Mariana Pardo, Colombia, February 2017, 4 weeks
I started 2017 with one of the most wonderful experience in my whole life, getting to work with the elephants in Sri Lanka. The elephants was amazing and I am looking forward to go again to Millennium Elephant Foundation (MEF).
I stayed for one month and the first 3 days I got used to the routine as it was all new to me. But working with her elephants is incredibly amazing and they have beautiful energy that they transmit to you. I really felt a connection with my elephant. You get to feed the elephant every day and at the end of my stay I felt that the elephant really recognized me and that was really amazing!
I really enjoyed making the vitamins balls for the elephants, and I also really enjoying bathing time and scrubbing him in the river with a coconut husk. I even got to do elephant observations; this is a lovely job to do as you have the opportunity to see the behaviour of the elephants.
During my weekends off I went to travel to the beach with other volunteers from MEF, we went to a sea turtle conservation were we had the opportunity to release baby turtles. It was also very nice to just relax during the weekends at MEF, go to the swimming pool down the road or just to observe the elephants all the time. It is an incredible experience and I made great friends.
The food was really good, the bungalow was nice, clean and comfortable and all the people working at MEF are very friendly and helpful.
I am really happy to have had the experience.
Thank you MEF
Madeline & Lydia, New Zealand, February 2017, 3 weeks
My sister and I volunteered at Millennium Elephant Foundation in February 2017. We had an absolutely amazing time and both would love to come back at some stage.
Everyone was fantastic, the volunteer coordinators and the other volunteers, and we think the project manager in particular does an amazing job, she is perfect for that place! As we said we had such an amazing time and think everything is run really well.
Apart from being able to help with such an amazing charity we felt like we got to really see the culture of the country aswell, we had the opportunity to fundraise by completing the popular pilgrimage adams peak and be involved with the conflict to coexistence project in Habanara while also getting to know all the guides and mahouts working at MEF.
Anne Suurhasko, Finland, January 2017, 2 weeks
I spent two weeks volunteering at Millennium Elephant Foundation, and I wish I could have stayed for longer! I got to work with an adorable elephant Pooja, as well as doing some gardening, painting and other work around the place. The daily chores with the elephants included feeding and washing them, giving the needed medication and cleaning up after them. It was amazing to get to work so closely with these majestic animals.
Although the work was a lot of fun, the best part of my volunteering experience was the people I worked with. The volunteer coordinators showed such passion towards the cause, worked hard and did their best so that all us volunteers would have a good experience. Everything was very well organized and it was inspiring to see how much these people cared and wanted to change the world for the better. The local kitchen staff cooked amazing food, and it was fun to get to know the mahouts as well.
At MEF the animals are very well taken care of. Since they can’t be released back into the wild, this is the best possible place for them to be. Im glad I got to support their cause and hope to be back one day.
Rob Townson, UK, January 2017, 1 week
Such a great week at MEF, thank you so much. It was so rewarding to part of the amazing work you’re doing and to get close to elephants that you were caring for. I wish my stay was for longer.
Emily Janoff, USA, October 2016, 2 weeks
My time at Millennium Elephant Foundation was one of the most unique experiences I have ever had. The hands on approach to working with the elephants allowed me to really connect with the animals. A major part of my experience that stands out to me was how much I learned about the history of captive elephants. There are so many layers to unpack about how these elephants ended up where they are and the coordinators did a great job of making sure we were all very informed. I would recommend this experience to anyone as I still look back on it and miss it all the time!
Holly, UK, October 2016, 6 weeks
I volunteered at MEF for 6 Weeks starting in October 2016. The atmosphere and environment is a particularly fond memory of mine. All of the staff were so friendly and accommodating and went out of their way to remember my name to greet me when I went down each day for my daily duties. I in turn took advantage of the opportunity provided by MEF, to learn basic Singhalese so I could greet them back in their mother tongue. Although the locals laughed at my terrible attempts I knew they appreciated the efforts made. This came in handy when getting the opportunity to help the restaurant waiting staff to learn English. Having worked in classrooms in England, it was so rewarding seeing the gratitude of the waiters, their confidence grown and being treated that extra bit special at dinner times!
My favourite part of the day was the morning break after cleaning the Elephant beds. Sitting on the river bank with my (much needed) morning coffee watching the Mahouts perfect the work of the volunteers while the Elephants relaxed in the river was no less than magical! Chores begin quite early, so this break came as the sun was starting to get hot and bathing Elephants wasn’t the only visual treat, being in the heart of the jungle meant you could watch the surrounding wildlife, birds and reptiles ready themselves for their own busy day! It beats sitting in a coffee shop at home watching.
Paola Botia, Columbia, July 2016
It was such a wonderful experience, being so close to these amazing animals was incredible. You can tell from the beginning how hardworking and passionate everyone is to push forward MEF and its project. It was amazing to be part of it even if it was for a short time. I hope I can keep getting involved from Colombia, helping in any way I can. I will for sure be spreading the word about elephant conservation, MEF, their elephants, and all of their amazing projects. I feel they could really make a huge change!
JJ, UK, September 2016, 2 weeks
My two weeks at MEF were the best two weeks of my life! I made lifelong friends, created unforgettable memories and learnt so much. The opportunity to be hands on with elephants, taking on responsibilities including feeding and washing them every morning with my own two hands was amazing. I felt safe at all times and really enjoyed the homemade Sri Lankan food for every meal. A real highlight for me was going to help at a local school, the children were the happiest I’ve ever met. Having the weekends off allowed me to travel around the country with other volunteers. I packed so much in including climbing Adams Peak and also camping on the beach at Trincomalee. I left wishing I was able to stay for so much longer. I would recommend MEF to anybody wanting to have fun and make a difference!
Kian Hutt Vater, 2016
The time I spent in Sri Lanka at Millennium Elephant Foundation (MEF) was absolutely amazing. The work, while sometimes demanding, was incredibly rewarding and the friends I made during my stay are people I will remember forever.
On an average weekday, we would wake up around 7AM and clean the areas where the elephants spend their days. This never took too long and after finishing that job we would bathe the elephants in the river. This may have been my favorite part of my experience at MEF;
there really is not anything quite as breathtaking as scrubbing a creature that can weigh over 12,000 pounds with a coconut husk. After finishing the elephant bathes, we would have breakfast and then clean the areas where the elephants spent their nights. In the afternoons we would spend time doing various projects like painting signs with elephant facts, creating paths for the elephants to walk on, working on ways to build MEF’s social media presence, or translating information in the museum from English to various other languages including French, Italian, and German. Some days we would have a typical start to the day and then after breakfast we would travel to a local temple school and interact with the children there, trying to teach them basic English or coloring with them or sometimes just playing with balloons! During the weekends, we would go on overnight trips around Sri Lanka. There are plenty beautiful beaches to choose from as well as national parks boast a huge verity of Sri Lankan wildlife and cities rich with local culture and historical significance. These weekend trips were an amazing way to finish a week of hard work.
