Volunteering Abroad.

Please visit: http://www.millenniumelephantfoundation.com

Millennium Elephant Foundation. Saliya and Veejay.

March – April 2012.

Millennium Elephant Foundation, Kegalle, Sri Lanka.


During the initial visualisation and planning stages of my travels I had never considered volunteering abroad. To be honest, it didn’t appeal to me as it didn’t seem like much fun. How wrong you can be!

Luckily for me, at the time I was starting to put my trip together an old friend of mine was working as a Volunteer Coordinator at an animal welfare charity in Sri Lanka, Millennium Elephant Foundation. Although I still wasn’t sold on the concept, my family and friends reminded me that this was going to be the trip of a lifetime and I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Amie and see Sri Lanka. I booked my trip with Sri Lanka as my first destination and planned to stay for a month.

The MEF gardener Sena, with some volunteers.

The Daily Chores of an Elephant Volunteer.

When I arrived I was assigned to an elephant named Seetha and introduced to her mahout, Kapilla. A mahout is a individual who is paid by the elephant’s owner to manage and look after them. Mahouts spend the vast majority of their time in close contact with their elephants. The next day my volunteer duties were to start and I couldn’t have been more nervous/excited!

A typical Monday – Friday routine looks like this…

06:45 – Wake up.
07:00 – Meet Kapilla, clean Seetha’s bed.
07:45 – Accompany Kapilla and Seetha to the river, help Kapilla with Seetha’s bath.
08:30 – Breakfast with the other volunteers and the Coordinator.
09:30 – ‘Vet check’. Volunteers feed their elephants a doughball infused with essential vitamins devised for their individual needs. The elephants also have their feet swept and checked for signs of rot.
10:00 – Gardening/transferring dung to the paper factory next door (yes, they recycle elephant poo into paper!).
12:00 – Lunch (otherwise known as nap time).
14:00 – Campaigning, fundraising, social media networking.
15:00 – ‘Project work’. Everyone has a different project to work on during this time. Usually it’s something related to your skill set. In my case I was helping to write a newsletter and helping local school children improve their English.
16:00 – Enrichment. During the day the elephants work as a tourist attraction, but that must be a bit boring for them. So the enrichment program is a way to allow them to interact with each other and their surroundings.
18:00 – The elephants are put to bed.
19:00 – Dinner.

Volunteer Grace sweeping her elephants feet during vet check.

Working at MEF was without a doubt -the- highlight of my trip. Volunteering gave me the opportunity to fully engage in Sri Lankan culture and being able to work with elephants in a hands-on capacity is something I’ll never forget. The other volunteers I met were all solo travellers like myself, so it was easy to make friends and bond with people quickly. We had weekends off so we had the opportunity to explore the country, visit the beaches and cultural sights, etc… which was fantastic. If anyone out there is planning to take a round-the-world trip, you simply must volunteer somewhere at least once! I regret not looking for similar opportunities to this in the other countries I visited.

Seetha giving me a bath!