When Lek (the woman responsible for Elephant Nature Park) announced that she would be going to Bangkok on Wednesday night, and going to Parliament on Thursday, I was intrigued. Her plan was to meet with the Prime Minister, and present her with a petition of over 10,000 signatures to pass laws on animal welfare, and animal rights -something that Lek has been fighting for, for many years. The details were vague, but when she invited the volunteers to join her (there are 31 of us, from all over the world), I knew I wanted to go (and 17 others joined me).
We drove all night on Wednesday, arriving in Bangkok on Thursday morning. The morning was slow, at first, but as 11:00 a.m. approached, things started to pick-up. More protestors arrived, faces were painted, t-shirts were handed out, and signs were passed throughout the group.
Protests in Bangkok seem to be slow at first, but pick-up over time (at least, in my experience). In some ways they almost feel like one big party, as trucks with loudspeakers pull up and blast music. But this isn’t a party, it’s a serious issue. Just after 11:00 a.m. Lek and several volunteers and protestors walk through the gates and onto Parliament property. There is excitement in the air as we walk along the path and into an air conditioned reception room. Once we’re inside the room microphones are set-up, and baskets (as well as boxes) of petition forms are laid down on the floor. For some reason the TSPCA (Thai Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has shown up. This is not their protest. They have not helped with the planning, or execution, and as soon as we’re inside Parliament the push Lek out of the way and try to claim responsibility. Some are outraged, and vocal about what is happening, Lek merely ignores the politics and focuses on why she is in Bangkok, to present a law on Animal Welfare and Animal Rights for consideration by Parliament. It’s another testament to her outstanding character. By the time we leave Parliament we’re told that the laws have been moved up on the docket, from position 47 to position 17. It’s a big win.
As travellers (in my opinion) we have the opportunity to connect with, and give back to, communities all over the world. We’re able to lend our voice, and sometimes be a part of something unique and special. Yes, travel is fun, but there is more to travel than full moon parties, or tourist sites.
This week 31 volunteers from around the world came to Elephant Nature Park to donate their time, and to experience this amazing animal shelter. They worked hard, and were given opportunities to get up close to several of the elephants at the park. They bonded as a group, and learned about Lek’s story (as well as the stories of many of the elephants). On Wednesday 18 of the volunteers (myself included) decided to travel 10+ hours overnight, by mini van, to Bangkok. We didn’t know what was happening or what the plan was, we only knew that Lek needed our help.
These volunteers didn’t hesitate. They jumped in with both feet, and not only did they make an impression on the Thai protestors, and ministers, but Lek as well.
Travel has the ability to transcend ones understanding of the world around them, but first we must open ourselves to it.
Open our eyes, so we may see the opportunities that are laid in front of us.
Open our ears, so we may hear the needs, and hopes of others.
Open our hearts, so we may be free to give of ourselves whenever we can.
Going the extra mile may not be easy, but it is definitely worth your time and efforts, and the reward is great. Knowing you have helped someone in need, helped a community, a cause…It’s euphoric. And for those that you are helping, imagine their surprise and delight when they see a foreigner care. It means more to them then you’ll ever know.
There is still so much to write about Lek, and the Elephant Nature Park. My time there has ended, but I still have more that I want to share with you. I hope it’s something you’ll want to learn more about as well.