I could not have asked for a better way to spend the five weeks I had in Sri Lanka. Everything about my experience was truly fantastic; the coordinators were knowable and supportive, the other volunteers were friendly and fun to work with and the elephants are truly amazing creatures with which to interact.
Ann Snee, USA, February 2016
In February of 2016, I had the extraordinary opportunity to volunteer at the Millennium Elephant Foundation for 2 weeks. It was an extraordinary experience, as well! Not only did I get to know the 7 resident ellies of MEF, but I got to know and work closely with the Volunteer Director, Tamsin; the Volunteer Coordinator, Jade; the mahouts, Jaya and Kalu; and the other volunteers, Shona, Amanda, Gail, Brooke, K.C., Nele, and Claudia. What a wonderful, talented, and very special group of people and I was so fortunate to have met them!
The work was hard, the weather was hot, tehre was plenty of leisure time to relax or take hundreds of photographs, sleeping accomodation was comfortable, food nourishing and plentiful, the outdoor shower was exquisite! We always had internet to connect with home and if you needed some hugs while away from home, there was always the volunteer dogs to welcome the hugs and return the affection! I had my weekends free to travel to other parts of Sri Lanka and learn about the country, the people, the culture. Before leaving MEF, I did the Elephant Walk with Lakshmi… such a beautiful experience. I was also given a certificate of appreciation made from the dung of our elephants! How cool is that! I have it framed!
And as a final thought… I am 72 years old! What a joy it was to work with young elephants and young volunteers. It was one of the best and most rewarding experiences of my life!
Charlotte Emma Walker, England, February 2016
I have just returned back to the UK after volunteering at the millennium elephant foundation which was undoubtably one of the best experiences of my life. The millennium elephant foundation is the only none profit organisation working with captive elephants in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately a lot of elephants used for riding in Sri Lanka are mistreated, through volunteering at MEF I gained a taste of understanding for what it takes to look after an elephant properly. MEF provides care, respite and treatment to working elephants in Sri Lanka and while volunteering there I climbed Adams peak in order to help MEF raise money so that the elephants at the sanctuary can have a free roaming area. MEF have introduced a new alternative to riding; this is the elephant walk experience. The walk experience in my opinion is much better than elephant riding as you get to walk along side the elephants through the jungle-like terrain and watch them graze at their leisure away from the commands that riding the elephants requires.
I had many unforgettable experiences while at MEF, the opportunity to get so close to the elephants daily was once in a life time. The elephant washing was one of the biggest highlights, we got to do this every morning before the foundation was open to tourists. Washing an elephant is hard work, their skin is tough and takes a lot of scrubbing! Feeling the elephants for the first time in the water was amazing – if not a little daunting as their size is over whelming! After breakfast each day we would clean out the elephant beds, although seemingly a gruesome task it was actually one of my favourite parts of the day! Clearing the amount of unwanted leaves away took the most time, then the elephant dung needed to be counted followed by scrubbing and cleaning down the beds, occasionally we would take the elephant dung down to the poo factory to be made into paper! Completing these tasks in the baking heat was a challenge, however the satisfaction of seeing the end result and watching the elephants be put to bed at night in their freshly cleaned habitat was worth doing it all again the next day! There are many other tasks to be undertaken at MEF by the volunteers such as Eco farming, cleaning the river and running the fruit shop, undertaking these tasks adds variety to the daily routine.
During my time at the millennium elephant foundation the volunteers got to do some great charity work outside of the elephant sanctuary. We packed up school bags and donated them to underprivileged school children starting their new school year. The children live in weragala which is a village in Sri Lanka which falls in the pathway of wild elephants, MEF works hard to reduce human elephant conflict by introducing means of coexistence for the farmers and the wild elephant herds. The volunteers from MEF also attended a workshop for children with disabilities, we gave them Christmas presents and watched them practice their drama performance, they were delighted with the gifts. Overall working at MEF was an experience I will never forget and if anyone is considering volunteering at the foundation I would urge them to do so.
Kara Twomey, Canada, January 2016
It is amazing how fast two weeks goes by when you have a routine to follow and you are keeping busy. I can’t believe I am already done my time volunteering with the elephants… I obviously made a mistake when I only allowed for two weeks there by booking my flight to the Philippines, but I guess it just means I will have to go back again sometime soon!
For a quick little briefing, the elephants at Millennium are privately owned and would be either temple elephants or working in less than ideal conditions. MEF pays to board the elephants and provides them with a much better life. When Katie and I made our day trip there I had left with mixed feelings but once I learned more about it I realized the full extent of the efforts MEF is trying to make. They are currently fundraising to build a big fence so the elephants can spend their extra time in a free area, and they are offering elephant walks instead of rides… This allows the tourists to walk with the elephant and see more natural behaviours, and obviously helps by getting away from elephant rides. I’m so excited to stay updated on all these improvements and can only imagine how nice it will all be when the free enclosure is finished! (If you’d like to donate to the construction of the area it would be greatly appreciated! Many of the volunteers did the Adam’s Peak hike as a fundraiser but because I had already done it earlier I didn’t go a second time… However I did still do the hike so I mean you’re more than welcome to donate and support a great cause 😉 Please check out this link if you’re interested! https://make-a-donation.org/charity/millennium-elephant-foundation ).
The work started every morning at 7 when we’d head down to clean the elephants day beds. A few people would prepare the vitamin balls (balls of dough filled with various vitamins according to each elephant) while the rest threw leaves and dung around (how fun!). Once that was done I often would wander up and watch Kandula while I waited for my mahout. My mahout really didn’t like me too much at the beginning (which all volunteers were warned about), but after I bribed him with fruit and a piece of cake (which if you know me you’d know it killed me to give that away) he began to like me and at least smile when he saw me. He was generally a bit of a grump so I was happy if he smiled and I even got him to laugh when I tripped on a rock and almost fell over… Classic. My last day he struggled to get out the words in English but he smiled and said “you give me happy”. This was followed by him telling me how one of the other volunteers, Ryan, gave his mahout a present so I’m not sure if he meant that if I was happy about my time there I should give him a gift or that I made him happy but I’m gonna go with the latter. That piece of cake and my presence was gift enough!
The morning river baths were always such a neat experience. There were a lot of volunteers so there was 2-3 people per elephant but sometimes our mahout would wander off so it would be just me with Kandula or Warrick and I. It was nice to see how relaxed the elephants were during this! Often they’d fall asleep and sometimes they would grab trunks of the elephant next to them. It was hard work scrubbing Kandula every day and my arms were definitely sore after the first few days! We were told that a mahout feels that a clean elephant reflects on themselves so the harder you worked at scrubbing the elephant the more they would respect you. After the bath we would give Kandula his vitamin balls and then head up for breakfast.
After breakfast it was time to clean out their night beds.. These were always a lot dirtier than the day beds and somehow everyday I was surprised by how much dung there would be waiting for us! But with such a large group of volunteers it usually wouldn’t take too long, especially when you got a rhythm going after the first couple of days.
