The PROMISE internship and Oregon Sea Grant sparked my interest to do community outreach and environmental education for youth. This summer before starting my internship with Save Elephant Foundation I had a great chance on becoming a student researcher at Oregon Sea Grant. Besides doing research on “Don’t Pack a Pest Campaign”, we also have worked on AIS toolkit lesson plans for invasive species. When the opportunity came along to work for Elephant Nature Park (ENP) I wanted to continue my research and extend my skills of creating communication materials on environmental issues. However, the settings and opportunities were different at the park. After visiting a school near Elephant Nature Park I saw a potential opportunity to teach English for kids and I have expressed my interest to my supervisor. My wish was granted and I was sent to Journey to Freedom Project at Mae Hare village which is about four hours away from Chiang Mai city. The project is situated in a rural area of Thailand where local people spoke very little or almost none of English language. During my stay, I had couple of goals and tasks to complete which were to interact with volunteers who come to the project, teach basic English to local children, and create an advisory column on ENP website for future coming volunteers. When Khun Lek created this project she wanted to focus more on support for local community development besides providing space and care for elephants (four elephants at this project so far). The village itself had beautiful scenery where rows and rows of farm cultivation were present. The difference between Elephant Nature Park and this project has to do with the fact that the elephants are not owned by the project but by their mahouts(elephant keeper), so before getting started she made a contract with the mahouts on “no ride, no hooks” rule and in return they will be part of the project where volunteers can watch them in the wild as well as provide food and safety.
As I have mentioned, public community outreach was the main purpose of the project and this was done by allowing volunteers to interact with local children and teach them basic English lessons. As I have learned during my internship at Oregon Sea Grant it is important for communities to be involved in preserving the ecosystems, water and water ecosystems. Children in Mae Hare village have limited opportunity to learn about these important lessons in life, so in order to help them, we need to teach them some English. It is positive loop for what is hoped to come out from this idea, where children will learn English by interacting with volunteers and this will motivate them to study harder and create willingness to learn more. With education comes the knowledge and people will be more aware about the environment they live in and this creates better communities for next generations.
Since I was new to the place, the first week I have spent learning more about the project and adjusting to my new temporary home. Together with 8 other volunteers we have spent time learning more about elephant lives at this project and their amazing stories of rescue. Our daily schedules included harvesting sugar cane, walking with elephants in the forest and having afternoon English lessons with local kids. The week we had arrived the children were on a break, so we had a small group of students with us. It almost felt like private tutoring were at the end of the week I had my own student who only wanted to study with me and same situation with other volunteers. I liked the intimacy because I could see progress right away and it was very rewarding. The first day when I started teaching we began with colors and animals and after 6 days, they have already memorized the words and knew the English alphabet. At this point I had a good idea on how I can interact with children and what is the best way to teach them English when regular volunteers have only one week of stay. Some of the suggestions I have written for the ENP website column was that it would be very helpful if volunteer brought along school supplies and interactive materials such as stationary, coloring books, fairy tales and maybe some games because a lot of the children that I have taught were 5-7years old (although their age varied from 2-14years). In the past, the volunteers didn’t have good concept of what they could teach so I think it was useful to create an outline on what they already know and what could be taught next. By next week, I have helped out the new volunteers to adjust to their new role as a teachers and gave them suggestions on what they can do and what can be taught.
Overall, I have accomplished all my stated goals and was satisfied with the outcomes, but most importantly, I have met amazing group of people and from whom I learned a lot. All the three weeks I have spent there I was a teacher as well as student, a student of life.