Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Greenhouses & Elephants: Thailand

One of the best parts of Hero Holiday trips with Live Different is the ‘building project’. This project will vary depending what trip you happen to be attending. In Mexico and Dominican Republic you will build a house for a family, in Haiti you help build a school. The building project in tThailand is a little different. Our volunteers only travel once a year to the children's home which also receives sustainable funding from other organizations. This makes a ‘year after year’ project a little more difficult. So, this year, we built a greenhouse.

A greenhouse, you ask? Your first thought is probably ‘cool’. Then you really think about it and question why, in a place so hot year round, we would build a greenhouse. Well, this particular greenhouse is almost the opposite of what we are used to in Canada. Our Canadian greenhouses are designed to keep heat in, allow in sunlight, etc. The greenhouse we built in Thailand was thoughtfully composed to keep the sun out. Keeping the sun out means the plants have an opportunity to grow without being burnt by the hot rays of sunshine.

A few things make this particular project amazing:
Putting up the netting for the greenhouse!
  1. As volunteers, we were able to see the previous attempts the home took to grow vegetables in the space where the greenhouse was going to be built. It was obvious this was a need—a need that was only discovered after their basic needs were met. This home has dormitory spaces for the children, a library and meditation area, washroom facilities, common areas and a massive basketball/random sport court. Once the basic needs were met, the home was able to dream about ways to make themselves sustainable and also turn a profit from markets. Enter, the greenhouse.
  2. This project required everyone. Teamwork is always the best—especially when working on such a beneficial project. The older boys helped dig holes and mix cement, the younger kids jumped in on the bucket line to transfer said cement to said holes to hold the posts in place, the older girls helped stitch the netting/fabric for the top of the greenhouse—there was a job for everyone who wanted one! Even the really young kids helped plant some seeds so they could begin to sprout! It was only with this teamwork the goal was accomplished.
  3. On the last day the home throws an awesome Goodbye Party! As part of the farewell they extended an invitation for us to return next year and eat the vegetables they will be growing!
It’s amazing how a big vision, paired with driven teamwork, can create something so outstanding!

That same concept is true where we had the surreal opportunity to ride elephants! Anantara is a super fancy hotel that also has an elephant and Mahout rescue program. Commonly elephants are kept as street-begging elephants, are abused and are not kept properly to sustain their long lives. Anantara rescues not only the elephant, but the mahout as well. An elephants Mahout is their owner, the individual who has trained them and has done life with them. This person is valuable to the survival of the elephant. Since elephants live so long, the mahout is often with the elephant from the beginning! Rescuing both the Mahout and elephant means the elephant is safe and properly cared for and the mahout and their family receives a wage, shelter, and education! Anantara even rents the elephants from the Mahouts for the use at the hotel! It’s such an amazing model that does incredible things to both protect the elephants and the owners families.

Riding elephants is quite the experience! The elephant I rode is named Lana. She is 28 years old and was a hungry lady! Let me tell you, the last thing I wanted was a 'hangry' elephant so we let her eat! When learning to ride an elephant you are taught how to mount, commands to move the elephant forward, backwards, left, right and how to stop. You learn to dismount and then mount again another way.

Lana and I chilling in the water.... before I became
completely drenched!
After our Elephant 101 crash course it was our turn to mount the elephants! It was a little scary at first—I mean, these are elephants! They are massive animals— It is kind of intimidating. However, you get up, do a little test course having your elephant go around pylons, start and stop, and then we were on our way! We rode the elephants around the amazing property and even had a little water time with them which resulted in a lot of laughter, awesome pictures and some extremely soaked volunteers—myself included.

I took this opportunity to chat with the Mahout who owns Lana. He was a lovely gentleman of 35 years old who has owned Lana for over 15 years. He is from Thailand and, while a few other sentiments were exchanged about how he enjoys being at Anantara, he didn’t know enough English to understand the other questions I was asking. It was wonderful to know that our fun was contributing to the sustainability of such an amazing program.

The team of volunteers and their elephants!
It is through experiencing moments, like seeing a greenhouse take shape and riding elephants, we are tangibly shown the good that can come from expanding on potential which exists only once needs are met. To often, after a need is met, the deliverers leave expecting those who have received to easily grow without any further attention. Love, guidance, and encouragement are all needed to continue growth and to reach levels of potential which could have previously been unfathomable.

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