The afternoons were spent doing various projects. Volunteers who were staying for longer periods of time could pick a project to work on for their stay, or jump in and help anywhere. I spent the first few days weeding and digging out new beds in the garden which had been flooded in December. Once that was done I helped with planting and painted some labels for the garden. The next few days I was helping out mixing and pouring cement to finish off Ryan’s steps. He and Elliot (one of the coordinators) had spent a couple days digging out this big space and putting framing in for the steps, to make a better path for volunteers and the elephants. It was such a big project but I was happy to be a part of it and felt really accomplished! I never thought I’d be able to add this little skill to my repertoire so it was kind of fun to do. We spent the one afternoon in Kandy playing games with the sweetest group of special needs kids and then I spent one day with some of the other volunteers painting a wall… So all in all it was a super well rounded experience and the variety of jobs helped to keep it interesting!
Every afternoon Kandula got a medical treatment done on his knee and hip, which I got to observe and eventually help out with. He has some abscesses which cause him pain and slow him down, so hopefully those will clear up soon! It was always tough to watch him wince when his knee was getting flushed out, so I’d take a basket of fruit to him and feed him after the treatment. The last few days the main vet wasn’t around so I helped my mahout prep everything which was also really cool to get to do. After his treatment Kandula would go up to his bed for the night!
The people I met at MEF were also amazing and made the experience even more unforgettable. It’s always nice being involved in a project like this because you meet like-minded people and already have things in common by choosing to spend your time volunteering. I’m so lucky to have created bonds with new people from around the world and I’m so excited that I have even more reasons to travel now and visit everyone! The amount of hard work everyone put in was also amazing, and so many people were happy to jump in and help whenever anyone needed it.
To Tamsin – although we only met briefly it was apparent how much love and passion you have for the elephants (and your job). I loved hearing about your progress and plans with the elephant walks and seeing how you plan to continue improving these elephants lives!
To Jade and Elliot – your dedication, passion and hard work for MEF was so motivating. You both made the work place so much fun but still set the bar for us by working your asses off everyday. Thanks for all the laughs and for some great new pirate jokes!
To Ryan – thank you for working so incredibly hard that I felt bad if I was taking a break. You led by example and truly inspired everyone to step up by doing so. I’m so glad you were still at Millennium when I arrived and that I got to meet you!
To Amanda – your positive, cheerful attitude everyday was so contagious and even when you were working your ass off you’d be smiling or laughing away. I can’t believe how much we had in common and how well we got along, I really hope you can come meet me in Bali!
To TS – your hard work and willingness to help with anything and everything was appreciated! I think we made a pretty great team and you made me feel less clumsy so I thank you for that!
To Iulia and Alistair – you both were so supportive of everyone and you brought so much to the table that no one else could have done! The amount of effort you put into everything was amazing to see.
To the Columbians – you all were so much fun to be around. Sara and Isabel I expect you to be pros at the fishtail braid by the end of next week! Felipe you are so kind, genuine and hardworking, and always livened up any situation!
Warrick – thanks for making the river baths more entertaining and dodging the floating shit with me! You worked so hard the whole time as well and you were a great person to share an elephant with!
Ines – you are one of the kindest people I have met and I think we understood each other even more because we are both generally quiet and shy.
Lianna – you were always around for a laugh and even though you were sick you still found a way to teach me some new British slangs (I’m gonna try my best to start up minging and scooby and pajamas in my everyday life now).
Natasha and Mai – I wish we had more time together but it was so nice to meet you both and I know you’ll continue having an amazing time there! I’m excited to see all the progress you’ll both make and don’t forget to eat some Popsicles eh?!
and to DJ X – thanks for playing some great tunes! It was a night I don’t remember but I’ll never forget haha
I am so happy to have met you all and hopefully I will see you all again someday! If you ever happen to find yourselves in Winnipeg I would be more than happy to show you around! Thank you for making my experience so amazing, best wishes for the rest of your trips and safe travels to you all!
Hannah Selway, England, November 2015
I am just finishing off my fourth week volunteering at MIllennium Elephant Foundation, this experience has been a once in a lifetime. Everyone here has been so lovely and they are all so passionate about the foundation and what they are aiming for. It’s sad because people come here and don’t really understand the circumstances of the elephants e.g. because of the chains – but people need to understand that these can be incredibly dangerous animals – therefore the chains are a safety precaution for both the elephants and the public. This makes it upsetting because everyone is just doing their best to make sure all elephants are happy and healthy and have a good quality of life. Their life at the foundation is so much better for the elephants because without the foundation they would either be stuck in a temple and being badly treated or logging.
No matter what people say about this foundation, they are people working so hard to try and make it the best place to house the elephant by making a free roaming area, where the elephants can be off the chains and have more space during the day. This is taking a long time because of funding enough money to help get all the equipment that they need to start this project but when it is completed it will be amazing for the elephants.
One of the best thing about this foundation is that they try and help out whenever they can, like rebuilding a lady’s house because part of it got destroyed by the rain. Or going to Sundari children charity every four weeks just to spend time with these disabled kids.
Going to Sundari was probably one of my favourite things we did, the kids are lovely and they just loved having us there and were laughing and dancing with us.
I would definitely recommend anyone to come and volunteer at the foundation and see everything that they are trying to do and to get more people aware of the situations between humans and elephants In Sri Lanka.
The people here have help me feel so at home for the past four weeks – it will be sad to leave and I will miss everyone that has helped made my experience amazing.
Thank you so much.
Grace Black, New Zealand, November 2015
I spent three of the most amazing weeks of my life as a volunteer at MEF. I came to Sri Lanka wanting to explore the beautiful country and gain work experience with the world’s most beautiful and largest land mammal – the elephant. I came away with this and so much more. I was at first dubious of the treatment of elephants in Sri Lanka after experiencing South East Asia but was very quickly put to ease after being inducted by the two Volunteer Co-ordinators, Jade and Elliot and then furthermore by Tamsin, the Volunteer and Project Manager. From the minute I arrived I had the most incredible experience with the fellow volunteers, western staff (especially over a Lion or two) and the extremely friendly Sri Lankan staff and elephant mahouts. I never expected I would be excited to wake up and get stuck into cleaning elephant beds at seven in the morning – I proved my own expectations wrong in the first week as I would spring out of bed in anticipation for what each day would bring. After cleaning the day beds for our lovely ellies the best part of my day would happen – feeding the ellies their vitamin balls and giving them a river bath. The smell and feel of Ranmenika’s skin will forever be ingrained in my memory. With every day being slightly different, we still had a general routine (so great after backpacking), but each day there was something new and exciting to do. All of the meals are cooked and served by local Sri Lankan staff and are delicious and so well earned after a hard day of making an elephants life better. My only regret after my three weeks at MEF was not staying for longer – but lets be honest, I’ll definitely be back at some stage.
