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Volunteers' Stories




Volunteering on the Elephant Experience Project at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka

I have a story to tell. My name is Lesley Rogers, I am the PA to Head of Legal for Virgin Mobile in Trowbridge. I have something amazing to share. Virgin have given me the funding to live a life long dream to wash an elephant. I hope you enjoy the journey too.

 My journey started on the 21st July 2009 when I boarded the plane at Heathrow to fly 11 hours to the island of Sri Lanka.  I had never been Far East before and had no idea what was waiting for me!  I had to tell myself, I am now on the adventure of a life time, so get a grip and here we go. I arrived at lunch time and was greeted by one of the people who would be looking after me for the next 16 days. The journey to Ja-Ela House was scary they don’t seem to have any rules for the road it was like wacky races. Motorbikes every where, Tuk-Tuk’s all over the place it was quite chaotic. 

Day 1 - After a very restless night listening to all the strange noises and coping with the heat I awoke about 5.30. It was really quiet except for the noise of crickets, birds and the wild life. Later that day I was taken to Colombo to have a look at the capital of Sri Lanka. It was all so different and quite crazy really the shops seemed so disorganised but interesting. Naranjella (the house mother) asked if I would like to see the main Buddhist temple, of course I would, so off we went. When we arrived I asked if I could take some photo’s and when I was in the main part of the temple a monk approached me and he asked me to follow him. I followed him and outside was the most beautiful elephant. I was over come with emotion he was amazing - my first sight of a real elephant it was awesome.

Day 2 - Had a quiet day and just rested and lazed around the house, went to the local store did a bit of nibble shopping. Watched the chipmunks playing on the roof of the house, these are the local squirrels. Started my diary because I did not want to miss a minute.

Day 3/4 - We drove to the Kegalle House where I would be staying for the rest of my time in Sri Lanka. It is nearer to the Elephant Sanctuary in Pinawalla. I was so excited at the prospect of being so close the elephants. I was anxious as well because I was not sure what this would entail. We started by cleaning the elephants sleeping quarters, lots of ellie pooh, ‘Allo Betty’ it is called in Sri Lanka.  We would clear all the leaves and tree trunks into a tractor trailer and off they would go. It would take about 2 hours of intensive labour and in the heat it was hard work, but most rewarding. Other travellers joined in the experience and it was great because all were like minded and adored elephants. It was wonderful.

Day 5 - I went down to the river and washed an elephant called Raja. What a treat that was! I was amazed at how hairy elephants actually are. I was handed a coconut shell and told to rub. It was so emotional for me I was crying and talking to this elephant like a burbling idiot and can confess so were most of the others, I was in heaven. How amazing this elephant is at 63 years old. Raja is blind, he had been shot by poachers in his head causing the blindness. They can not remove the bullets as they are too close to his brain. He is cared for by the sanctuary and has been with them for a long time. He is very happy there and I think enjoys the attention he gets. Quality of life is paramount.

This was what I have dreamed off since I was 8 years old, to have a childhood dream come true is amazing I can not tell it in words JUST AMAZING.

Day 6, 7, 8, 9 10, 11 - Working with the elephants in the sanctuary made every day an adventure. There was always something going on. We would clean out their night sheds for their arrival after their afternoon bathe. To watch 50 something elephants race back to their bedrooms was amazing.

I have walked with the elephants, fed babies, cleaned up after them, had an afternoon with the vet to talk about elephants, again I have been to heaven and back. I have watched them play and scratch, watched a baby get to grips with her trunk, it was hard work but when she finally picked up the twig she gave the biggest squeal of delight and went to show her mum.

To put the icing on the cake I rode an elephant. I am the luckiest lady in the world to have been given the opportunity of living a life’s dream. It was more than I could have imagined and has changed my life completely. I will be going back to Sri Lanka next year, I have left my heart over there and need to go back to pick it up.

Thank you soooooooo very much Virgin for making it happen and thank you to Travellers Worldwide for making it such a smooth experience with no travel/accommodation and visa problems whatsoever. It was amazing and I recommend it to anyone who wants an adventure.

More Information about your Trip with Travellers

List of ALL PROJECTS in Sri Lanka

Emily Martin - Welcome relief!

The wonderful house boys who will cook your delicious meals!