Hello there past and future EHRA volunteers and staff. My name is Beejal ~ I’m a Vancouverite who volunteered with EHRA around Nov 1, 2016. Here goes my 411 on the experience (but first a bit of back history on “why”):
EHRA to me was more of a spiritual experience. I’ve been wanting to do something with my own hands in terms of trying to help elephants (and all wildlife in general). I’m a financial contributor to organizations like WWF, Sea Shepard and David Sheldrick Wild Life Trust, but I felt I needed to do more. EHRA fit perfectly.
I have always been a lover of nature and wildlife since I was a kid. I would watch nature TV shows way before they become “popular” like they are today. To admit I watched those shows back then would put me in the “nerd” category in school : ) ~ but hey, watch what you love, right?
The news about elephants, whales, tigers and the like being slaughtered for profit has always disgusted me. I wrote a “fairness blog” that I let EHRA staff Chris and Kaylee read, I think they were a bit surprised at my take on that. I don’t believe corporations have a right to exploit anything they want for profit at the expense of species and indigenous peoples being obliterated.
Also, there’s a show I saw on CNN called “Heros” in 2015 where CNN showcases 20 unique individuals who were truly selfless in their acts of volunteerism, giving, and dedicating their lives to a “cause”. To me, people like that, the wild life park rangers, environmental volunteers (even the ones who camp in trees to keep them from being logged) are doing gods work. Anyways, back to CNN, there was an American woman who went to Nepal after the earthquakes recently. She saw little girls who were abandoned by their families chipping rocks in a river bed to earn money. This woman was so heart broken to witness that she vowed right then and there to save at least one girl from this fate. This woman’s goal was to one day look down on that river bed and not see a single little girl chipping rocks. There must have been hundreds of little Nepalese girls toiling in the river bed. Long story short, this American woman opened a small school and boarding house for little girls next to the river bed. During that CNN broadcast, she told the audience that her goal was achieved, and in 3 years, there was now not 1 little girl in that river bed chipping rocks. All the girls were being taken care of by her orphanage, and all thriving. This story really inspired me. I thought, if by my own hands I can help save even 1 elephant from human/elephant conflict by helping to build a wall around a well, I must do this. If I can save 1, maybe in time, the universe will see to it that ALL are saved someday. I’d like to think years from now (or hopefully even months from now), the world trade in ivory and all wildlife will cease. That’s my wish. That’s what I pray for.
And lastly, I’m a Hindu. Hindu’s believe in the elephant god Ganesh. I felt I can’t pray to the elephant god and just sit back and watch the real elephant gods that walk this earth get slaughtered. I had to do something.
Namibia arrival and EHRA:
I know Swakopmund, I’ve been in 2011 when I went to Etosha, so it was kind of familiar. I never thought I’d return though, but in 2016 I did. Our group was briefed by Kaylee on that Sunday and I knew I was gonna be in for some serious work (hard labour). I’m the first to admit that I’m a princess. ; ) I didn’t think I could live without my shower, bed, walls, electricity and all that. But I did. For elephants, I had do this.
My advice to any of you who are thinking of giving EHRA a try, just do it. If princess Beejal can do it, anybody can do it. Trust me.
Getting to basecamp was kind of surreal in a way. I was blown away. I really liked it. We got to sleep in a tree house. I got the “honeymoon suite”. Everything was looking good. All us volunteers were all sitting around the main table after getting to camp wondering when or if we’ll see an elephant. BOOM. A big bull elephant walked by camp. We couldn’t believe it. They’re soooooo quiet. I couldn’t believe it. None of us had our cameras ready either. So, we all hurriedly got our cameras out in case there was another. BOOM again. A 2nd bull walked by. I got him on my sony NEX 5. The bulls stuck around that evening and came into camp at dusk. It was totally a religious experience for me. I’m thinkin’ “the 40 hour flight to Africa was already worth it”.
So, now let me skip over to build week. We were in some small village about 3 hours away from basecamp. It was hard work building that wall. No doubt about it. The heat. The flies. The village kids:) But we all survived. EHRA fed us well and we all did what we could. I happened to get a bunch of “Canada flag” pins from the dollar store before leaving Canada. Man, distributing them to the local kids made me feel like santa claus. It was cool.
Now, patrol week. I’ll keep this short and sweet (just like me): It was absolutely priceless. ; )
Thanks Chris, Kaylee, Matias (young and old), Rachel and the rest of the EHRA staff. This experience is now tattooed in my mind forever.