Jason Regan, USA, May 2015
I am nearing the end of my three week stay at Millennium Elephant Foundation! It has been a wonderful, unique and special experience. The co-ordinators have done their job so well, keeping me busy with varied tasks, sometimes they have had to chase me down because I’ve been confused (ok, and a little bit lazy) with the jobs to be done around this jungle Elephant sanctuary. My stay has been every bit as interesting and fascinating as I had hoped! Sometimes your expectations do not live up to your experience, but not in this case (with me anyway)! I walk over the bridge and see three or more elephants relaxing in a river, either by themselves or being scrubbed and exfoliated by a giggling tourist or a Mahout. I walk the tracks around this property and watch locals tending their rice paddies, kingfishers calling, Mongooses searching. I’ve also seen tortoises and monitor lizards. I’ve enjoyed a garden tour with a local who pointed out the abundance of fruits, herbs and spices. I go to sleep with jungle noises rather than traffic. So my stay at Millennium Elephant Foundation has been a unique, surreal time that I will treasure forever (or until I come back)! Thank you to the international staff who have helped keep me grounded in this foreign land and to the gracious, friendly Sri Lankans who have made me feel welcome in this magic and special part of the world! Peace and Love.
Tara Coughlin, USA, May 2015
I have learned so much this past month at MEF. It has been such an amazing experience to be able to interact so closely with elephants on a daily basis. I feel like i learned something new every day, not only about the animals, but Sri Lanka as well. It has been an eye opening experience in regards to the plight of domesticated elephants. In addition, this organization attracts such great people; I’m grateful to have made so many friends on this stop in my journey, both human and animal.
Winnie & Onion, Hong Kong, May 2015
It is really an incredible experience for working as volunteers in MEF. Same as other people living in big city, we are originally not familiar with elephants, or even with any kind of animals. However, after we stay with our lovely Ranmenika during these three weeks, we understand looking after an animal (especially the huge size one) is a really hard job and we could not do it well without our love. Night bed cleaning, day bed cleaning, body washing in the river and feeding are our daily duties. The works are hard but we love it because we know we could give her a better life if we do it by heart. We really love Ranmenika and we believe that she feels being loved as well. However, there are only 8 elephants staying in MEF to be loved by the volunteers and MEF staff, and some of the remaining elephants are still suffering from the pain imposed by howdah or living in a very poor environment. Of course it is impossible to bring every elephant to MEF, but we believe that through our sharing with friends and tourists all over the world, we can promote the proper way to treat and coexist with elephants, thus creating a better living environment for elephants in the country. Winnie and Onion Hong Kong
Kiara Hampton , USA, May 2015
When I first arrived at MEF I had no idea what to expect; I knew little about the country or it’s people. Looking back I’m glad it was that way, as it made the journey much more exciting. Though I traveled alone I was welcomed as soon as I arrived at the MEF. Over time, naturally, I have made everlasting bonds with the other volunteers and staff. Hearing their stories of their travels is inspiring and I too hope to one day visit the places they have been. I was the lucky one to have the opportunity to work with such great people. Everyday life at MEF is a very simple one but it was not disheartening. I found that I really enjoyed the simplicity of it all minus not having hot water! The views here are outstanding and everyday I saw and learned new things about the country. One thing I will definitely miss is the kindness of the Sri Lankan people. They have suffered greatly yet still manage to maintain good spirits. I will not so much miss their fascination with my hair but I am glad I could expose them to something new! About the elephants..My stay here at MEF has furthermore solidified my love for exotic animals. Though the work load is challenging it is well worth the reward. There was never a day I felt the work we were doing was not appreciated or did not make a overall difference. It has been a privilege to have been able to work so close to this beautiful animals and I will forever be grateful. To Tamsin and staff: The work you do here is honorable. Your dedication and commitment to better the lives of not only the elephants here but for those in the wild is inspiring. I hope that one day the rest of the country catches up to your vision. My time here as been priceless and I cannot wait to return again!
Bryony Seth , England, April 2015
I am now in my ninth and final week volunteering at MEF. It has been amazing! It is strange how quickly I became used to seeing elephants walking past me or relaxing in the river. Now washing, feeding and cleaning up after the elephants seems normal. I was partnered with Rani who is such a gentle elephant and I have felt comfortable and safe working with her and her mahout (Chandana) for the past 2 months. The elephants and mahouts have such good relationships as they generally stay together for many years. The work is fulfilling and while it is sometimes hard we get lots of time to enjoy ourselves and explore Sri Lanka. It varies depending on the individual volunteer but generally the volunteers all go away together at the weekends be it to climb Adam’s Peak, a Buddhist pilgrimage, or spend a relaxing weekend at the beach. Sri Lanka has a lot to offer and with all volunteers having every weekend off there is plenty of opportunity to explore.
As well as the daily duties of elephant washing, vitamin balls, poo count, bed cleaning and maintenance we also do project work. This is where the volunteers can be a bit creative and use their skills and knowledge to help MEF. This can range from artistic work, to shelf building, to updating social media. All ideas are welcome and any projects which are not completed when a volunteer leaves will be passed on to another volunteer.
In addition to the onsite work, volunteers also go offsite to teach English to local Children. The teaching sessions are lots of fun and since it is an after school club rather than a formal lesson volunteers normally incorporate some games. The ability of the children differs a lot as does the age and number of children present at each class. Teaching experience isn’t necessary as there are materials available to use for planning and there is a lesson book detailing the activities of the previous classes. There are always three volunteers per class and there are normally 3 classes per week giving all volunteers the opportunity to teach. I have been very lucky in that during my time here I attended the same class each week. This is great as the children get more confident speaking as they become more familiar with you. It is great to see their progress over the weeks and I will definitely miss teaching when I leave.
I have really enjoyed my time here at MEF and am very pleased I chose to spend 2 months here. My time has flown by. I would definitely recommend staying for as long as you can to really get the most out of this amazing experience. I found that the longer I was here the more details I noticed, the more I understood all the processes and the more comfortable I felt with my elephant. I think the nicest thing about volunteering with MEF is that you are paired with one elephant for the duration of your stay. This means that not only do you become familiar with them but they become comfortable with you. It is strange how protective everybody becomes of their elephant and mahout but trust me, it’s true.
Danielle Fétus Azzimonti , France, March 2015
Arrivata sessantenne , volevo realizzare il mio sogno: dare il mio tempo, la mia energia e il mio amore agli elefanti che amo tanto dalla mia infanzia e ho avuto la fortuna di incrociare la strada del MEF nelle mie ricerche in internet….
Era una avventura, un mondo sconosciuto ma ero fiduciosa e avevo ragione: appena arrivata, sono stata bene accolta dallo staff e dai volontari del MEF che lavora senza tregua per migliorare la vita degli elefanti dello Sri Lanka. Sono stata subito integratata nel quotidiano.. Dal primo giorno, ho fatto del mio meglio partecipando attivamente a tutte le attività giornaliere.
