Elias Romano, México city, 19
I barely knew anything about this place when I signed up to volunteer. I only knew I was going to work with elephants somewhere in Southeast Asia and it was the cheapest program that fitted my schedule… I didn’t expect what that short time would become for me. Even now, three months after I Ieft, It’s hard to explain myself how I ended up with such strong feelings for this place and its people (of course I´m talking about those with the big trunk, but the humans where cool too ;). I arrived at the airport and Rodger and Nadja (my bosses) picked me up, they took me to buy vegan food and then we headed to the White House, the place that became my home for that short time. I just had enough time to leave my stuff and meet Frida, Doop and Circe (the dogs) before we headed to the karaoke bar where I met Pauline and Lea (the interns I shared time with), and some of my local work partners. With some beer in hand we sang (or tried to) beautiful thai songs all night. That was welcome. The first morning they took me to meet the elephants. My personal experience came with emotion, amazement and respect for such mythological beings, also with some questioning and internal dilemmas. Somehow I expected to see the elephants living in his complete natural habitat away from human control, but this is not the reality of elephants now a days in Thailand, and achieving this goal takes willing people to help, and a lot (a lot) of resources. After learning more about the place and the country, exchanging ideas, working and reflecting I came to an understanding that gave meaning to my volunteering: it’s nonsense to volunteer somewhere where all the problems have been solved, because they don’t need your help… here I saw very kind and open minded people willing to share ideas and experiences, and their full priority is the wellbeing of the elephants (physically and emotionally). Almost 100% of the resources goes to their care, and they have strict norms about tourists interactions, including how many people can be with one elephant, how much time they can spend with them and what can they feed them to keep a healthy and balanced diet. Someone there told me that it is a miracle that elephants still roam this earth, considering that they need about 400 kg of food per day in a world where almost all giant mammals have gone extinct (but mostly because they have the ¨smart habit¨ of kicking their babies when they are born). I think part of the reason they still here is because of projects like Tong Bai Camps, wich are not only working hard to improve the elephant’s situation, but also to make them happier. Even though I spent a very short amount of time here, every moment was significant for me. Every look I crossed with the giants and every walk to the river I took with them, every moment of cleaning shit or cutting grass, every meal and every drink, every trip from the market to the budist temple in the mountains to the karaoke bar to the waterfalls and even to the medical clinic… every conversation, every chang (beer mark) in the bierbank, every new word I learned and every person I met. I didn’t feel like a tourist, since the very first moment till the end I felt part of a family. It was very enriching to submerge in the Thai culture while “chang-ing” the world a bit… I miss it like hell and I hope to come back someday, hope for you to enjoy every moment like I did.