The Plight of Asian Elephants: Volunteering in Thailand

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My first overseas volunteering experience was in Thailand in 2008 at WFFT with Globalteer. It was the beginning of a year travelling and I couldn’t think of a better start to an amazing year. WFFT is an animal rescue centre about 6 hours outside Bangkok, in a beautiful rural area. The grounds themselves are picturesque. It was like living in the middle of the jungle. I was volunteering as part of the group looking after abused elephants in the elephant sanctuary part of the centre. During the day, the elephants stay in an enclosure and are fed and cleaned. They love to eat pineapples and watermelons. At night, they are walked out into the forest to graze and sleep. Every night they need to be left in a different spot in a bid to outsmart poachers who steal elephants for the tourist trade. In the morning, they are walked back to the centre. The morning and evening walks were amazing.

EVERY year without fail, I see people on my Facebook riding elephants on holiday in Thailand and other popular destinations and it breaks my heart. I often post articles to try and deter them but it mostly falls on deaf ears. (More of that willful ignorance I have mentioned before). Its seems people are more interested in having that quintessential elephant ride or tiger or monkey picture than learning about how the animals are treated. In reality, the animals are captured by killing the parents and stealing the young. To train them, they are starved and beaten into submission to break their spirits and once trained are kept in awful conditions.

Elephants in Thailand.  (from Globalteer.org)

There are only around 2,000-3,000 wild elephants in Thailand

When commercial logging was banned in Thailand there was no longer a demand for working elephants and their owners were forced to resort to different ways to make an income. Unfortunately, in many cases, this meant exploiting the elephants for the tourist industry.

The growth of urban areas in Thailand, has seen the elephants natural habitat become smaller and smaller. 

Many elephant owners took their animals to the big cities and today there are many elephants roaming the city streets at night, the dirty, hectic city environment is far from ideal for these elephants, which are by nature forest dwellers.

The noise and traffic causes them considerable stress, not to mention the dangers posed by the traffic.

Every year many elephants are killed or injured in traffic accidents. City elephants are frequently malnourished and do not consume anywhere near the amount of food that they should eat every day just to prevent excretion on the streets.

In the daytime the city elephants are kept hidden away from view in unsuitable locations such as rubbish tips or disused car parks, often without adequate shade and no access to good food, only leaves from city trees intoxicated with pollutants.

Elephants are frequently drugged to keep them calm in the chaotic city environment.

Many city elephants suffer from respiratory diseases as a result of constantly breathing in polluted air and are at risk of standing on broken glass and other debris on the streets leading to infections.

They are not bathed regularly, as elephants should be, and this often leads to skin diseases.

Thailand has a thriving tourism industry. Unfortunately this has been exploited by people wishing to make money by using elephants as ‘entertainment’ and every day hundreds of animals are suffering at the hands of humans purely to make a profit for their owners.

They are forced to perform degrading and unnatural tricks, often being beaten with spike hammers. Kept on chains 24 hours a day, these animals lose their dignity and freedom and merely exist as moneymaking commodities. The elephants are worked hard, often with out shade, and denied the much needed time for eating, drinking and bathing.

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In many ways, this was an eye-opening trip. I met people from all over the world, many of whom were activists and seasoned travelers. I was exposed to a lot of new (to me) ideas which have stayed with me and had a big influence on my politics and lifestyle. Just last year, I met up with one of my friends from WFFT in Amsterdam and had a ball reminiscing about our days walking the elephants.

Ready for your first experience volunteering overseas?

A friend of mine, Cátia Lúcio, shares her experiences at WFFT here.

Volunteer with elephants through Globalteer in Thailand or Cambodia.

Volunteer Stories: Cátia Lúcio

Catia Lucio

Cátia Lúcio: Portugal

I met Cátia in Thailand a number of years ago when we were both volunteering with Globalteer with Wildlife Friends of Thailand. It was the first time for both of us to volunteer overseas.

WFFT is about 6 hours north of Bangkok in the Petchaburi province and is a rescue centre for abuse and abandoned animals.  It is a beautiful location and I loved hearing all the sound of nature at night when we were sleeping. Cátia and I were in different programs, I was on the team who worked only with elephants whereas Cátia worked with many other animals. There were bears, crocodiles, monkeys, a horse, dogs, cats, iguanas and so many more I don’t remember.

