For a little over a week I’ve been volunteering in Sri Lanka with the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society and it has been one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had. With less than a week left I feel well adjusted to life at the Fieldhouse. I’ve loved seeing elephants, volunteering with the program, and meeting such amazing people.
Before traveling halfway across the world alone, I didn’t really realize how alone I would truly feel. The moment that I stepped off the plane for my layover in the Seoul airport was when it set in how far away from home I actually was. I think the scariest part for me was not having anyone I could directly talk to. Traveling alone also showed me that I am more capable of doing things on my own than I first thought. Having to travel without a group forced me to become more independent and I was able to learn to solve problems by myself.
At first I found it difficult to adjust to living with a bunch of other young adults in an open air Fieldhouse. I missed my family a lot and I was nervous to try to talk to such a big group of people. Once I was able to immerse myself in the projects and get to know the people I was surrounded by, the Fieldhouse felt a lot more like a family. It was difficult at first, being younger than everyone else there I felt like I had a lot less experience; but, through lots of card games, shared interests, long truck rides, communal meals, and working together I was able to make some very good friends.
Volunteering with the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society has been one of the best things that I’ve ever gotten to do. Each morning we wake up in the open air Fieldhouse to the sounds of birds, singing voices echoing off the mountains, and the breeze blowing in. After breakfast, we split up to do different projects like checking camera and sand traps, monitoring elephant fences, gardening and helping farmers, analyzing dung, and looking for footprints. The heat and humidity makes the work difficult, but getting to volunteer in such a special place is worth it. During the hottest part of the day we have lunch, enter data to the computer, and have a nice break. In the late afternoon we go to different locations like tree huts or lakesides to watch for elephants and record information about them. You don’t always get to see an elephant, but when you do it feels so special. One of the most surreal feelings is getting to look into the eyes of an elephant that is less than 100 feet away from where you’re standing. The evenings are filled with fun, everyone talks about the day, eats dinner, and plays a lot of card games.
The people of Sri Lanka are incredibly friendly, driving down any road you’re bound to see people out and about, smiling and laughing with one another. Everyone greets each other with a smile and wave, and everyday that we drive by a school tons of small children come rushing outside just to wave at the land rovers driving by. The local people are also very welcoming of any projects the organization is working on and they are extremely generous to all of the volunteers. After projects we would be invited in to the house for biscuits, fruit, and sweet tea. It was as so meaningful to get to meet all these people and be privileged enough to be invited to their homes.
With my last few days in Sri Lanka I hope that I’ll be able to see even more elephants. We’ve seen so many already which is very lucky considering some days you don’t get to see any at all. I want to try to reach out to even more people and be the one to start conversations with other volunteers. I love learning about different people and all their thoughts and goals. Everyone here has a common interest but are all from so many different backgrounds and countries you can never get bored talking to everyone. I am also going to live more in the moment these last few days, I want to appreciate where I am and not let my thoughts wander home.
Getting to travel to Sri Lanka to volunteer with elephants at the age of 16 is such a crazy experience. It’s one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done, but also one of the most rewarding. Life at the Fieldhouse feels so normal now, it’s going to be weird going home so I hope to continue living in the moment and making the most of these last few days.
Jessica Hovermale, from Corvallis, Oregon, is a Greenheart Travel First Time Traveler Scholarship recipient. Learn more about Greenheart Travel’s scholarship opportunities to help you travel for a change!