Last October, I spent two weeks volunteering with Greenheart Travel in Sri Lanka with my partner. We had a fantastic experience overall.
The placement is remote, in the middle of the jungle, but there’s electricity and running water at (almost) all times and if you pick up a SIM card in the airport on your way in, you’re able to get 3G and phone reception on your phone.
Staff on the ground were super friendly and welcoming, though I will admit that we weren’t given the most thorough introduction to the field house when we first arrived — a film crew from the U.S. was arriving the same time as us, and I think it ended up being a little chaotic.
I also want to make it clear that to get to the site, you have to take a 2-3 hour train ride and then a 4 hour *bus* ride. Totally fine, but if you’re like me, you don’t really want to go chugging a bottle of water before a trip like that.
Apart from logistics, the area surrounding the field house and most of the areas where we conducted research were stunning. We were only able to see elephants on one day when we went into the national park, but hey, it’s wildlife, they do what they want, right?
Also, the food was delicious, but I’d suggest volunteers bring a few snacks of their own… especially if you want more fresh produce with your meals.
Impact: I was only there for two weeks and, although I learned a lot about the human elephant conflict and can now educate others on it, I didn’t really do much to directly contribute to the project. Still, the organization itself is doing great work to support the community and elephant conservation, so regardless, I feel very good about supporting this organization.
Support: Greenheart’s staff was incredibly supportive from the start. They checked in with us several times before and during our trip to make sure everything was going well. Staff at the local Sri Lankan organization was a little hands off (which, as an experienced traveler, I liked), but available to answer any of our questions, help us figure out bus times, etc.
Value: A little expensive considering that travel in Sri Lanka is very, very, very cheap.
Fun: Okay — I gave this one a 7 because yes, I had fun (I brought a fantastic book, was there with someone I love hanging out with, and enjoyed the company of the other volunteers), but if I’m supposedly “rating the social scene”, well, er, lets be honest: there’s not much of a social scene in the middle of a jungle.
Safety: Overall very good. I do think it would have been worthwhile to go over some safety protocol for being around wild elephants though.
Overall: There are definitely a few small things that could be improved with this program, but fortunately Greenheart and the local staff both were incredibly receptive to our feedback, and I have full confidence that they’ll take it to heart. Nonetheless, it was an incredible and completely unique travel experience — even for someone who has been to over 30 countries!
Bonus: The house had 6-week old kittens while we were there. So cute.