Immersa in un mondo popolato di scoiattoli, uccelli che cantano dal mattino presto, dove coabitano gentili cani e …..favolosi elefanti.. tutto questo nel mezzo di una giungla lussureggiante. …dove si può trovare una moltitudine di alberi e piante di ogni tipo.
Sono stata ogni giorno in stretto contatto con gli elefanti sotto il controllo dei « mahout »; in particolare con il mio « ellie » Ranmenika, elefantessa di 42 anni che mi è stata attribuita per tutto il mio soggiorno.. ho vissuto accanto a giovani che sanno dare, amano gli animali, la natura e l’avventura anche….
Sempre nella gioia!!!
Ho conosciuto i srilankesi che sorridono sempre e portano spesso un ombrello.. se non è per la pioggia, è per proteggersi dal sole!!
Al MEF, le giornate passano in fretta, non c’è posto per la noia, ognuno di noi ha compiti specifici in ogni momento della giornata. Tutto è organizzato e planificato in modo perfetto dallo staff che è sempre presente e all’ascolto.. bisogna vivere al MEF per capire quanto ognuna delle nostre piccole azioni , sommata a quelle dei nostri compagni volontari possono piano piano generare grandi cambiamenti. Cosa diventerebbe il MEF senza i suoi volontari??
Come si svolge una giornata tipo?? sveglia alle 7 o 6.30 se si deve preparare le vitamine e le medicine per gli elefanti. Vet check per dare queste palline di medicinali al « nostro »ellie. Ranmenika aveva diritto anche a qualche banana schiacciata fra 2 crackers per accettare la « aminol powder »….. che furba!!!! Poi, pulizia, vale a dire scrub energico (con noce di cocco) di tutta la pelle del nostro elefante nella riviera; ore 9, abbondante colazione per avere l’energia indispensabile per pulire il letto degli elefanti!!! In seguito, secondo il programma, pulizia della riviera, giardinaggio… dalle 12 alle 13.30, tempo libero, 13.30, pranzo e verso le 14.00, preparazione del corso d’inglese per quelli che insegnano ai bambini e ai giovani adulti nella scuola vicina dalle 15 alle 17 o un’ora nella “fruit shop” per vendere cestini di frutta ai turisti che li possono dare agli elefanti oppure un’ora all’”enrichment point” per osservare e prendere nota di quello che fanno gli elefanti durante i loro momenti di libertà nell’area riservata a questo scopo, o ancora “poo run”, vale a dire raccogliere gli escrementi degli elefanti nelle stradine del MEF e portarli alla fabbrica di carta che si trova accanto perchè, non lo sapevo prima, in Sri lanka fabbricano della carta con gli escrementi degli elefanti in maniera perfettamente ecologica!!! Oppure pulizia del piccolo museo del MEF… In ogni modo, c’è sempre qualcosa da fare… 17.00, pulizia dei letti dove si riposano gli elefanti durante il giorno..
Ho veramente amato questa routine che ha come unico scopo il miglioramento dell’ambiente e delle condizioni di vita del MEF e soprattutto degli elefanti…
La sera, meeting per fare il punto sulle attività giornaliere e dare ognuno il nostro parere … dopo cena, arriva il riposo ben meritato. Talvolta un quiz, un film proiettato… comunque è sempre l’occasione di condividere qualche ora con i nostri compagni, conoscerli meglio… dopo di che…. una buona notte di sonno!!!
Ho appezzato anche molto i fine settimana quando possiamo visitare questa meravigliosa goccia d’acqua caduta dall’India: tuffarsi nell’oceano indiano, farniente sulle spiagge infinite, shopping, esplorare le città , i templi e ammirare i splendidi tramonti …..
Unico problemino per me, era talvolta un po’ difficile perché non parlo correntemente la lingua di Shakespeare… ma in 3 settimane, il mio inglese è migliorato tanto!!!!
L’ultimo giorno fu quello della ricompensa: passeggiata « a cavallo » su Ranmenika poi doccia nella riviera con la sua proboscida… è stato fantastico! e questo aveva un significato profondo, grande soddisfazione ma anche segno del mio ritorno in Francia…
Adesso sono tornata a Nizza con il cuore colmo di immagini, colori, sensazioni… qualcosa è cambiato in me perché ho vissuto tre settimane in un altro mondo.. Un sogno per me vivere vicino agli elefanti….ho adorato questa esperienza e ho imparato molto…
Spero di ritornare un giorno al MEF, !!! E ritrovare Ranmenika!!!!
Se leggete queste righe con già l’idea di passare diverse settimane o mesi come volontario vicino agli animali, in particolare agli elefanti, non esitate, il MEF vi darà tutto quello che cercate: vicinanza con il vostro “ellie”, lavoro, gioia, nuovi amici venuti da ogni parte del mondo, e spirito di squadra in un paese ricco di bellezze naturali!!!!!!!
Leah Monk , Australia, February 2015
My Time at MEF
As I sit to write this, my mind is still definitely in Sri Lanka mode; a mindset I definitely don’t want to come out of, but may affect my ability to finish my final year of university. Alas, it makes me happy to write about my time at MEF. It also makes me happy to think my three weeks of journaling won’t go to waste. Double win.
Waking up for my first day at MEF was an experience in itself: I’d arrived in the middle of the night, fresh off the plane only to wake up amongst this beautiful green landscape… then I looked to my left and saw an elephant walking past. Granted, I was expecting to see elephants and all (shock), but when this happens to you after fifteen hours of travelling and two hours sleep it’s completely surreal.
My first week was full of questions – The tasks at MEF were new for me, Sri Lanka was new to me, the day to day odd things that make Sri Lanka so great were new and all a bit difficult for me to navigate in the beginning; but I was so well looked after by the staff and other volunteers at MEF I quickly learnt the ropes and after that I was off hurling elephant dung and whipping up vitamin balls with the best of them. I really enjoyed the day to day routine at MEF: you’re up early and outside in the sun, and you get so much out of the day yet you never feel stressed or rushed. It’s such a relaxed lifestyle and to top it all off you’re surrounded by elephants for most of the day (obviously, Leah); it’s a pretty inexplicable feeling to know that each day you can sit by the river and watch elephants in the river on your lunch break. It’s also difficult to describe what it’s like when checking for elephants as you walk around the grounds becomes a completely normalised part of your day. Incredible.
Aside from the daily routine, I had the opportunity to experience quite a few of the other projects MEF is involved in. I was able to visit Habarana and see actual elephant corridors (so bizarre to see wild elephant footprints outside your house!), go on an elephant safari and visit the local school. I also had the blessing of learning what it’s like to sleep in a tree house with three other people…an experience I will remember forever, but let’s just say it’s not as cool (read: spacious) as your childhood self would probably have you believe when you’re a fully grown, much taller adult. A lot of odd sleeping arrangements resulted, but I will look back on it with nothing but fondness. It was also rather spectacular to see the sunrise over the rice paddy fields in said tree house. If you can get to Habarana I would highly recommend it – it really does help you to understand some of the problems associated with human-elephant conflict and to see the bigger picture about some of the realities wild Sri Lankan Elephants face.