It was a fairly expensive program, with a large donation to the centre but accommodation and three meals a day are provided. They cater for vegetarians too. Accommodation was shared rooms and pretty basic but you are right in the middle of the jungle and it was an experience like no other. I loved it! Your duties are mainly feeding and cleaning and there was lots of extra time for relaxing and socialising. It is also close to Cha Am and Hua Hin where you can go to the beach on your days off.

Before going: 

Visa: you can get a landing visa on arrival in Bangkok airport.

Vaccinations; I was vaccinated against rabies, typhoid, Hepatitus A and B

Medication: Malarial medication is a good idea in this area.

 

These are some pictures I took while volunteering at WFFT;

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Volunteer Stories: Jaclynn Joseph

I’ve decided to add a “volunteer stories”section to my blog. I want to give you guys first hand information from actual volunteers so that you have a better idea about the programmes featured and of course, helpful advice and tips.

volunteering at the Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand

volunteering at the Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand

The first volunteer to be featured is fellow Taipai expat, and friend of mine, Jaclynn Joseph who volunteered with The Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket Thailand last Chinese New Year.  Jaclynn is an animal lover, and very involved in animal charites as a volunteer and fundraiser. You can read the full interview here.

Time to Say Goodbye

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My last day in Saigon was bittersweet. I am excited to see my friends and get back to my life in Taipei but saying goodbye is never easy. It has been a rollercoaster ride! Sometimes it been very challenging but overall, an amazing trip. I have learned so much about development and fundraising and feel more determined than ever to pursue a job the charity sector. For the past few weeks I have been so excited to get home to Taipei but as it drew closer and the reality of what I’m leaving behind set in, I began to feel sad. I have met some really wonderful people here and will really miss them, and of course, all the projects I’ve had the privilege of working on.

This morning I bid farewell to my gorgeous class at Phú Nhuận  and introduced them to their new teacher, Michael, a teacher from Galway. They wrote me some beautiful letters, and the teacher made me a gorgeous bracelet. I also got a new keyring, a chicken. So, now I have a flower, a bag, a shoe and a chicken! (the chicken is my fave for sure!). I did get a little choked up but I held it together well and all in all it was a nice farewell with lots of smiles and hugs!

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  my assorted hand-made keyrings!

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my new arm candy

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saying goodbye!

After English class, I rode my bike to Little Rose to say good bye and to give them my bike as a gift. Ms. Thien said that she would give it to a girl who has just started vocational training and will need a bike to get to and from there. So, I’m really happy that they will get such good use out of it!

Ms Thien gathered all the girls into the office to say goodbye and thank you to me. I was totally overwhelmed and didn’t expect such a fuss! They sang a song and all said thank you.  I will really miss everyone at Little Rose and feel so honoured to have been part of their team for three months.

Our crowdfunding campaign is almost ready to be launched, to raise money to keep the shelter going of the coming financial year. I will be updating A LOT to make sure these girls get their funding and the centre can continue the amazing work they do!

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bye bye bicycle!

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with the girls from Little Rose

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purple fish! A gift from the girls at Little Rose

I often meet people who tell me they would love to go away somewhere and volunteer for a month/three months/ a year but work and life in general gets in the way. This is the third time I have gone on a extended trip to volunteer and I cannot emphasise how much good you can do if you do a little research. It doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg and the results can be incredible. Bite the bullet, book a flight and make a difference to someones life.

Why Volunteer?

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As a serial volunteer I get asked, often, “why do you volunteer? What do you get out of it?”

Mostly, volunteering is a way for me to put my beliefs and values into action. I have always given to charity but I do not have much to give so the impact I make is fairly small. However, I do have free time and skills I can offer and that’s how I can make a much bigger difference.

The benefits of volunteering are incredible and many not for profits could not exist without volunteers. Volunteering is a great way to get experience in a particular area of work. It is an excellent way to meet new people and some of my best friends and favourite people are people I met while volunteering. It can look brilliant on your CV or university application. Whatever your motivation, get out there and do some volunteer work. You will not be sorry!!

Whereas some of the bigger NGOs can afford to pay all their full time staff, they still need volunteers to fundraise and become involved in campaigns and projects. Many smaller NGOs rely more heavily on volunteers, some operating 100% on volunteers.

