I have a list of dreams. Very close to the top of that list is to experience Thailand. The nature, culture, and scenery has always amazed me but seeing it first-hand seemed too far out of reach.
Volunteering is very important to me. There is no better feeling than seeing the difference you can make by donating your time to someone else. By simply lending a helping hand and investing yourself in others or projects you not only improve the life of another but also create a better version of yourself.
Thus, at the start of this year I promised myself I would incorporate both and volunteer in Thailand. I chose an independent project as I thought it would be more intimate and I would be able to fully immerse myself in the Thai culture and develop strong relationships with our Thai counterparts.
I set out our itinerary, tried to learn basic Thai phrases and customs and also organised a plan B in case of travel issues or emergencies. I intended to volunteer in an Eco project for two weeks in Chiang Mai and everything was organised. However, upon our arrival in the North there was Monsoon rain. Our counterparts lived out in the country and we later discovered that the rain had caused their Wi-Fi to cut out and they were unable to connect to Wi-Fi for over a week. However, we were determined this set back was not going to prevent me from making a difference. After a couple of days of research and talking to locals we discovered a wonderful programme that we couldn’t wait to help out in: 9 days at an elephant sanctuary.
Unfortunately, in Thailand these beautiful giants are exploited for commercial purposes: they are ridden and are so badly treated the elephants try to escape, they become unwell and in the worst cases meet their premature death. However, the sanctuary was a safe haven: they are allowed to roam, are fed, bathed and are never ridden! We were immediately inspired by our counterparts. The camp is a model for over 20 new camps in the North and the leader of the camp told us his dream is to eliminate all riding in Thailand by 2020. But this dream is dependent on donations and volunteers. I made sure I asked as much questions as possible. Not only about the elephants but about our counterparts’ way of living, what they loved about their country and their hopes for the future. This allowed me to create strong bonds through helping others which was my main goal for my journey.
The main thing I learned it is that you must prioritise your dreams, immerse yourself in unfamiliar cultures and places, and plan ahead and stay creative. Understanding different countries and customs will help unite the world.