I was also able to teach English, have a tour of the paper factory next door and spend a day in Kandy with the Sunera foundation. All the projects I visited during my time in Sri Lanka really impressed me with their innovation and resourcefulness.
Aside from working with the lovely elephants, MEF gave me the opportunity to meet the locals, see places I never would’ve seen and partake in some things I never would have expected to be a part of: a jungle rave, literal mountain climb and kind-of-friend-of–monkey-and-kitten being just a few examples. Coming to Sri Lanka, I didn’t really have any concrete plans and MEF really ensured I fit as much as I possibly could’ve into my three lightning speed weeks. I can definitely say I wouldn’t hesitate to go back, and would recommend it to anyone who is reading this. If you’re reading this as a potential future volunteer – DO IT. I truly believe there is something in Sri Lanka for everyone and guarantee you will fall in love with MEF. Did I mention you can pet all the dogs? Sigh. Take me back.
It’s been really hard to condense my trip into this blog post, but I hope this will ignite nostalgia in some and help people who are considering coming to MEF to make the decision to go. It’s a great experience, you’re really involved in the daily life at MEF and you meet some pretty excellent people (and animals) in the process. At the risk of sounding cliché, my only wish is that I’d stayed longer! and that I’d planned my trip to coincide with Mango season. All the big issues.
Maruja Norton , Mexico, February 2015
Three years ago I went to Thailand to work with elephants as a volunteer and it was one of the best moments in my life. Ever since then I decided that I wanted to repeat the experience.
I loved how welcome you feel since your first day as a volunteer in Millenium Elephant Foundation, everyone is so friendly and helpful, you just know that you are in the right place.
I was a little bit worried about having to wake up so early and be able to do all the diary schedules, but it is so easy to do every activity because you are surrounded with so much nature. For me it was a blessing hearing the birds singing all day long, watching the elephants passing by, tasting new sri lankan flavors at lunch and at night watching the stars and lightflies while enjoying everyones company.
Even though I really like to do most of the activities, they were two of them that were beyond my expectations; bathing my elephant at the river every morning and teaching english lessons at the local school were my favorites.
You also get to know people from all around the world and you learn so much from them. And one of the good things about volunteering is that you don’t need to be certain age or gender, you could do this at any time in any place around the world.
I would do it again, I highly recommended to do it and I know that at some point in my life I will be back to MEF.
Even thou you see elephants all the time, I never get tired or use to watch them being around me
Michalina Jendrzejczyk, Poland, February 2015
I have been volunteering for 3 weeks at MEF in February 2015. My time at MEF was rewarding and unique on so many levels. I have been assigned to work with Pooja and for a while also Menika. I have always admired and cherished those amazing animals the elephants are, however never got an actual chance to do anything for them. Once I have found information on MEF I knew it’s the right place for me.
As a volunteer I have started my work early mornings, usually around 7 am. At first I was a bit scared I will have problems with getting up that early every day, but it turned out that morning is actually one of the best, if not the best part of a day for a volunteer at MEF, what made getting up so much easier. In the mornings we did the vet check, we got to feed our elephants with vitamin balls and give it a long bath in the river, what give me the perfect opportunity to get closer to my Pooja. Every minute spent with elephants at MEF just made me love them more. Once we were done with the bath we had the time to go and enjoy the breakfast at the main house, which by the way was delicious and huge and we got to eat as much as we wanted. After breakfast, full of energy we had time to get dirty cleaning night beds. Even though it took some time to get use to the work, just the thought of doing something for your ellie made the work a pleasant experience. Late mornings duties changed depending on the day of the week. Sometimes we did the river clean up, on other occasions we did litter pick up. Whatever it was, it was always a try to create better environment conditions both for the ellies and the people living here. Noon was a time for us. We had around 2 hours to go to the city do some shopping or simply read a book surrounded by the untouched nature of Sri Lanka. Once we have finished our break it was time for project work. I really enjoyed that part. It gave me chance to share my ideas and work on them during my stay. Following was either teaching or work in MEF eco-garden. Both teaching and gardening were very fulfilling. Seeing the results of your work gives so much satisfaction. At around 5pm we had to do day beds, which were so much easier to do than night beds. Once we were done with them we had time to take shower, enjoy a cup of tea outside volunteers’ bungalow and prepare ourselves for dinner. Dinner and evenings in general were particularly enjoyable. We had quiz nights, movie nights which gave me the perfect chance to know better fellow volunteers and their stories.
Taking part in the MEF volunteering program was without a doubt one of the best decisions I have made. Getting to do something to work on the welfare of the elephants was a very rewarding experience. I have met truly amazing people that are trying very hard to help the ellies in and outside of MEF. I trust their efforts will be noticed and will bring better life to the elephants. I hope that I will be given the chance to go back and once again join MEF team’s efforts in a fight for elephants’ welfare.
Kate Hedly, England, February 2015
Shortly after arriving at MEF, Tamsin took us on tour of the grounds showing us the different areas in which we would be working and answered any concerns or questions. The chains and ankus for example, before Tamsin explained the significance of these I was skeptical and a bit confused! However, after explaining how in comparison to their size the chains would not strain the elephant and the ankus (which is blunt) is not sharp or strong enough to pierce their thick skin, I then understood more about the importance of these tools. She also reminded us that at the end of the day the elephants are wild animals and if need be, they must be able to be controlled when around tourists, staff and volunteers which put my concerns to rest. The day starts with making the vitamin balls for the elephants at 7:00AM, each elephant has different dietary requirements and some are more fussy than others, for example Ranmenika, she has to have each set of vitamins in separate dough balls and refuses to eat the Aminol powder if she can smell it so we have to mush it up with banana so she can’t, such a diva! You then follow the elephant down to the river with your coconut shell to wash your elephant in the river. It’s a good time to bond with your elephant and mahout, a few splashes by the tail and trunk here and there! Ranmenika puts her trunk over her neck then flops her ear over the top and sneakily blows air at us whilst we wash, our own personal fan. Afterwards all the volunteers have breakfast together at 9:00pm greeted by Bessie’s wagging tail at the steps (one of the many dogs here) then get ready to conquer cleaning the night beds. We collect our equipment from the shed and all scatter to our own elephants’ bed. We clear all of the old food and planks of wood and shot put the pile of poo into a big heap far away from the elephants’ bed. We rinse the pavement and sweep away any remains, finishing with spraying disinfectant onto the concrete and elephants chains to rid any bacteria. After finishing everyone groups together to clean any remaining nightbeds which have not been done. Everyone rejoins to complete one more activity on the rota, usually a river clean where we take out any objects that has floated down from up the river which could harm anyone or any elephant who gets into the river, usually turning into a water fight by the end or if you attack the wrong person like I did, a mud fight. Between 12 and 2pm we have free time and enjoy our home cooked Sri Lankan lunch, the Dahl is to die for! Always going back for seconds… After lunch is project time where whatever needs doing at that particular time gets done! For example I and a few others are digging holes to put in signs for each elephant bed which will have their names on and a picture next to it to show what the meanings of their names. During this time, if you are going to teach at one of the local schools is where you make your lesson plan and gather your resources you’re going to take. At 3:00pm 2 people go on a ‘poo run’ and collect any poo which is lying around the grounds and take it to the poo paper factory. If you’re not on a poo run we help out in the eco garden watering the plants; planting new seeds or creating new beds to plant new fruit and vegetables in. We are currently weeding a new patch of land to create more space for growing more food. Once it hits 5pm and all the elephants are put back to their beds we all chip in to clean their day beds which are effortless compared to night beds! After that our work is done for the day and we all hop in the showers, have tea and relax in the bungalow reading, writing in our journals or talking to people back home about the funny things that happened during the day with our elephants!
