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Conservation & Community: Collaboration and Conflict in Saving Thailand's Elephants

This unique course offers you a rare view into the ways that communities and conservationists perceive and react to the realities of saving elephants in one region of Thailand.


Program Information

The population of Asian elephants and their habitat is rapidly declining and there is an urgent need for successful approaches to saving this important member of our ecosystem. GVI offers one of a few viable alternatives to the reality and without our help Thai elephants will soon exist only as domesticated animals confined to tourist camps. Through exploration of the areas where conservationists and community members’ goals conflict, you will better understand and be able to advocate for members of both groups to collaborate on a better future for both human and elephant.

United Nations
Sustainable Development Goals

Overview

All GVI study abroad programs have a 6 week duration, but students will only be in country conducting field work on community or conservation projects for 2 weeks.

The focus of this program is to ensure that the villagers in Chiang Mai acquire the knowledge and skills needed to run their own sustainable elephant conservation project. The goal is for captive elephants (owned by inhabitants of the village) to be successfully reintegrated in a protected forest maintained by GVI. In addition to the opportunity to view elephants in a more natural environment, you will also be able to contribute to the conservation of this beautiful animal species, by participating in the data collection and maintenance support needed to keep pushing this project forward.

Program Details

Project Life

Your Study Abroad program begins 2 weeks prior to departure, when you'll participate in an online course, getting to know your instructor, GVI international field staff and your classmates, all of whom may come from many different institutions across the U.S. and around the world. A majority of your time abroad will be spent outside the classroom, as you work alongside our staff and community partners to address various challenges in the region that you have discussed during the pre-departure sessions.

You'll leave for your chosen destination prepared for a unique and impactful experience abroad. GVI will meet you at the airport, transport you to our center, provide a comprehensive orientation and help you settle into your housing. You'll have the chance to get to know your surroundings, learn more about GVI's work in Thailand and prepare for a time of reflection, discussion and cultural immersion. You will be staying in your own room, within a homestay environment from a local family in the community.

Upon returning home, you'll continue your online course for further 2 weeks, sharing your insights and planning your involvement in addressing the UN SDG’s in your local community at home.

Project Details

All of GVI’s programs have short, mid and long-term objectives that fit with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a comprehensive manner, measuring upon which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution. The experiential component of your course is designed to advance GVI’s existing project work and will help our local partners achieve the goals they have set for their communities and enable GVI to continue making a positive and measuring our contribution to the UN SDGs.

Our goal is to educate you about local and global issues, so that you continue to act as an active global citizen after your course is completed, helping to fulfill our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

Current long-term objectives to which you will be contributing in Chiang Mai:

1. Increasing and promoting the ethical treatment of elephants.
2. Creating a viable self-sustaining eco-tourism program for the village, as well as supporting a stable herd of elephants living naturally in the forested area of the village.
3. Improving standards of living and job opportunities for people in the Huay Pakoot village.
4. Improving sustainable natural resource management in the Huay Pakoot area.

Elephants can be very expensive to care for and are generally viewed as private property by locals. These animals are used as a means of generating income, because villagers are forced to make money through tourism due to a lack of viable alternatives. Elephants require a very specific environment (socially, mentally and physically) to be able to thrive. With a huge increase in the demand for tourist camps, elephants are deprived of the need of their self-medicating diet, highly migratory urges to move large distances, complex social interactions and brain stimulation. These conditions can lead to shocking detrimental health issues for the elephants.

Your Impact

All of our programs have short, mid and long-term objectives that fit with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or UN SDGs. This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.


Upon arrival to base, you will be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. You will learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.


Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.


GVI Chiang Mai’s programs work in collaboration with the local hill tribe and village of Karen. Here we work with the elephant-keeping community to help reintegrate elephants into their natural habitat from their previous lives in tourist camps.


Your contribution will help to keep these elephants in protected forests, continuing the conservation of these beautiful animals and what remains of their fragmented forest habitats, as well as providing funding to keep the project running whilst offering alternative livelihoods to the local community. The goal of this project is to have semi-wild herds of elephants living, socializing, and foraging in their natural habitat, supervised by their mahouts around their local village.


This allows us to offer support to the local community, assist in the conservation of these amazing animals, and to address many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, such as #15 – Life On Land, #4 – Quality Education, #8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth, and #13 – Climate Action.


Project Objectives

 


GVI Chiang Mai Long-term Objectives:  


1. Increase and promote the ethical treatment of elephants


2. Create a viable self-sustaining eco-tourism program for the village.


3. Supporting a stable herd of elephants living naturally in the forested area of the village.


4. Improve standards of living and job opportunities for people in the Huay Pakoot village


5. Improve sustainable natural resource management in the Huay Pakoot area


What's It like?

