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 shit around (how fun!). Once that was done I often would wander up and watch Kandoola 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 Kandoola 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 Kandoola 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 Kandoola 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 shit 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 Kandoola 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 Kandoola 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 likeminded 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! 😘