Amy Shanahan, Emily Findlay-Parsons & Miss Holt
It’s safe to say ‘MIND BLOWN!’ How lucky we were to spend a month in South East Asia and finish off the 2017 school year with a bang! There’s honestly too many things to mention but I’ll have a go at giving you all a quick snap shot of our amazing experience. The team consisted of 2 Epping Secondary College students (Amy Shanahan & Emily Findlay-Parsons), 5 Daylesford Secondary College students, a teacher from each school and a World Challenge expedition leader. After being supplied with the team funds and a budget/itinerary sheet, the challengers began to run the show. Amy took charge of the books, as the team accountant and Emily demonstrated her strong leadership and communication skills to organise accommodation, transport and activities. I can’t describe how impressed and proud I was of the two girls during the trip. They challenged themselves, supported their team members and embraced every opportunity that was thrown their way.
The team covered some serious distance, travelling by plane, train, bus, taxi, tuk-tuk, ferry, boat and of course by foot, all across Thailand and Cambodia. We slept in hostels, hotels, guest houses and hammocks. We hiked, we sweated, we snorkelled, we swam, we were sea sick and car sick, we unpacked and repacked and played a lot of Uno too. And oh did we eat!
We were privileged to meet some of the most amazing people along the way, whilst also having a great time within our team. Those we met whilst volunteering with Elephant Nature Park, at the ‘Journey to Freedom’ project, will really have a lasting impact and hold a special place in our hearts. They educated us in so many areas, empowering us with knowledge but animal welfare, and the survival of the Asian Elephant, was their main focus. We saw first-hand elephants who had:
· Feet blown apart by land mines (sadly a lasting impact of the war)
· Hips permanently broken because of forced breeding (the negative of tourists’ love for baby elephants)
· Blindness as a side effect of diabetes, which develops from a high sugar diet (their owners and tourists feed them too many bananas!!!)
· Broken legs from logging accidents (luckily it’s now illegal to use elephants for logging)
· Mental health conditions because of poor treatment (tourists who support elephant trekking, elephant bathing, elephant street performance and elephant circus acts are adding to the suffering)
The key message we were asked to spread, was the fact that most elephant suffering stems from malnourishment. These big, beautiful creatures would naturally eat for 20 hours a day on a wide variety of food sources. When they spend a large portion of their day working (trekking, getting bathed, or doing tricks) they’re not eating and when they’re not fed, they’re usually not provided with the mix of nutrients they need to be healthy. It’s also important to know that elephants actually need to be muddy and dirty to keep mosquitoes and parasites at bay, as well as protect themselves from the sun. Unfortunately, dirty elephants aren’t very attractive to tourists, so once again the health of the elephant is often sacrificed in the name of tourism. The founder of the Elephant Nature Park, Lek Chailert, has recently starred in a documentary called ‘Love and Bananas’ which I am positive would be a worthwhile watch. As a celebration of our volunteering experience, we will be running one final fundraiser. Profits will go towards sponsoring a rescued elephant on behalf of Epping Secondary College. If you’re interested in looking into this yourself, it’s a creative and selfless gift for someone who is an animal lover or someone who has everything (find sponsorship options at saveelephant.org).
Excitingly we’ll be launching details of the 2019 World Challenge trip early in term 2.