During the summer of 2014, I knew that I wanted to travel to a country I had never been to before, but wanted something more than just the typical foreign traveler experience. After my internship at the Pittsburgh Zoo, Through some serendipitous searching, I discovered a B-Corp certified service called Animal Experience International. They place volunteers in responsibly and ethically run animal hospitals, rescues, sanctuaries and government programs around the world. Working with them gave me peace of mind that the experience I would have would be beneficial to both me as well as the organization and local community I'd be helping.
I went to Thailand for about 3 weeks to volunteer at Wildlife Friends Foundation, an animal sanctuary nestled in the jungles of Phetchaburi. They strive to rehabilitate, release when possible, and educate the public on the importance of wildlife conservation. Their founders have also been critical in lobbying for better animal protection legislation in the Thai government.
At the sanctuary, I spent two weeks working with the rescued wildlife in the jungles, and then another week with the elephants rescued from the horrors of the tourist industry. During this time, I helped to feed, clean, and provide enrichment activities for animals like gibbons, langurs, otters, bears, a cassowary, a binturong, and more. While there, I also became friends with other volunteers from all over the world with a range of different backgrounds but all brought together by this shared passion. This was my first experience with this kind of vacation abroad and it opened my eyes to all the future possibilities in "voluntourism." I loved being able to travel to a different country and experience the natural beauty and culture there while feeling like I was making a difference in the lives of these animals.