Melissa is a traveler with a very interesting good luck charm. She carries a Ryan Gosling head with her wherever she goes. The talisman was a gift she received at the beginning of her trip from a hotel staff. She left on her trip in February of 2014 via a one way ticket to Thailand. As part of her travels, she spends time volunteering at well deserved locations. You can read more about her adventures on her blog, Where’s the Gos.
Why did you choose to volunteer abroad? I chose to volunteer abroad because I knew I would want a break from all of the typical sightseeing things. I also wanted to do something that had purpose and would keep me busy.
Did you work through a volunteer organization? I volunteered at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai on the dog side.
How did you find/choose your particular organization? I first went to the park on Nomadic Matt’s Thailand Tour back in February. It was part of our itinerary to volunteer with the elephants for the day. I was going to continue traveling after the tour and I wanted to come back for a longer amount of time. Looking at the options available, volunteering with the dogs worked better for my budget so I chose to work with them. Also, in my previous life, I was a dog walker and I did start to miss the pooches while on the road.
Where, when and how long did you volunteer? The Elephant Nature Park is located in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I was there from March 30- April 6. You can either do a day trip, stay overnight, or volunteer for a week. Some people stay longer.
What was your job while volunteering? A typical day? As a dog volunteer, your main focus is feeding, cleaning and walking the dogs in the clinic. After that is done, you spend time with the other dogs that are kept in runs. So the start of the day is 8am. For about an hour you and the other volunteers take care of the clinic dogs. After they’re done, you break off into groups and head into the other runs to either walk, play, check for ticks, or give baths. Lunch time for everyone at the park is from 11:30-1pm and that’s the only official break you get as a dog volunteer. After lunch, it’s back to walking the clinic dogs again. Emphasis is placed on them because they’re locked in cages all day so they need to be taken out. After these dogs are done, the volunteers break off into groups once again and hit up the runs that weren’t touched earlier in the day. Around 3:30pm or so, it’s dinner time at the clinic. After the dogs are fed, it’s time to walk them for the last time. This takes a little bit longer since they’re not going to be let out again until 8am the next day so they need to get as much business done as possible. The last job of the day is to scrub the floor around the clinic with detergent and water. If there is a large number of volunteers available, end of day can be as early as 4:20pm but the typical time is 5pm. After 5pm, volunteers are free for the rest of the night with dinner provided at 6pm.
How did you save/raise money to pay for your volunteer expenses? I already saved a large amount of money to travel around Southeast Asia with. Volunteering with the dogs at ENP was 5,000 baht which comes to around $154. That money includes accommodation and three meals a day so I didn’t feel like it was hurting my wallet at all. Once I was at the park, I didn’t spend any more money except on the occasional soda or candy bar.
Do you feel your presence and work made a difference? I give this answer a resounding yes. There are hundreds of dogs at the park and not enough people to go around to really give them all attention. They could use all the bodies they can get. It’s definitely an all hands on deck situation.
Would you recommend volunteering abroad? Why or Why not? I would recommend volunteering abroad; it can be an enriching and rewarding experience. At the same time, people need to do their research before picking organizations because the impact of some volunteer opportunities can be more harmful on the local environment than others.
What do you know now that you wish you knew before your volunteer experience started? I wish I knew how much sleep I wasn’t going to get. The main complaint I had was that the house the dog volunteers stayed in was amongst all of the dogs so there was barking and other noise non-stop, all night. Fair warning to those who are thinking about going; bring ear plugs.
Any additional information you would like to share? You really have to love, not like, but love dogs to volunteer at ENP. It’s a lot of work and you can’t expect well behaved animals so you have to be able to have a firm hand.
Melissa’s website: WheresTheGos.com
Here is the post the she wrote about her experience at the park.
Elephant Nature Park website: http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/