Most of the time at Elephant Nature Park is spent at the park, caring for elephants and helping maintain the facilities. However, our calendar of volunteer activities clearly shows that on Thursday, we are heading out of the park to do some volunteer work at the village elementary school with the kids.
I love my elephants, but the idea of getting out and into a Thai village really excites me. I know I’m falling in love with the country, so spending time seeing how people live in the small villages rather than the cities really fascinates me.
So, on our fourth day at the park, we board our two white vans with the ENP ¬†logo on the side, and head off to the local elementary school.
Muangkud School takes only a few minutes to get to from the park. When we arrive, the students, all in uniforms, are either in their class rooms or outside, playing.
Unlike the elementary school I went to, this school is one floor and very basic. It is a U-shape, with classrooms opening into a large courtyard.
The principal of the school comes up to us and begins to tell us about what we are doing.
“You can teach them English or play with them over there,” he says, gesturing to two of the rooms. “Over there, you can learn how to ¬†weave jewelry, bake sesame balls or get a massage from the students who are training.”
The children take to us immediately. I head over to a mat to meet with a 12-year-old girl who shows me how to weave a beautiful bracelet.
While I sit there, younger kids come up to me, handing me pieces of paper. I look at the paper — on it are volunteers names with the places they are from. I am handed sheet after sheet and write the same thing over and over: I am Diana. I am from America.
One little boy sits with me as I write, placing his tiny hand on my leg and looking over my hand as I scratch out the words in pencil.
Pam and Steve are covered with kids when I arrive to the classroom of little ones. Pam, laying on the floor, is balancing kids on her legs, extended in the air. Another volunteer, Sonja, is walking around with two girls attached to her hip, one on each side.
I sit down on the floor and am swarmed. The kids are in love with my digital camera. We don’t speak the same language, but it’s obvious what they want: photos.
Of course, I oblige.
There is one little boy who can’t get enough posing. He stands there, flashing the peace sign, looking gangsta, whatever he feels in the moment, and looks at me anxiously, waiting for me to snap his photo. After each photo, he rushes up to me and stands next to me, looking at the image on the tiny screen.
He’s not the only one who hams it up for the camera. The boys are far more intrigued by seeing their photos than the girls. The girls are being carried around the room or juggled on Pam’s legs.
I stay with the younger kids for a little longer, letting them take my camera and take their own photos, then I head over to the food area and grab some sesame balls and a “milk shake” which is really powder milk with some generic Oreos and ice blended together. And, it’s damn tasty.
Drink in hand, I split off from the group and wander a little down the road from the school. There’s not much around it … just wooden houses and jungle. But, it’s charming and peaceful in it’s own right.
After two hours at the school, Jack and Chai gather us back into the vans and we return to the park. When we get back to the main compound, I am thrilled to see the founder of the park, Lek, sitting at one of the wooden tables and benches.