Sometimes I forget that traveling is something people actually do. It seems so easy to get trapped in daily, weekly, monthly, yearly responsibilities that the idea of traveling somewhere for any reason other than responsibility seems absurd. But I’ve got a newly awakened travel itch going on right now. Maybe it’s springtime in the air, who knows.
For instance, there is a beautiful place I would love to visit someday. It is in the northern Thai province of Chiang Mai and it is called Elephant Nature Park. If any of you have seen, “How I Became An Elephant,” then you know about the Park and its impressive founder, Lek.
The other day, as I was reading about the Park’s many volunteer opportunities, I noticed how many aspects of Connection are being fostered there. The Park not only provides a sanctuary for injured and disabled elephants (and now dogs as well) but they also prioritize helping the very people who caused the elephants’ traumas in the first place. The owners and trainers–called mahouts–“break” baby elephants in a very violent way in order to be able to use the elephants for raising money for the rest of their lives through practices like street performing, begging, and logging. None of these things are very happy or healthy for the elephants of course.
However, the founders of the Park are very unique in that while they want to save these elephants, they also recognize the centuries-long ties that the mahouts and the grander culture have formed with the elephants. In order to honor these ties and the financial need of the mahouts while also bringing reformation to elephant exploitation, the Park is working with the people of Thailand to educate and train mahouts about alternative, humane, conservation-driven ways of earning a living and retaining their elephants. It isn’t perfect, but it is a beautiful example of EcoConnection, InterConnection, and Animal Connection at work. Throw in the volunteers from all over the world who are transformed by the opportunity to give back and gain perspective through their time at the Park and we can add InnerConnection as well.
This all made me wonder: How else can Connection in all its facets be explored through travel? I intend to find out, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, do you know how much 12000 Thai Bhat is in U.S. dollars? $376.02. That is how much it costs to volunteer at the Park for one week. Makes travel for connection’s sake not seem so absurd, huh?