Bachelor of General Studies, majoring in
Tourism with a minor in
Natural Environment and Wilderness Studies
As part of my Bachelor of General Studies I choose Volunteering in Asia as an elective as Volunteer Tourism is a growing market and fits in well with my major in Tourism. This unit has changed my thinking about many aspects of volunteer tourism and I decided to continue with the Professional Placement unit to put the learning into practice.
After extensive research I found my project in the Surin Project in Thailand. The Surin project is a new and innovative project focussed on finding solutions to the challenges faced by mahouts and their elephants in Surin province in North-Eastern Thailand. It is committed to improving the living conditions of Asian elephants and providing sustainable economic revenue for their mahouts in the local community.
As a volunteer I was offered the opportunity to learn about the plight of the Asian Elephant in a traditional elephant village. From the moment I had paid the volunteering fees I knew I had already made a difference in the life of these captive elephants, because the fees go to the salaries of the mahouts (elephant carers). The mahouts are the driving forces behind the project. They have chosen to move away from the abuse and are committed to provide their elephant the best possible way given the circumstances.
Although I could have donated the money that I spent on airfares, I strongly believe that actually being there and experience the lifestyle is so much more powerful. A donation only lasts so long, and the placement is a lifelong lasting memory, that has turned me in a captive elephant advocate for the rest of my life. The placement has changed my thinking on many different levels, for example the cultural complications when trying to achieve the outcomes for the project.
The volunteers within this project get the change to fully experience the Thai lifestyle, from an official welcoming ceremony, visits to the local market and festivals to the bucket showers. I have deliberately chosen for this project, as this is not a sanctuary and I knew that I would be exposed to the horrors in the daily lives of these beautiful animals. The suffering has been really difficult to watch, but it has made me even more determined to do my bit in trying to make a change. And the support of Jo Ingram and Kas Ross has been invaluable. Altogether the whole experienced has enriched me and my studies and has it has definitely helped me to become a better critical thinker.
Anyone interested in this project can contact me by email for more information, as I have so much more to share: Elleke.Leurs@utas.edu.au.
The Surin Project
Tha Tum District, Surin Province,