop Abroad I couldn’t think of a reason not to.
People always say that every little bit counts. I was always skeptical of this in terms of global issues, such as the endangerment of elephants or other rare wild animals. I relied on wildlife conservation funds and large organizations to save the animals that I love so much. As I spent time at ENP and in Thailand I learned that whatever anyone does will make a difference. One person’s efforts may seem futile at the time but when everyone comes together to help one cause, as people at Elephant Nature Park do, everything seems to have more of an impact.
For more information on the Elephant Nature Park visit http://www.elephantnaturefoundation.org/
For my conservation project I decided to continue preparing for my gap year that I’ll be taking after my upcoming senior year. For two months I plan to go to Ghana and volunteer as a teacher for the Global Ghana Youth Network (GGYN). GGYN was previously the Maine-Ghana Youth Network, but has since expanded. I’ve been involved with this cross cultural program since I was in fifth grade and I finally have the chance to travel to Ghana and meet the kids that I’ve been communicating with for so long. The Global-Ghana Youth Network is a local-global organization working to educate, empower, and inspire youth in the United States and West Africa. In the impoverished Ghanaian neighborhood of Kissehman, we provide desperately needed resources and educational opportunities, meeting children’s basic needs while encouraging them to learn and grow. In America, we work with schools, organizations, and youth groups to facilitate exciting cross-cultural exchange. The organization provides the 150 kids in the village homework help, daily healthy meals, financial assistance to go to school, traditional drumming and dancing instruction, apprenticeships such as basket weaving, and cultural exchange opportunities.
During my stay in Kissehman I plan to teach basic english, math and computer skills. The kids in the group range from ages 3-18 with all different levels of schooling. In the community of Kissehman, many children wish to go to school but their parents cannot pay for their school fees and uniforms. Although they want to learn, these children either sit in the house, go to the market to sell, or play in the community all day. We help children who cannot afford to go to school by providing a safe place for them to learn and play. GGYN and its volunteers provide a more personalized educational opportunity and the option for one on one attention. Although many of the family’s first languages are Ewe or Twi, English is the language of education and business in Ghana so we work to teach the kids how to communicate in English. With extra help to improve their math, computer, and english skills the kids have a greater chance at advancing to higher levels of schooling as well as obtaining a higher paying job in the future. In addition to basic educational subjects I hope to introduce a topic that is rarely a part of these children’s lives: sexual education. In most Ghanaian cultures it is considered inappropriate to even speak of sexuality, let alone teach it. This mindset creates many misconceptions about sex, pregnancy, and STIs, particularly HIV/AIDS. I believe these children need and deserve at least basic knowledge of a sexual education curriculum so that in the future they have the tools to protect themselves and lead a healthy lifestyle. As part of my project I have created a sexual education curriculum that I think addresses the needs of the Kissehman community. I’ve drawn from different educational sources including Planned Parenthood in order to insure factual information. Currently, I’m communicating with Mollishmael Gaba, the head of GGYN, about ways of introducing these topics that are both educational and culturally sensitive.
In order to accomplish this project I am applying for a grant from the Omprakash Foundation to cover my travel and living expenses. The description, written above, of what I’ll be doing in Ghana is an excerpt from a part of my grant application. I’ve been working on sections of the extensive application for my conservation project as well as planning the details of my trip.
You can read more about the Global Ghana Youth Network here.
For my project I did a newspaper article about the Asian elephants and the elephant nature park. I plan on submitting this article to my school newspaper and maybe even my local newspaper in Western Massachusetts.I am hoping to raise awareness about these majestic creatures before they completely disappear from their native countries. Here is my article for all of you to read….
Working with Rescued Elephants in Thailand
The first thing you probably think of when you think of Thailand is the elephant, the national symbol of Thailand. When you visit Thailand you see elephants depicted in different ways everywhere, whether they are sculptures or paintings. However these beautiful animals are in danger of disappearing for good.
Over the summer I was lucky enough to be able to travel to the beautiful Kingdom of Thailand and see these elephants first hand. We spent five weeks in Thailand as part of a program called Loop Abroad, which is a program for high school students to learn something about conservation in a country completely different from their own.
It makes sense that the first question people asked about my trip was whether I got to ride the elephants. The answer to this question for our group was, “ no”. Instead, we spent two weeks working with the elephants in way that was more natural for the elephants. One week we spent at the Elephant Nature Park (ENP). At this park we were able to interact with the elephants, feeding them and giving them baths. All the elephants at ENP were rescued domestic elephants. Whether they were orphaned as babies or rescued after being abandoned when logging became illegal in Thailand in 1989, all elephants had a safe home at ENP. ENP was started in 1995 by a woman named Lek. Driven by her love for the elephants Lek is fighting to make a difference in her native country of Thailand.
In Thailand the law dictates that only wild elephants are protected by law. It is estimated that there are less than 4,000 elephants left in the wild in Thailand. The domestic elephants have no more rights than cattle. People can abuse or even kill their domestic elephants punished only by a fine. These elephants can work giving tourist’ rides or even begging on street corners to raise money for the mahouts. These elephants however are usually beat into submissiveness. Some of the mahouts even use a nail to the ear to get the elephants to do what they want. So although we may like a painting by an elephant or a ride on an elephant, many of these animals have been brutally beaten and will be abandoned when they are no longer useful.
If something is not done in Thailand soon there will no longer be elephants in Thailand and their national symbol will become meaningless. ENP is one of the places that is starting to make a difference, but until tourists stop paying top dollar to ride on an elephant or get an elephant painting the cruelness will continue.
For most people their thinking is why should I even try? I can’t make a difference. I am only one person. However this thinking is not necessarily true. Lek was one person driven by her dream and she has done a lot to help the Asian elephants. You can help by signing a petition online to help stop street begging elephants (http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/street-begging-elephants/). Also when you visit Thailand or any country for that matter you should do a background check on the animals that are there. If you can’t do that at least give the animals a look over and make sure they seem healthy. For more information or ways to help visit www.elephantnaturefoundation.org.