On the Road and In Your Backyard

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Today, pictures from valued commenter satby.

I thought I’d share some pics from my recent volunteer vacation. I was in a group of 12 “over 50s”, all women, at the Elephant Project outside of Surin Thailand and at a rural village in Cambodia outside Siem Reap. You can read about the Surin project here: https://www.saveelephant.org/surin-project/
but the gist is that it offers the tribal elephant owners an alternative to subjecting their animals to inhumane labor.

In Cambodia, we had two linked projects in the rural village, either teaching English in the local schools or helping build toilets or houses for the local villagers. They normally used pit latrines in the jungle, so these were greatly valued contributions. So is teaching English by native English speakers, which offers better employment prospects. I’m certified as a TEFL/ TESOL teacher, so that’s what I did.

My adorable kindergarten class.

Taken on 2018-02-08

We had a lot of fun, worked on pronunciation and they also taught me a few words of Khmer. The teacher is only 19, but very good. She’s a graduate of the school’s first class and attends university at night. She worked miracles with almost no supplies.

Snack time

Taken on 2018-01-30

This is Nun Loc, one of the elephants at our homestay. She loved bananas, and liked to have you put them in her mouth. She was very gentle, but we never went near her or any of the elephants without her mahoot nearby. That’s him looking on.

Good morning Baby!

Taken on 2018-01-29

Nun Loc’s little brother was a scamp. They had to keep him on a chain even though they had built him an enclosure because he liked to knock down the fence at night. And when you were out of bananas to feed him, he would slap your hand with his trunk to show his aggravation.

Preparing dinner for the elephants

Taken on 2018-01-31

We helped feed the elephants by cutting bamboo grass. A full grown elephant eats about 300 lbs of food per day, so it’s a continuous job keeping them fed. Our group paid the farmer for the truckloads of grass we cut, it was another benefit for families in the project.

Bath time!

Taken on 2018-01-29

Twice a week we walked about two miles down to the river for the elephants to swim and get washed. The elephants always enjoyed it, and we had to watch to make sure an enthusiastic elephant didn’t decide to roll over on us.

The walk to the river

We all walked, even the mahoots.

The Elephant Graveyard

Taken on 2018-03-29

While we were there, our host family suffered the loss of their oldest elephant, at age 50. Elephants have Buddhist funeral services that are similar to ones for humans. The funeral was here, outside the temple at the graveyard, and he was buried here. It was very emotional, though his death had been anticipated the family was still devastated.

Just…wow. My mother had a deep affection and sincere love for elephants, and because of that, instead of flowers, I asked folks to make donations to the African Wildlife Fund as they do great work, especially with elephants. And yes, I realize we’re looking at Asian elephants, who are also endangered. As my mother lived for a few years in Africa and I was born there, we have a stronger bond with them than these gorgeous beauties, and I haven’t researched Asian elephant charities.

Thank you so much satby, do send us more when you can.


Travel safely everybody, and do share some stories in the comments, even if you’re joining the conversation late. Many folks confide that they go back and read old threads, one reason these are available on the Quick Links menu.


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23 replies
  1. 1
    Mary G says:

    That is amazing. Your class is adorable and I would love to bathe an elephant!

  2. 2
    Lapassionara says:

    What a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing.

  3. 3
    Baud says:

    they also taught me a few words of Khmer

    So how do you say Fuck Trump in Khmer.

    These photos are amazing, satby. Thanks for sharing.

  4. 4
    Le Comte de Monte Cristo, fka Edmund Dantes says:

    Beautiful day with the elephants – they’re amazing!

  5. 5
  6. 6
    JPL says:

    What an amazing journey.

  7. 7
    jayboat says:

    Very cool… amazing. Thank you for posting these.

  8. 8
    debbie says:

    Wow, what an experience! You really are a very nice person!

  9. 9
    arrieve says:

    What a wonderful way to start the day. I got to meet some rescue elephants in India, and they are such lovely creatures — smart, funny, bossy. I’d love to do a trip like this.

  10. 10
    rikyrah says:

    Those pictures were awesome 😄😄

  11. 11
    satby says:

    @Le Comte de Monte Cristo, fka Edmund Dantes: yes, they are. We did get a break to go to Angkor Wat, but your photos (and Majorx4’s last year) already had done more justice to it than I could.

  12. 12
    satby says:

    @arrieve: There are several projects in both Thailand and Cambodia, the Thai ones were started by the last queen, Sirikit, who wanted to encourage a more natural life for elephants after using them for heavy labor like logging was outlawed. I went with this group, as their mission is to work within the Surin project to help expand the reach and encourage more families to bring their elephants home. They have groups for older people, like the one I went on.

  13. 13
    satby says:

    @raven: that’s an amazing video. After the older elephant died, they did bring Nun Loc and a neighbor elephant over to say goodbye to the body. I was told that 50 isn’t that old, elephants can live much longer, but the old guy had been used for logging and other work when he was young, which shortens their lives. He had lost all his teeth and wasn’t eating, though they tried to tempt him with bananas they had peeled for him to be able to swallow.
    The Queen’s project pays for the funerals and the truck to carry the body to the graveyard.

  14. 14
    satby says:

    And for people who are interested, there is a wonderful sanctuary here in the US for elephants rescued from circuses. It’s in Tennessee, you can’t interact with them the same way because they’re released into the wild of the farm, but they can live out their lives as they were meant to.

  15. 15
    MomSense says:

    I love these photos, Satby!!

  16. 16
    JanieM says:

    Satby — wonderful. Wow!

  17. 17
    Waratah says:

    Thank you Satby, I loved your class with the school uniforms. I really hated to wear mine when I became a teenager I did not when I was young.
    Your elephant stories are wonderful.

  18. 18
    eclare says:

    Wonderful photos! I too would love to bathe an elephant!

  19. 19
    Tazj says:

    Great pictures!

  20. 20
    satby says:

    @Waratah: several children were there without uniforms, but they are required. I think they tend to be lenient about them because it’s such a dusty, dirty environment and many of the homes have no running water, so laundry day is hard labor.

    The teacher and I drew pictures for the children to color because they had no copy machine. They need everything! We often talk about how much teaching in the third world is rote memorization, but we forget that the reason it’s that way is because there’s few books and no copiers for duplicating lessons and worksheets.

    They’re trying to add on four more classrooms. There’s a gofundme for it started by another volunteer, but it’s moving very slowly.

  21. 21
    satby says:

    @satby: I did put another picture of the class at the gofundme link when I donated if anyone wants to see.

    (In all cases I tried to select pictures where the kids faces weren’t recognizable, as per the morning thread ☺)

  22. 22
    WaterGirl says:

    What an amazing experience, satby! The water in the photo of elephants and people in the river made me feel like I was there.

  23. 23
    satby says:

    @WaterGirl: thank you! It was, but I will say that it was pretty strenuous for people not in good shape. I did fine until the dust in Cambodia got me, but I need to lose a lot of weight to do another volunteer vacation. I’ve been in denial about how fat I’ve gotten and it made a difference. I kept up, but boy did I pay for it!

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