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Volunteer at an Elephant Conservation Project in Sri Lanka
Greenheart Travel participant Greenheart Travel participant

Volunteer at an Elephant Conservation Project in Sri Lanka

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    10

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Community Engagement

    10

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Day to Day Life

    10

Amazed by this amazing country!

After three glorious weeks my Sri Lankan adventure has come to an end :(. While part of me wishes I was still covered in dirt, tracking elephants, and living off of curry I knew that it was time to come home.

For me personally the local people are what made this trip so incredible. Traveling as a solo female can be daunting, but I can honestly say that I did not have a single bad experience with anyone while here. I cannot count the number of times I had people come up to me and ask if I needed help with directions, or where I was from, or even just to say hi. The sheer kindness and selflessness I witnessed from the Sri Lankan people will never cease to amaze me.

I have experienced American culture, Swedish culture, and many other Europeans cultures while traveling; however, none can to compare Sri Lanka’s. 70% of the people living in the country practice Buddhism which I had little to no experience with before traveling to the country. Buddhism is such a loving religion and it really reflects on the culture in Sri Lanka. The people are very respectful and humble, spending hours a day mediating, praying, and giving offers to their Buddhist Gods.

From the stunning mountain ranges, to the lush forests and mesmerizing untouched beach, photos will never be able to portray just how unbelievably beautiful this island truly is. I have seen lots of elephants, monkeys, lizards, buffalo, cows, birds, scorpions, and insects bigger than my head! The food has been unbelievable (even if it is rice and curry for every single meal). Sri Lankan food is very similar to Indian food. Lots and lots of curry, rice, and bread, although it tends to be much spicier. A typical breakfast includes “shorteats’ (basically all shorts of breads study with veggies, fish, etc), string hoppers (rice noodle disks), and various curries to dip you string hoppers in.

Overall Rating

8/ 10

  • Volunteer Placement

    10

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Community Engagement

    8

  • Health & Safety

    8

  • Day to Day Life

    10

Life in Hettipola--5 transformative weeks

I have so many wonderful things to say about this program I do not even know where to begin! Greenheart was a truly incredible organization to work with, and I am so grateful for their assistance in finding this placement. Every aspect of my experience was handled with utmost professionalism, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Flying in from Kuala Lumpur, my flight had been delayed. Fortunately, the local staff was understanding, and picked me up at midnight in Colombo nonetheless. I was taken to a local hotel, and then picked up in the morning to go to the train station. I hopped on the train to Kandy which was an exciting experience. The man that drove me made sure to run on the train before me to assure I had a good seat, one on the side of the train with the best views. And the views were incredible. The trains in Lanka are much slower to those I've experienced in the states, or in China, but every slow second was worth it. Winding up through the mountains, you're climbing in elevation while you get to experience the most magnificent of views: rolling hills with blues and green like I've never seen before.

In Kandy, I was picked up by another local staff member, taken out to lunch, and then driven to the field house near Wasgamuwa national park. Day one was exciting. I made it in time to go out for field observations. During these you'd either go to a tree hut or another location in the Land Rover, and wait for elephants. Many days there were none. However, on my first day we saw a herd of 20. Being in the midst of these massive, beautiful creatures for the first time was incredibly humbling.

During the mornings, we would do different sorts of field work: dung or branch transects, surveying crop damage, electric fence monitoring, sand traps, GPS mapping or checking on the camera traps. As I mentioned before, we would do observations in the afternoon. When elephants game, it was truly magical. Watching them play, run around, fight, being undisturbed is magnificent. The local staff is very considerate of the elephants, keeping a distance, and assuring that all of the volunteers remain quiet so as not to alter the elephants' behavior.

This conservation project is incredibly comprehensive in the research that they do, especially for having such a relatively small permanent staff! I learned so much about the human-elephant conflict here in the 5 weeks, and the staff there is incredibly knowledgeable about both the conflict and the ecosystem there. I had many very informative conversations with Chandima (one of the heads of the project) about the complexities within the wildlife situation in Sri Lanka: politically, socially, and pragmatically. The Conservation Society does a brilliant job at conveying the issue from both the perspective of the Elephants' well being and the Farmers.

I also learned about other kinds of wildlife in the area as well! The society has captured Leopards, Deer, Sloth Bears, Rusty spotted cats, and of course Elephants on our camera traps. The birds in the area are also incredible, and there are many resources at the field house to help identify them. During field transects, some of the local staff would identify insects, animals, and different kinds of fruit. I ate so many mangoes in my time there :).

The living situation was a bit more rustic, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There was running water, and fans helped with the heat. No Wifi, but if you have a phone you can get a sim card & data plan at a fraction of the price it would be in the states. There's an incredible patio that overlooks the lake, where I loved to watch the sunrise every morning. It was also where we would have dance parties! One thing I value about this project is the level of professionalism with which the staff works, but they also really know how to have a good time. If you ask, the local staff can teach you how to play carrom. Its a game that is a bit of a hybrid between pool and checkers. Sarath and Supun are incredible at the game. During free hours we'd play carrom, read books, go down to the lake and swim, and listen to music. Usually once or twice a week, a group would get together to ride into town (about 10 minutes away) if anyone wanted to stock up on snacks, toiletries, etc.

Weekends, we would get a group together to go on different excursions, going to Adam's peak, Damboullah & Siguryia, or the nearby waterfalls. If nothing else I recommend the waterfalls first and foremost. Rathna Ella is the most beautiful place I have ever been.

I was a big fan of the food here. The ladies that work in the kitchen really know what they're doing, and I definitely learned some tips and tricks from them. Eating with my hands made it so much better as well! There's a lot of rice. I personally love rice, however, and never once got tired of eating it.

Also, I'm a spiritual practitioner with a deep-seeded interest in eastern philosophy. Sri Lanka is predominately a Theravada Buddhist country, and there is a temple near the field house. I got the opportunity to go to the temple and meditate a few days and learn more about the function of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

All around, the 5 weeks I spent on the project were incredibly transformative for me. Being able to develop a more nuanced understanding of this conflict, learning about Sri Lankan culture and spiritual practices, all the while knowing I was in excellent care.

At the field house, I really felt like I was part of a family. I have recommended this project to many people and also recommend it to any one who may happen to be reading this! Thank you Greenheart, thank you SLWCS, and thank you to both the farmers and the elephants!