Last weekend the workers in the poo paper factory organized a local trek up Mount Alagalla. They provided us with a packed lunch and we set off. It was very challenging but once we reached the top after 3 hours of climbing we knew it was completely worth it, the view was amazing. There were other local Sri Lankans at the top who had brought up drums with them and they were singing and dancing around the mountain top completely fearless. We sat and ate traditional Sri Lankan food in the traditional Sri Lankan way… with our hands! It was such a unique opportunity to be able to climb a totally non-touristy mountain with the locals, something we would never have had the chance to do if it wasn’t for volunteering at MEF, it’s as if we were allowed to be in on their secret locations not yet taken over by tourism, it will definitely always be one of the top highlights of my trip!
Daniel Ives , Australia, March 2014
I arrived late at night when the elephants were out of sight sleeping and feasting. Upon waking up the following day the natural beauty of MEF was immediately apparent to me. Squirrels playing, birds tweeting, dogs demanding attention, and in the distance the faint calls of the Mahouts communicating with their large grey friends echoed through the area. Before long I found myself in the water scrubbing and cleaning what would become my new best friend for the coming month. It all happened so fast, only when I was half way through cleaning Rani did the realisation of what I was actually doing hit me. The work that followed was sometimes messy and humbling, however the satisfaction and privilege of taking care of these magnificent animals made it impossible to do without a smile. The more experienced volunteers were happy and willing to take the new volunteers under their wings and made the transition into being an MEF volunteer easy and enjoyable. After a few days I already had the opportunity to teach kids English, hang out with an amazing group of people with disabilities and of course take care of, and be surrounded by these awe-inspiring animals. I was so excited when I arrived but really had no idea what to expect, but if I knew exactly what it entailed I would have arrived with even greater anticipation.
Beatrice Grek-Fritzner, Germany, March 2014
A wall of thick heat, racing tuk tuks and bursting nature… You have arrived in Colombo!
Enjoy the ride to MEF as you weave through cars and motorcycles and passed small fruit markets.
Pull up, jump out, you’re here! With the sun up high, you’ll discover this oasis of overflowing green that is home to busy birds, darting chipmunks, flowers of all colors, and, of course, a group of impressive Asian elephants. Nature at its best.
You’ll be met by a group of cheerful and bright-eyed faces, one of whom is Chloe, the hardworking volunteer coordinator. As she guides you through your daily responsibilities and routine you may be too distracted by your surroundings to take it all in. Names that you’ve never heard before, Saliya, Lakshmi, Remenike, etc. decorate her explanation, and though you may feel like you will never remember them all, you’ll soon find that the group of motivated volunteers are very attentive and helpful to newcomers.
Settle into your new home. Unpack your insect repellant in your colorful and cozy room. Then head down to the river to meet your mahout/elephant duo. Greeted by a smiling man sporting a MAHOUT singlet and a colorful sari, you’ll find that language is not such a barrier. His partner, a giant elephant, can be found cooling off in the river, enjoying coconut scrubs and refreshing water splashes. This is your new team.
By the time dinner comes around you’ll have worked up an appetite after either watering the vegetable garden, polishing your teaching skills at the Resource Center, building up your biceps on Poo Run and cleaning your elephant’s Day Bed. Delicious food awaits along with a recap of the day, good conversation and laughter with your fellow volunteers.
Constant movement throughout the day. Tourists snapping photos, insects enjoying dung piles, pairs of mahouts and elephants strolling the grounds, and the general restlessness of the encircling nature. Come nightfall and all becomes still. Lazy dogs curled up in chairs, mahouts and volunteers inside huts, elephants resting – all recovering from a long day. It is now that things start to soak in. You are here! You made it. Yes, you did bathe with an elephant today. Yes, that is a spider. Once inside your mosquito net comes a deep sleep, dreams of your first day. Ready for another one tomorrow.
Frances Neville January 2012
I decided to celebrate my approaching 60th birthday by doing something completely different so I signed up as a volunteer at MEF for 8 weeks. I had no idea what to expect other than what the website told me and so came with few expectations. Those I had were soon shattered!!
On arrival at MEF I was allocated an elephant and her mahout (keeper) with whom I would work for the entire time I was here. I was very fortunate to have been allocated Lakshmi and Jaya – Lakshmi could be said to be the matriarch of the herd as she is in her late forties and is the mother of another of MEF’s elephants (Pooja – the first domesticated elephant to be born in captivity in Sri Lanka). Jaya is maybe not as cheeky as the other mahouts but that is because he takes his position as head mahout very seriously. My first day was spent being shown around the site, meeting the other volunteers and generally learning about what goes on.
Work started in earnest on Day 2 when I met Jaya at Lakshmi’s bed area and was confronted by a pile of elephant poo balls, all of which had to be hurled (no other word for it) onto a poo pile behind her bed area. As elephants are herbivores, their poo does not smell but their pee – WOW! – that’s something else! After the s**t-shifting, it was time to follow Lakshmi down to the river where she was being given her morning bath. Taking a piece of coconut husk and using it in the nature of an exfoliation, Lakshmi is scrubbed clean and all the dust and dirt from her night’s rest washed away. This is an excellent exercise for those less-than-firm biceps on those of us not in the first flush of youth! Plus, an excellent appetite-builder and so to breakfast – VERY good, generally fried eggs, loads of good, fresh bread, jam, fruit (papaya, bananas or water melon) and tea (after all, we ARE in the home of the tea plantations).
After breakfast it was time to make the vitamin dough balls which every elephant has every morning. A selection of vitamins and minerals are put inside a dough ball and fed to the elephant. First, however, we have to brush their feet to check for foot rot or any other nasties that they may have picked up. The rest of the morning was spent in the garden on various tasks – weeding, raking, planting new plants etc. This can be very rewarding or very boring (I was completely on my own for a week and weeding by oneself is distinctly dull!).
