Food and water for elephants

Melissa Graham's plans to volunteer in Thailand

Melissa Graham will have quite the story to tell when she's asked how she spent her summer vacation.

The 18-year-old TRU student and 2012 LSS grad will be traveling to Thailand in May to volunteer for two weeks at an elephant rescue sanctuary.

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Melissa first heard about International Student Volunteers (ISV) and its elephant refuge through TRU.

"I absolutely love animals and I'm going to TRU to be an animal health tech, so I think this will be an amazing experience," she said. "These are elephants that have been hurt or abused so I'm going to be feeding them and cleaning them. When I heard about the program, I thought 'Why not go and do this?' I'm super-excited about feeding them and I want to ride an elephant while I'm there."

The Asian elephant is disappearing in Thailand and ISV is working with one of Asia's premier conservation parks to help save the intelligent and gentle giants.

Located in northern Thailand, the sanctuary aims to care for elephants that have been rescued from forced labour under terrible conditions, the tourism industry or as orphans. The centre cares for them while also promoting positive animal-based tourism and conservation. Volunteers help with the operation of the centre by feeding, bathing and cleaning the elephants as well as maintaining and enriching their habitat and building new structures for sanctuary visitors.

The volunteers will also venture into local villages to help raise awareness about the importance of conserving the Asian elephants. That outreach includes community development efforts such as repairing washed-out pathways and constructing new road culverts.

ISV's mission is to "support sustainable development initiatives around the world through life-changing volunteer and sustainable travel programs that educate, inspire and result in more active global citizens."

According to the ISV website, Melissa's working day will start at 8 a.m. and finish around 4 or 5 p.m. with plenty of breaks because hands-on work in hot, humid conditions is very tiring.

This will be her first trip outside of North America. Her flight from Las Vegas to Bangkok will be 15 hours and once she's in Thailand, she will be traveling and working with a group of 20-30 volunteers from around the world.

Graham's four-week visit winds up with two weeks of adventure travel in Thailand that will probably includes visits to temples, limestone caves and hill tribe communities, zip-lining through the tropical forest, sea kayaking, snorkeling and time to relax on a beach and soak up some sun. Graham said her final itinerary would not be finalized until one month before her departure.

To help defray the costs of her Thai volunteer adventure, Melissa has written fund-raising letters to businesses and organizations in Lillooet.

She said last week she's pleased with the support she's received.

"I'm very happy with the response," she told the News.

Anyone who would like to help with her trip expenses should contact her mom Michelle Graham at 250-256-7792.

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