If you’d like to find out what the experience of joining a GVI project is really like, simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our many Alumni.

We’ll try to match you to an Alum based on your location, nationality, age, stage of academic career, gender, and program interests. This allows you to gain insights into the experience that is most relevant to you.

Depending on your location you might be able to speak to an Alum over the phone or online, or meet up with them face-to-face at a coffee shop nearby. We also run a series of small events around the world where you can speak to GVI Alumni, Ambassadors and staff members.

Our Ethics

Below is a list of core ethics and best practices we believe are essential to the operation of high quality, ethical volunteer and sustainable development programs. We believe that all responsible volunteer and sustainable development operations should focus upon these principles. If you are considering volunteering, these are some of the key considerations you should question, to ensure that your time and money contributes towards positive change.


Our 10 Ethical Commitments

 

Locally Driven, Collaborative Projects

We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.


 

Clear Objectives & Sustainable Outcomes

We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.


 

Impact Reporting

We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.


 

Working Against Dependency

We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.


 

Responsible Exit Strategies

For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.


 

Clear Roles & Specialized Training

We aim to ensure that ever participant is assigned a clear role and that they are fully trained and supported to carry out their work by specialized staff.


 

Respect for all

In all our actions we aim to respect the skills and efforts of all and seek to protect the rights, culture and dignity of everyone who engages with GVI.


 

Local Ownership

We work to ensure that credit for the results of any project, along with any data collected, research conduct, or Intellectual Property developed, remains the property of local organizations.


 

Transitioning from the Orphanage Model

We do not condone and aim to withdraw support of orphanages and residential care centers.


 

Child and Vulnerable adult policies

We will live by our Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult policies.


Continual Development

As an organization, GVI is committed to striving toward best practice, and to educating both our potential participants, our partners, and the world at large about them. Both the volunteering and sustainable development sectors are increasingly, and rightly, under scrutiny. Many recent local and global articles highlight poor practices and questionable ethics GVI is widely recognized for striving to apply global best practice in the volunteering, education and sustainable development sectors throughout our operations by reputable organizations such as ChildSafe.


However, global best practice is always evolving and we dedicate both time and resources to engage with internationally respected experts and learn from the latest research to ensure our programs both fulfil their potential to create maximum positive impact, and minimise their potential to create unintentional negative impact. Along with and as part of the sustainable development and volunteering community, we are constantly learning and applying this learning to practice. We do not always get everything right, but we seek feedback from our community members, partners, participants and our staff, and react accordingly. We know are already doing a great job, and feedback we have received confirms this, but we aim to do even better and are continuously refining our operations to improve upon our already excellent reputation.


What's Included

  • 24-hour emergency phone
  • 24-hour in-country support
  • Access to Alumni Services and Discounts
  • Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)
  • All necessary project equipment and materials
  • All necessary project training by experienced staff
  • Instruction and grade report
  • Location orientation
  • Long term experienced staff
  • Meals while on project (except on work placements for long term internships)
  • Safe and basic accommodations (usually shared)
  • Welcome meeting

What's Not Included

  • Additional drinks and gratuities
  • Extra local excursions
  • Flights
  • International and domestic airport taxes
  • Medical and travel insurance
  • Personal items and toiletries
  • Police or background check
  • School of Record transcript
  • Visa costs (where necessary)

Support & Safety

We won’t sugarcoat it — Traveling abroad is usually a complex process that carries an element of risk. But this is exactly why we’re passionate about providing extensive support throughout the process as well as the highest safety standards during the in-country phase. We believe that volunteering abroad should not only be impactful, but an enjoyable experience that carries as little risk as possible. This is exactly how we’ve been able to maintain our reputation as the most highly respected volunteering organisations in the sector over the past two decades.


Support

Once a participant books, they will be assigned a personal support coordinator who will oversee their pre-departure journey. The support coordinator helps to bridge the gap between program enrolment and arrival at one of our field bases. Your personal support coordinator will ensure that you are provided with all the necessary information required to apply for visas, background checks, and any other documentation.


Safety

Upon arrival at the airport participants will be greeted by a GVI staff member. All GVI staff are our own and all our programs around the world are run by our staff. All GVI field staff are background checked, Emergency First Response and safety trained. Our minimum staff to participant ratio is one to six, although on several bases we have a ratio of one to three. When finishing the experience, participants will provide feedback on all aspects of their program.