There are so many ways in you can volunteer your time and talents. You can volunteer overseas and at home. From walking dogs who live in a pet shelter, to doing a charity run, using your expertise to advise and consult (IT advise is a great example of this). You can get out in your community and plant trees, clean up public areas. You can volunteer at hospitals, support helplines. You can get involved in sports clubs and even local government. The list is endless, and there are so many fun options!(for more information on the types of volunteer work you can do overseas, see my article “Making Your Time as a Volunteer Count“)

International Volunteer Day is December 2013. Whether its an hour, and afternoon, a weekend, or longer, get out there and do some volunteer work!!!

Lunch at The Green Bamboo Shelter

I finally got around to having lunch at the Green Bamboo today and it was so good I plan to go back tomorrow!

“The Green Bamboo Warm Shelter for boys houses up to 20 boys who have been separated from their families due to circumstances including parental imprisonment, abandonment, abuse, and runaways. The goal of the shelter is to reunite the boys with their families within a three to six month period. The shelter works in collaboration with the Ho Chi Minh City Children’s Welfare Association to care for, and provide short-term employment opportunities for boys from all parts of Vietnam.” (http://outreachvietnam.blogspot.com/p/green-bamboo-shelter.html)

Recently, The Green Bamboo was fitted with an industrial kitchen and opened a lunch restaurant. The boys who are interested, have been trained how to cook, how to run a kitchen and customer service skills.

Every day they have a meat option and a vegetarian option for around 30000vnd, super cheap!

Upon arrival we were greeted with smile, the service was friendly and fast and the food was delicious.

veggie spring rolls, noodles, cucumber and yummy dipping sauce.

veggie spring rolls, noodles, cucumber and yummy dipping sauce.

fresh fruit served with ever meal, today we had watermelon!

fresh fruit served with ever meal, today we had watermelon!

The Green Bamboo restaurant is at 40/34 Calmette Street, Nguyen Thai Binh Ward, District 1, HCMC and is open for lunch from 11.30-1pm Mon-Fri.

Teacher’s Day

Teacher’s Day in Vietnam is on November 20th and I received a lovely girt this morning from my cuties in Phú Nhuận!

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One from each kid and they made them themselves. So cute!

I’m really going to miss these guys when I head back to Taiwan next week. They brighten up my week, every time I see them.

 

Trafficking in Asia: Modern Day Slavery

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The Little Rose Shelter helps girls who have been sexually abused or trafficked, or who were in high risk situations. I wanted to research trafficking in Vietnam to see how big the problem is. What I found was pretty shocking. Human trafficking is the third most profitable illegal activity, right after drugs and arms dealing, and business is booming.

The Facts

-An estimated 2.5 million people are in forced labour (including sexual exploitation) at any given time as a result of trafficking

56% are in Asia and the Pacific

10% are in Latin America and the Carribbean

9.2% are in the Middle East and Northern Africa

5.4% are in sub-Saharan countries

10.8% are in industrialised countries

8% are in transition in countries

-161 countries are affected by trafficking

-the majority of victims of trafficking are between 18-24 years old

-an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year

-95% of victims experienced physical and/or sexual violence during trafficking

-43% of victims are used for forced commercial exploitation, of whom 98% are women and girls

-32% are used for forced economic exploitation, of whom 56% are women and girls

-In 46% of cases, the victims knew their trafficker

-Estimated global annual profits made from human trafficking are US$31.6 billion

-In 2006 there were only 5,808 prosecutions and 3,160 convictions worldwide. This means that for every 800 people trafficked, only one person was convicted.

(data from UN)

Trafficking in Vietnam

Vietnam is known as a “source country” for women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation and labour. This means the women are “sourced” here and then exported to other countries. They are often trafficked to China, Cambodia and other surrounding countries. Some men and women actually migrate willingly and legally for work and subsequently face forced labor and debt bondage. “Domestic trafficking” is also a huge problem in Vietnam, where victims are lured from their rural towns into the city in hopes of a job which will enable them to send money home to their families. Vietnam is also a destination country for Cambodian children trafficked for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Vietnam, as well as many South East Asian countries is fast becoming a popular destination for pedophiles, with from all around the world coming here.

Between 2004 and 2009, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) reported nearly 3,000 Vietnamese victims of human trafficking.Traffickers prey on the poorest and most desperate of families, they sell them promises of money, jobs, and a better life and parents send their children with them clinging to the hope that their children will have a better life than they did. Traffickers are skilled liars, and they know how desperate these people are to believe.

