Mathieu Deslauriers - October 2014 Program Participant

A volunteer helping to haul sugar cane in Thailand.

Hauling sugar cane for the elephants in Thailand.

How did you hear about The Bamboo Project? 

I heard about Bamboo Project when I first arrived into the Kingdom of Thailand and I met the very dedicated Bangkok Coordinator. She talked to me about the organization, and then about a project with elephants in a village near Surin.

You had the privilege of volunteering with The Bamboo Project twice! The first was a building project on the island of Koh Samui. Which was your favorite? 

Both of them were nice, but I had a preference for the Two Week Thailand Ultimate Elephant Experience. This is because it wasn’t a common day-to-day life situation you can live in. I hung around many elephants in a very well built village where those gigantic mammals are very well treated, truly respected, and honestly loved.

Northern and southern Thailand offer extremely different geography, weather, and even culture. What advice would you give to volunteers for each area of Thailand?

No matter which area you choose, I would say to bring light clothes, sunglasses, and a raincoat. More precisely for the northern Thailand, long sleeves pants and shirts, and bug spray (this can be bought easily on location). In southern Thailand, you might want to rent a motorbike. Get yourself an international driver’s licence before arriving, and be very cautious on the road. It is important to be open-minded toward the Thai culture, and show a mark of respect for the king. Most of all, to enjoy yourself in a well behaved manner.

A volunteer riding an elephant in Thailand

Taking a little elephant ride while volunteering.

Thai people have a well earned reputation as some of the nicest people on Earth. What is an example of a time you were impressed by their hospitality and helpful nature?

This question is easy and difficult at the same time. I was amazed by their kindness so many times while I was at the Two Week Ultimate Elephant Experience Project, but perhaps the most was when I stayed with the host family. I had my own room in which they installed a bug net all around my bed, made sure fresh bottles of water were in the fridge, and that food was cooked and served to us always before they would eat. They really made me feel comfortable in their house.

What is your favorite characteristic of northern Thailand?

The omnipresence and practice of the Buddhist religion.

What were your day-to-day responsibilities volunteering with elephants in Thailand?

It consisted of waking up not too early, having a breakfast of our choice, and then going in the backyard to greet the main focus of the project – the elephants. We would help the owner by scooping up the nature’s needs of this charismatic animal. Then, we would prepare some food (cut bamboo, leaves, and sticks) or go elephant back riding to the river. We then came back for lunch, played educational or sports games with the local kids, chatted, interacted with the elephants, and served them food. We were able to go to the local open market and assist at a elephant show that was very impressive. At night we would have a good diner, watch some Thai tv, laugh, and then sleep well.

Volunteers bathing an elephant in Thailand.

Elephant bathing time.

Elephants are such enormous yet adorable creatures. How did you feel in their presence? What was the most useful piece of advice you received in regards to volunteering with elephants?

At first, I was a little apprehensive, but after meeting and petting the elephants, I gained confidence, even more so when I climbed on one to go to the river. The best advice I received was to move out of its path when it’s coming. Elephants won’t stop marching even if you stay in front of them.

Would you recommend The Bamboo Project to other volunteers? 

Certainly and for many reasons! Primarily because they take very good care of their volunteers. Nothing is left to the unknown and everything is taken into consideration, from the moment you arrive at the airport to the end of the project. Everything was perfectly organized.

What were your housing arrangements like while volunteering with elephants?

They were fully equipt - a well built house, living room, kitchen, personal bedroom, bug net provided, shower, place to sit outside, furniture, and appliances–everything needed to live comfortably.

Elephant tourism is a controversial and hot topic all over the world, but especially in Thailand, since it’s so popular there. What is your take on the industry? Should it remain legal and accessible to tourists?

I’m 100 percent in favor of this touristic income, I didn’t witness any bad practices during my time working with elephants. There is so many of them in Thailand, so why not leave that as a profitable tourist attraction. I think that everything involving animals (without cruelty) that doesn’t cause a threat to human life should be legal. They have so much to offer that we don’t know about, that’s why it should be left as it is so the curiosity of humans toward them can be satisfied.

Volunteer riding an elephant in Thailand

Close up of riding an elephant.

What are some items people should consider when deciding which elephant organization or sanctuary they should visit in order to maintain responsibility in the industry?

Visitors should be aware of the conditions in which the elephants are living in, similar to the conditions humans have. The elephants should have a place where they can interact with each other, and the animals themselves should have a full shape and not look boney. If they appear boney, this could mean they don’t get the proper amount of food. Last but not least, they should have proper medical care if they need it.

The Bamboo Project is a relatively new organization, but has years of experience in Thailand and close connections in all of the communities they work in. How did this shape your volunteer experience in Thailand?

I think it helped in the way that we had access to all the best services we could have had. From the quality of hotels we stayed in, to the transport services, they were all very suitable. The tourist attractions we visited were among the most popular ones. The living conditions were something that was well considered. All factors were worthy from a professional organization.  

How has your experience volunteering in Thailand affected your future plans? 

In all honesty, it didn’t really affect my future personal or professional plans for the moment. I already had something in mind for after the completion of those projects. But, what it did is give me the ardor to join another project. Since it was a great experience, I wouldn’t hesitate to join another. Maybe one day I will do that. 

What I do know is that I recommend anyone who has even a little interest in this kind of project to not be rigid, but let yourself loose and try it. These projects are created to allow you to experience things you would never be able to do by yourself. In the end, you’re the one that will regret not being a part of it.