Health & Safety Case Studies

19 Nov

HOW GVI UPHOLDS HEALTH AND SAFETY

It takes courage to book a GVI program, get on a flight, and head off to somewhere new. Volunteering offers a level of cultural immersion that typical backpacking or holidays just can’t achieve. This is why thousands of people around the world participate in paid GVI programs.


1 Nov

GVI’S COMMITMENT TO SAFETY AND SECURITY

As the saying goes: ‘Expect the best, plan for the worst’. Cliched or not, we take it to heart. This tenet is at the core of how GVI operates when it comes to promoting the health and safety of our participants, staff, and local community members at all of our 20+ bases around the world.


6 Nov

HOW GVI REMAINS PREPARED FOR NATURAL DISASTERS

The weather isn’t just a topic for polite small-talk here at GVI. We have emergency action plans in place for all scenarios. So when the weather, or other natural forces, takes a nasty turn, we are prepared to respond to stormy situations.


5 Nov

HOW GVI MANAGES PARTICIPANTS EXPECTATIONS

Once GVI has matched a participant to a program that suits their passions and goals, our team aims to set the right expectations for them. In the event that false expectations around a program are created, the GVI team takes immediate action to ensure that the situation rectified.


Cultural Immersion

Engaging intimately with a new context teaches not only global awareness but adaptability and critical thinking, skills highly valued in the modern marketplace. Local and cultural immersion is encouraged on all our programs around the world, and is also one of the most enjoyable aspects of the GVI experience. Luckily, there are many activities you can get involved with in your free time, or before and after your GVI program. On our community programs the focus is on cultural topics, while on marine or wildlife programs the emphasis is more on the environmental element. Use your evenings and weekends to explore diverse and eclectic topics like Theravada Buddhism in Laos or how plastic pollution and climate change affects Indian Ocean coral.


Languages

Thai – This is the official language of Thailand and is spoken by roughly 36 million people across the world.


Festivals

There are festivals throughout the year, the most notable being Songkran, the Thai new year and water festival, held in mid-April.


Cooking

Many visitors to Thailand choose it as a destination because of its amazing food culture. From street food to culinary delights in the finest Thai restaurants, you will never be short of local dishes to try. The national dish of Thailand is Pad Thai, which is a popular rice noodle dish combining the flavours of sweet, sour, salty and spicy with stir-fried egg, tofu, sprouts, and other vegetables, served with lime and crushed peanuts.


Spirituality and Religion

The official religion of the Kingdom of Thailand is Theravada Buddhism, which is practiced by the majority of the population, who visit monastery temples found throughout the country.


Wildlife

The Asian Elephant is Thailand’s national symbol, but there are also many other notable species found in Thailand. These include the two species of bear, namely the Asiatic black bear and Malayan sun bear; gibbons and a dhole, also know as an Asiatic wild dog. You might consider doing a night hike while on base to look for gibbons, porcupines and other nocturnal animals. Otherwise try your hand at identifying unique birds and insects, and surveying the biodiversity in the forests around the village.


Select a Start Date

  • 2019

Select a Duration

Select a start date first.

Select Add-Ons

+ £15
 

Publications

The best decisions in international development and conservation cannot be made without accurate and up-to-date data or informed research. Our many field teams around the world collaborate with local and international partners to analyse data and draw conclusions. In addition, many of our participants have used research they have collected on their various GVI projects to complete their Masters, Doctorate, or postdoctoral studies. We also run a fellowship program which connects postdoctoral researchers at globally-respected universities with our many sustainable development programs around the world to support their research and ensure continuous improvement of our best practices on base.


Parent Info

‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Herritage, one of our teen volunteers who has participated on two GVI programs, one in Costa Rica and another in South Africa.

We are a parent-run organisation that is incredibly serious about health and safety, and increasing the impact, as well as the long-term career benefits of our programs. Our programs help young people develop the skills to select a career path that is personally fulfilling, and live a life aligned to the well-being of our planet and the global community.

Ken and Linda Jeffrey, whose son Sam volunteered with GVI in Thailand, talk about how the experience affected Sam. He also went on to volunteer with GVI again in South Africa. ‘I know it sounds like a cliche but in a sense, he did go away as a boy and he came back as a young man. Both of us could recommend GVI without any hesitation to any other parent thinking about exploring an opportunity for their children to explore the world and to see different parts of it.’

Parent Info Pack

Download the Parent Pack and learn more about:

Our staff: All our projects are run by staff, selected, vetted, trained, and managed by our central office.
Health and safety: Our safety practices include a child and vulnerable adult protection policy.
Staying in touch: See what’s happening on base, by following a hub’s dedicated Facebook page.
Free parent consultations: We would love to talk to you about exciting opportunities available for your child.