I chose GVI as they were the best priced and because of their website search tool which finds the best program for you. I had six weeks off over the summer and wanted to travel more and do something worthwhile. The GVI Elephant project appealed to me more than any other programs as it had a conservation and community side to it.
Alumni Spotlight: Jonathan Berry
Jonathan is an ICT and Sports teacher at a primary school in Liverpool. He loves to travel and see the world. He is also big into ethical Tourism.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
The majority of the necessary things are organized by GVI which also provides you with everything you need in-country. The only things I had to take care of were my flights and spending money. You do have to organize your own Visa, but they provide you with all the necessary documentation. The call center staff members at GVI were all very helpful and got back to me very fast.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
For new volunteers doing the Thailand program, I'd advise them to go with an open mind as regards to the bathroom facilities, and to just enjoy every moment of the experience and try all of the opportunities offered. Take a bit extra spending money so you can do your own excursions as the village can be a bit boring at the weekend.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
The average day consists of breakfast at 6:30 followed by elephant hike at 7:30; you'll see two to three elephants per hike (Tong Dee is the best). After hike, you will either have lunch back at base or cooked for you in the forest by the elephant watchers or Mahouts. You usually have some down time to shower or do some washing, etc.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you attend school to teach English to the children. After that, it is usually free time until Debrief which leads nicely into dinner time. After dinner, there is a number of night time activities going on throughout the week such as English with the mahouts, one-to-one English with villagers, Karen jewelry making, and basket weaving.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
My biggest fear was going on my own. It was my first long journey alone, and it was a bit nerve racking at first. Thankfully, I was able to overcome this as soon as I landed in Chiang Mai. As soon as I left the airport, I met the staff and other volunteers straight away, and there was no awkwardness as we all got to know each other right there and then. I am still in touch with many of the volunteers I met and will stay lifelong friends with them.
Would you go back to the same place, or volunteer with the same company again?
I would go back to the village in a heartbeat! I'd live there forever if I could. As for GVI, they're a great company, and I can't wait to do more volunteering with them. I plan to do a six-month internship with them next summer, and I would really love to work for them someday!