Shelter builds and elephant baths are no stranger to CSU student Marissa Mullen. In June Mullen traveled to Thailand to work alongside wildlife researchers and fellow conservation enthusiasts to protect endangered elephants. While this opportunity was a life-changing experience, she was also able to impact a cause that was and continues to be much bigger.
Mullen is a fourth-year student who is working towards degrees in Anthropology and Ethnic Studies. She heard about this opportunity through an EDventure representative who came and visited her class. EDventure allows volunteers to choose what program they want to help with, along with which area of the world: either Thailand, Cambodia, Nicaragua or Costa Rica.
While each program provides a unique experience, working with elephants stood out to Mullen. “I decided to participate in the Thailand project which is focused on both conservation and humanitarian service work,” she stated. “The first week was spent at the Surin project, which focuses on keeping elephants out of exploitative markets, such as circuses, which are very detrimental to the health of elephants.”
Mullen and other volunteers were able to bathe, feed, and interact with a variety of elephants and their caregivers. They also helped with manual labor, such as cleaning enclosures, harvesting sugarcane, filling potholes and planting.
Despite the linguistic differences, Mullen did not lack in understanding the locals. “We learned basic phrases through the program and worked with people who spoke both English and Thai who could translate for us,” she stated.
The second week of the trip was spent working with a girl’s school located outside of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Tasks including painting, building a duck house and fixing up a basketball court for the girls.
Although the main purpose of the trip was service work, this program also provided the ability to enjoy Thailand to the fullest. The final week of the trip was filled with fun activities, including zip lining, participating in Thai cooking class, visiting a Buddhist temple and visiting a local lake.
While obtaining course credit for this program was not an original goal, Mullen says she may be able to get it approved in the fall. Even if it does not count towards her degrees, she said that this program was the most life-changing experience she has ever had and would recommend it to anyone wishing to travel and make a difference in another country.
“I learned more in three weeks than I could have ever imagined and was able to experience Thailand for more than just its tourist attractions. I feel very fortunate that I found this program through CSU,” Mullen said.