Unfortunately, the government response has been to  focus on “awareness” rather than more action on the ground actually rescuing trafficking victims. So many organisations consider this kind of rescue work too dangerous. The result being that many kids remain to be held hostage in factories and brothels.

Someone who IS on the ground, is Michael Brosowski who runs Blue Dragon, an NGO based in Hanoi that has rescued more than 300 kids from trafficking since their doors opened in 2005.Once rescued, they are brought to the Blue Dragon centre to speak with a social worker. They are provided with a place to stay, food and access to education and training. Michael originally came to Vietnam to teach English but quickly recognised the plight of street kids and wanted to help so he set up his own NGO. Blue Dragon has become very well know in Vietnam due to their hands on approach and phenomenal results. In a short number of years, they have sent 2,686 kids back to school and training, provided accommodation to 153 girls and boys and so much more. To read more about Michael and the Blue Dragon you can check out their website, http://www.bluedragon.org.

The latest goings-on at The Little Rose Shelter

Busy, busy week at the Little Rose Shelter;

Fundraising meetings, an open day to prepare for, new volunteers, website updates, and a really nice dinner all together. Staff, kids and volunteers.

On Tuesday evening we had dinner with the girls, and ice-cream! It was a really fun evening.

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stew, cooked by the girls. It was really, really delicious! And lots of yummy tiger prawns and french bread!

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I ate the ice-cream way too fast to take a picture!

Fundraising Update.

Ole has been working tirelessly on fundraising and had some very successful meetings this week!

We received a donation of $1000 from a very generous Japanese businessman.

Megan and I have been working on a crowdfunding page and will hopefully be able to get it up and running within the next week.

Paypal buttons have been installed to the WordPress and Facebook pages to make it easier for our supporters to donate.

The centre is hosting an information day on Tuesday for prospective donors, and anyone who is interested in learning more about Little Rose to come and see the great work they do. There will be some short documentaries, a demo lesson with the social and emotional learning program and a chance to talk to staff and volunteers about the centre.

Weapons of Mass Production: Volunteering with Green Youth Collective

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Yesterday (Sunday) I volunteered in District 9 with Youth Green Collective. It was so nice to get out of the city and get some fresh air. The land is tucked away inside a small Vietnamese village with plenty of coconut trees, banana trees and right on the Dong Nai river.

Green Youth Collective is a small, non-profit with the goal of creating awareness and interest in green and sustainable products and practices in Saigon. Ultimately, the aim of the business is to train local disadvantaged youths to assemble, install, and maintain green roofs, vertical and container gardens.

Their first project however, is a plot of land in district 9, which they will use as their headquarters and for training. “GYC has realized that for all we hope to accomplish, we need a large space to carry out our experiments, demonstrate our products, and educate our future employees. The land in D9 is 6000 square meters, and will be our education center for hands-on learning.This will be a space designed to inspire the youth and anyone who comes to visit. We envision hosting both local and international courses in areas such as permaculture, natural building, natural product making, design, organic gardening, meditation, yoga, traditional crafts, or whatever area someone is motivated to host a course in. The Green Youth will also be trained here, so for a few months before they begin their job of installing our products, they will get hands on experience with the soil, seeds, building, maintaining, planning and designing.”

This is what some of the plans look like;

https://www.facebook.com/notes/green-youth-collective/things-to-do-at-the-d9-land/566962910007352

Its a really interesting and exciting project. I will be really curious to see how things are going in a month, three months, even six months down the line when I am back in Taipei!

Progress so far…..

handwash station

handwash station

two clay stoves have almost been finished

two clay stoves have almost been finished

banana tress have been planted around the shower but while they are growing, coconut leaf walls has been put up for shade and privacy

banana tress have been planted around the shower but while they are growing, coconut leaf walls has been put up for shade and privacy

shower floor

shower floor

some beds have been made but nothing has been planted just yet

some beds have been made but nothing has been planted just yet

Imagine the delicious meals you can cook when the all the raw materials you need are growing right in your kitchen!

Yesterday, we started to make the compost heap.

clear the patch and put up post around the edge

clear the patch and put up post around the edge

I forgot to take a picture of the first layer, which was dry sticks and branches to keep the compost a little off the ground and let air circulate.

green leaves

green leaves

a little lime

next: a layer of brown leaves

cow dung mixed with water goes on top.

Then repeat! We covered the compost heap with coconut leaves to keep the heat in.

I hope to get out to district 9 again before I leave at the end of this month. Watch this space………