I chose not to eat lunch ‘on site’ but rather buy a coconut rothi, egg hopper or dahl ball (wadi) from the little kade across the street. A rothi is made of rice flour, coconut milk and spices and is delicious. An egg hopper is like a bowl-shaped pancake with an egg broken into it and then cooked until the egg is completely integrated – simply scrumptious!
After lunch we had projects on which to concentrate. During my time at MEF these ranged from researching howdahs and the terrible damage that they do to elephants, up-dating the info boards in MEF’s museum, grass cutting for the elephants’ enrichment area and keeping the social media on the website up-to-date. My given project was teaching co-ordinator which meant I had to formulate lesson plans, keep a teaching record and write an article for the MEF newsletter about my teaching experience. This was because three days a week, the volunteers go to a local school where there is an after-school club of around 14 children who want to improve their English. They ranged in age from 7 to 16 years old and I cannot tell you how much I LOVED this!!! The children are so appreciative, so keen to learn and were always happy and smiling. I don’t have a teaching background and, as any of my friends will tell you, have little patience with small children so I surprised even myself by the level of commitment I felt for this class and I shall miss them dreadfully when I return to the UK.
The day’s work finishes at 5 p.m. and between then and supper at 7 p.m., it’s time to catch up on emails, reading, writing postcards or just relaxing. After supper – usually rice & curry – we might sit on the porch and gossip or just have an early night, ready for more of the same the next day.
And then on the last day, the highlight of every volunteer’s time here – a ride on your elephant! This was great, first I climbed on Lakshmi’s back when she was in the river in order to be sprayed with water and then we set off for a little tour of the grounds. It’s simply incredible to be bareback on top of an elephant – you can feel every ripple of muscle and every move of her legs. Fabulous!
I spent my free time at weekends by travelling around this wonderful country. There is so much to see and so many beautiful places to visit that I feel I should stay another two months to see it all.
So…..……8 weeks on and how do I feel about it? It has certainly been an experience that I shall remember for many years to come. There have obviously been some wonderful highs and some not so great lows but then that’s the nature of life. I certainly would not have missed it for anything.
Having a cold shower outside in glorious sunshine is invigorating to say the least, eating rice and curry virtually every day for 8 weeks made me long for lamb chops and every journey taking at least 3 hours is just something to live with. Sri Lanka time is different to Western time.
There is so much that I shall be sorry to leave when I go home – the amazing openness and friendliness of the Sri Lankans, the call of the mahouts as they talk to their elephants, the bread van’s early morning arrival playing Fur Elise just like an ice cream van, the other volunteers, some of whom have become good friends, crowded buses where children smile at you when you catch their eye, the sunshine (!) and last but certainly not least, the children at the school.
Would I do it again? Definitely but personally I think that I would go to an orphanage or children-based charity as I feel that what I would want to do is to be of more direct and immediate benefit.
Would I recommend it? An unqualified YES! It has been a fantastic experience – working at close quarters with such large, wonderful animals definitely counts up there in my top ten but don’t come expecting any home comforts.
Finally, my personal top ten tips to make your stay here comfortable:
Bring your own pillow
Crocs – they are comfortable and protect your feet from the mucky bed area
Hardly any clothes – you live in the same stuff and everything is so cheap to buy here
The best torch you can find
Lots of good insect repellent
Tea Tree Oil- for when insect repellent just isn’t good enough
A nail brush- hard to find here but needed to keep those nails poo free!
A secret stash of goodies- chocolate isn’t great as it melts
An ipod/ laptop etc as its fun to have some entertainment in the evenings
Last of all a good sense of humour and an open attitude to new adventures!
Rikke, January 2012
I volunteered at MEF in January/February 2012. I got to stay at MEF in the bungalow with the other volunteers. It was great.I had the privilege to work with mahout Nuan and Pooja the elephant. A great pair, the two of them.
Pooja is very charming and she does love her bananas. Nuan is kind and helpful and always ready to let me help.
Waking up early to the sound of a gecko, I met up with Nuan at 7.30 to go and do the poop scoop. After that I went to the river to help bathe Pooja and give her a good scrub.
We also helped make vitamin balls and feed them to the elephants. I always brought a banana for Pooja and she knew she would get one too
Other than work with the mahouts and elephants we did some gardening, had school work with Sri Lankan children and project work.
Enrichment was a special time as well. Cutting grass and hiding it for the elephants to find. Filling the new food bags and to see Bandara be patient at first and then just ripping it up to get the the grass.
It was amazing to see how the mahouts cares for the elephants. I was surprised how close a relationship they have and had a very special experience when Nuan one morning started singing for Pooja and gave her a kiss and she put her trunk around him.
All the people at MEF are amazing too. Everybody is so helpful and friendly. They are happy to help arrange trips on your days off, I got to go to the Colombo Perahera. It was absolutely amazing to see all the dancers, drummers and elephants. Seetha and Kappila were in the perahera and had a good laugh when all the volunteers waved at him.
On my last day I had the opportunity to get a ride on Pooja and after that an elephant shower. It was great! It was great to try and when I had my shower I got soaked. Pooja just kept the water coming. It was so much fun.
I miss MEF so much, especially Nuan and Pooja. We got along great and I hope to go back and visit soon. Everybody at MEF are so special and they really love the elephants and want to give them the best life possible.
I can only recommend going to volunteer or even just to go for a visit.
Deeba Hudda, January 2012
OK so in terms of the actual project, your day usually starts early. You get to work with one elephant and its mahout (keeper) during your time at MEF. This is really incredible as you get to build a bond with both. Although biased, I think I lucked out with my pair and I absolutely adore both Madhu my adolescent elephant and the cheeky mahout Sanjeeva (although I will deny all knowledge to his face!!). You start off by cleaning the elephant’s bed – yes this does mean picking up elephant poo I’m afraid. It is not as bad as you think and it is almost like an exercise routine as you energetically hurl these ginormous elephant turds as if they were shot puts.
Next is washing the elephant in the river using coconut husks. There is a science to this as some of the mahouts tried to explain to me, although I’m not sure I quite grasped it. After a vigorous scrubbing you’ve now achieved the toning part of your workout – goodbye bingo wings!! The final part of the morning is preparing the elephant’s vitamins and hiding them in a doughy treat. You then get to feed it to your elephant and brush their feet.
There are very few people in this world who can claim such a wonderful start to their day. Afternoons are much less structured which allows volunteers to participate in a range of tasks and even get involved in areas that particularly interest them. During my time I helped paint a temple, look for stray dogs and teach local children. The only activity that was timetabled in the afternoon was gardening. This was hard work in the midday sun but I have fond memories of Bandera (the assistant gardener) who seemed to relish handing me (and noone else) a massive shovel every day and smiled cheekily at me as I tried in my girl-like fashion to hack and plough the soil.
All in all my experience at MEF was phenomenal because I got hands on experience in a number of areas but even more so because of the warmth, generosity and humour of ALL the people I met there from Mo and Sam, to the mahouts, to my fellow volunteers and the wonderful staff at the restaurant. No day passed without laughter and I shall treasure my memories at MEF forever.