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During the school break, from the 17th to the 21st of February three G11 UWCT students, Kechen (China), Tenzing (Tibet) and Rosalia (Namibia) had an astonishing opportunity to volunteer at the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary.

Tenzing explains that for him waking up at 8:30 am even though his body pulled him back to the bed as it was holiday week; he was always grateful that he pushed himself to wake up because he was able to get the much-needed breakfast when I did. The students left campus at 9:00 am and we arrived at the registration office around 9:30 am. From there they headed to the sanctuary in a tuk-tuk with other volunteers and guests. The learned that this carpooling was an initiative implemented to minimize air pollution near the sanctuary that would be caused if everyone drove their own cars.

At the sanctuary, they showed the introductory video before they split everyone into smaller groups, led by guides. The video was really heartwarming, it explained how each of the elephants was rescued and what their condition was before they came to the sanctuary. After the introduction, the students had the chance to meet the elephants.

“I remember my first glimpse of the full-grown Asian elephant, bathing in the sun and flinging its strong trunk in the air. It almost felt like a dream, and of course, it was nothing the media portrayed. The animal I saw was huge, with wrinkled skin, feet that looked like a tortoise and other additional distinctive features. I couldn’t help myself but stare at nature as the car in which I arrived in sped off to the main gate of the sanctuary. I was amazed but what I saw, stimulated by what I was yet to see!” exclaims Rosalia. It was the first time she had seen an elephant in the flesh and the experience didn’t disappoint.

During the fives days, the students volunteered at the Elephant sanctuary, every day was another new lovely day. Tour guides were always on the doorstep to help put their belongings away and change into their working clothes and boots. They did this with kindness, sense of care and appreciation, it almost felt like we were sharing the warm home with the elephants. At the start of each day, the guides would inform us about the journeys of the elephants who are now in a safe and comfortable home.

“Learning about the elephants’ sad stories stirred emotions from within and I guess the same happened for everyone else as I spotted shattered tourists wipe away bitter tears.”

Rosalia

The elephants have been chained to human ways of life, they have been pinned with nails, they have been exploited in industries and have endured all other sorts of hardships. These stories gave momentum to the hard work the students was prepared to do for the elephants.

The students spent every morning cleaning the elephant’s cages, removing their dung and residues from their dinner the previous night. It was fun, and the jokes and “great singing” experienced in those kraals made the work seem much easier than it was.

Throughout the five days, the students helped the sanctuary staff clean, feed and assist in various tasks around the sanctuary. They went into the jungle to cut down bamboo stems in order to make bamboo straws, in order to replace the plastic straws that were previously used in the sanctuary. They made salt licks for the elephants which involved digging 40cm deep and 2 meter wide pits in the ground in which they buried large cubes of mineral salts which they covered up for the elephants to find on their own.

Tenzing explains “It was fun and I thought that this method was better than spoon-feeding the elephants as they need to regain their freedom.”

The five-day service was indeed an enlightening and fulfilling experience, I am grateful that I got the opportunity to do service for those gentle giants.

Tenzing

That’s how the five days of service went by with love, laughter, service and joy. It was truly an unforgettable experience for all.

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