While hiking Adam’s Peak was the bucket list item for me in Sri Lanka, my day at the Elephant Freedom Project should be on everyone’s list when visiting Sri Lanka! One of my goals while traveling is to spend some “karma yoga” time in the country (definition: Karma yoga can be applied to everything you do: from the most trivial, ordinary tasks to greater, more challenging works. When action is performed selflessly, with full focus and attention, it brings fulfillment and freedom).
I wasn’t sure what to expect, you read that every Elephant orphanage or sanctuary treats the beautiful animals rightly, or that they are truly the best one for animal rights and freedom. So I was skeptical, but the Elephant Freedom Project seemed to have the right standards, and then what really reeled me in was the chance to visit a local school with the program.
Every hour of this day was more amazing than the last. We kept saying over and over: this just keeps getting better and better!
The location: Elephant Freedom Project is located between Colombo and Kandy. From Kandy, it’s about a 1.5 hour bus ride, from Colombo about 2.5 hour trip (bus or train). The project is run out of a family homestay near the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage (which is a massive elephant tour trap that still uses chains and doesn’t treat the elephants right according to sources…I didn’t experience it myself).
I was with the most lovely group! A mother and daughter from Hong Kong and a couple from the UK on their honeymoon. They were so enjoyable, and I really loved getting to spend the experience with the sweet little girl, Rosie. Seeing a child’s excitement and joy made my day even better.
Elephant Freedom Project was started and funded by a man who used to work at a nearby elephant orphanage and wasn’t happy with the treatment of the animals. He teamed up with a local family, and started a program where they rescue elephants from the Elephant tourist attractions when they are hurt and in need of healing. They’ve had a number of elephants over the years that they’ve treated and been able to return back to the owners. At this time, they have one elephant named Nilame. Nilame was rescued because she has a badly injured right leg from all the tourist rides. It kept getting worse and worse and no one did anything to heal her. It’s visible how bad the injury is on her leg, very big and swollen. She also has some deep scars on her back from the riding chair. That was painful to see, as I myself have ridden elephants with chairs on their back…it made me tear up and I told her I was sorry like 10,000 times, I’ll never do it again!
- Bathing Nilame: This was surreal. We got to take Nilame into the river and for hours wash her, scrub her, massage her back, and just play. It was a little intimidating feeling how giant of an animal she is in the water. However, she was calm and playful and loved her bath! I’ll never forget this amazing interaction.
- Walking Nilame around the town: we seriously took Nilame on a walk like she’s a puppy! We went across the main street with her and into a beautiful tropical forest. She just wandered and stopped for shade and grass every 2 minutes.
- Cleaning elephant poo – no need for explanation, yep, we did that.
- Dung Paper Factory: This is seriously amazing. They use elephant dung to make paper! It employees a number of locals who make beautiful paper art and it saves the trees!!!!
- Cooking class and lunch: In the homestay, we got to have a Sri Lankan cooking class to prepare our lunch. We used all fresh veggies and spices to make some delicious local dishes! My favorite part was shaving coconut and making fresh coconut milk for the curries.
Okay so if this day wasn’t already the best, in the afternoon we visited a local school where students of all ages gather after their full day of school for English language lessons. Their age and English proficiency varied greatly, but they were all so happy and excited to get to practice! I was blown away by their inquisitiveness. One girl asked me to share an unforgettable moment in my life. Wow girl, deep question! I shared about teaching in Africa, and how much it meant to me to get back in the classroom and what it’s inspired me to do after. Some of the guys told me they love America because of the beautiful ladies, lol, one boy has over 40 fish and will totally rock his dream of becoming a marine biologist, and I even met a young woman who is pursuing her medical degree this year!