Real Volunteering with Elephants that Doesn’t Break the Bank: Interview with the Elephant Whisperer Lek

Now – I am not what you call Paul Bunyan, manual labor kind of guy, not unless running from tuk tuks on a daily basis and lifting Christmas trees during the holidays  count as labor intensive. No sir. And truth be told, I am more than a skeptic when it comes to volunteer organizations, as if you have spent anytime searching the web, you will undoubtedly have stumbled upon many amazing volunteering opportunities (washing turtles, nurturing baby kola bears, Swedish oil massage applicator…no wait that was in Dumb and Dumber), but when you dig a bit deeper into the “amazing, life changing opportunity” you come to find some course fee or volunteer fee of $3,000 bucks tied to it in a country that costs $5 a day to live….ummmm.

So let’s try something a bit different huh. You can peruse this list of cheap gap year destinations too.

So what is Elephant Nature Park? Video Interview with the Founder Lek

What a minute? Why am I being charged to volunteer?

This was one of the major issues I had when I first started this website. I did the typical Google search thing and found cool job opportunities but most had some fee associated with it. To me, when you are looking for work you should be either A- getting paid, B – interning/volunteering with no payment involved but are getting some kind of experience and maybe all the extras (housing, food, compliments and cuddles etc ). So when I see the mysterious option C show up, that being you pay them a high fee and you work, some alarm bells started ringing. As they should. Mama didn’t raise no fool after all.

Hopefully.

Elephant in the wild

The Truth of the Matter.

Here is the deal. With the increase in opportunity for people to travel the world, coupled with more people looking for cool experiences/ways of giving back in the world, so too has spawned the growth of an industry some dub as volun-tourism. This volun-tourism, in a nutshell, is people who volunteer as a part of their vacation. They go to some exotic place, do some good, and get the double bonus of a vacation and giving back in one gesture instead of going to  some resort and drinking yourself into a coma like most Americans on vacation.

What’s so bad about that?

Good question. Well first off, I would ask, where is all this money from the course fee going? A few hundred to cover the costs of sheltering your beautiful self makes sense but some of these organizations fees are so exorbedient I have to throw my bullshit flag.  Some of the these opportunities are offered by Gap Year companies, guising the opportunity has an internship but really they are just tour operators putting make up on the tour. Others are third party organizations that take handling fees with much less of the money going to the organization itself.  Other times, entire volunteering opportunities are created just to rake in these fees and the organization ends up creating more abuse and trouble than doing nothing at all.

two elephants

Enter: SaveElephant.org and Elephant Nature Park

If you wish to spend a week volunteering with the elephants at Elephant Nature Park, it will cost you about $400.  To some, $400 bucks to spend a week with elephants is nothing, while to others this seems expensive. Well – let me tell you, after spending a week there, you definitely see where your $400 goes.  Half of the money goes to keeping you alive – three (huge) vegetarian meals a day, accommodation (mosquitos free of charge), activities, internet, water…etc.- while the other $200 goes into the funding to feed the 35 elephants (shit, they eat 2 tons a day between them), acquire more land so they can rescue more elephants, and to bring in medicine for the aforementioned lovely elephants.

So in short, if you are looking to donate some time and lift the occasional rock or machete or shovel or you just happened to like handling animal poo, then you would find a good – scam free – opportunity volunteering with Save Elephant at Elephant Nature Park.. And if you are piss poor at working in the field like me, then you can hang out and when you least expect it you will have some one on one time with these awesome animals.

Turner out.

cute elephant