Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013: A Summary of the Past Year from Huay Pakoot

Hello again from Huay Pakoot!

We are so excited for the New Year to begin and for our project to continue to grow and improve as time goes on! Currently, we are in the process of creating a new GVI website that will be simpler to use and allow you to learn more about all of the amazing projects that GVI takes part in.  Therefore, this will be the last blog at this blog address.  Please stay tuned to our Facebook (GVI Thailand Chiang Mai) and Twitter (@GVIchiangmai) pages for updates on where you can find our new blog on the new website! Thank you, as always, for your support of our project and we wish you the happiest and healthiest of new years. 

Here is a summary of the major things that happened in Huay Pakoot during 2013!!!

The beginning of the year started with some unfortunate circumstances in the village when one of our baby elephants, Song Kran, consumed pesticides from the nearby crop fields.  The amount of pesticide consumed caused his body to shut down and Song Kran passed away in January.  The death of this baby elephant was a complete shock to everyone in the village, including the volunteers, the Mahouts, and the villagers, and it was immediately decided that changes needed to be made, not only to prevent something like this from happening again, but to ensure the health and safety of the elephants in a variety of situations.  The Song Kran Fund was started in January with the aims to train the Mahouts successfully in elephant first aide and to create an emergency veterinary clinic in Huay Pakoot for more accessibility to injured elephants for effective treatment.  The month of January also brought on more interest in biodiversity in Huay Pakoot.  Night hikes were started to allow volunteers to explore the biodiversity that comes out at night near the village, and data collection began to understand the other wildlife that we have in the area!

The second month of the year in Huay Pakoot saw increased community relations with GVI through organized fun days and increased interest in learning English from the locals.  The fun day that occurred in February took place at the school in the village and involved a football match, cooking Thai food with the kids, and playing all sorts of games and activities.  We also continued to teach English language lessons, both in the school and to the community.  Our project is conservation minded, but events like these allow us to have positive relationships with the villagers that we live and interact with daily!

March brought one of our first fundraising projects to benefit the Song Kran Fund that was established in January.  A climb up Doi Suthep, a 1,676 meter high mountain near Chiang Mai, was completed by a group of volunteers and staff members, and all of the participants raised money to go directly to the Song Kran Fund! We appreciate the hard work and exhausting day that these GVI participants endured for the health of our elephants! We also celebrated World Pangolin Day in the village! We celebrated this day to increase awareness about the species, which could be seen in the village in the past! One day we are hoping to have more Pangolins around Huay Pakoot, indicating we have a healthy forest and habitat for them to live in!

In April, our Lead Mahout had the amazing opportunity to shadow and assist elephant veterinarians at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center near Chiang Mai. He lived at the Conservation Center and spent his days learning the daily care and modern veterinary procedures for the elephants at the center in the hopes that he could bring this knowledge back to the village and share with the other Mahouts.  Having this knowledge helps ensure the health of our elephants, since we are so far from any clinics that would be able to treat our elephants! April also brought the celebration of Earth Day, allowing GVI participants to help clean up Huay Pakoot and appreciate the beautiful area that we are fortunate to live in!

May was the month of increased activities and events to make sure our volunteers had opportunities to learn more about the culture, interact with the locals, and spend more time in the forest.  One change that started in May was the chance to eat in the forest! On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the volunteers have the opportunity to cook their lunches in the forest, using all natural materials taken from the forest, such a bamboo serving dishes and bamboo spoons.  With the help of the Mahouts, it is possible to create noodle dishes, fish dishes, and lots of crushed chili dishes over a big fire created by the Mahouts.  It has been a great opportunity for the volunteers to interact with the Mahouts and learn about the forests that surround Huay Pakoot.  This month brought an increased interest in learning English throughout the community, so in addition to teaching English at the school, we started programs to work one on one with the Mahouts, as well as offering additional classes after school for the kids and teaching English to our homestay families after dinner.

Five new elephants joined our herd in June of 2013! This expansion is a huge step forward for our project because the main goal of the project is to have elephants come from camps and other venues that are detrimental to their health and be able to live in their natural habitats! These elephants, including a mother and son as well as three generations of females, now get to have lives filled with more open spaces, a variety of food sources available, and socialization with other elephants that we have on our program.  We are so happy to have San Jep, Mario, Kham Suk, Kha Moon, and Lulu on our project and love seeing their personalities come to life as they begin their happier and healthier lifestyles in their natural habitat.

We celebrated World Tiger Day in July to once again create awareness about tigers and their extreme population decline worldwide! Volunteers and staff members spent the day researching facts about the tiger and creating fact sheets to post around base for future volunteers to see and be educated.  Our volunteers and staff also created a Paper Mache tiger and learned about the history of tigers in Thailand.  One of the elders in the village shared stories from when he was younger about the tigers in Huay Pakoot and the interactions that locals had with the tigers.  Tigers threatened the villagers, the dogs, and the livestock in the village constantly, which is crazy to think about since the presence of tigers in this area is almost non-existent.  It was a great day to learn about the tigers, both the facts and figures and the personal experiences from a villager!

World Elephant Day, which is a day near and dear to our hearts in Huay Pakoot, provided an chance for all volunteers to get involved and think of ways to spread awareness for elephants outside of Huay Pakoot.  The volunteers and staff created an amazing video about the ethical issues that Asian Elephants face and how projects like ours aim to change the circumstances that elephants face.  Everyone enjoyed a showing of the film once it was completed and we hope that the video will continue to be shown to families and friends all over the world to increase awareness.  Part of the day was also spent in the nursery with the kids playing games and doing activities that were all elephant related and taught the kids about how the elephants are much happier when they get to live in the forest instead of in camps! It was a great day filled with elephants, and we hope to continue to increase awareness and education throughout the entire year!

Because our baby elephants are not quite old enough to be in the forest constantly, we decided that it would be beneficial for them to have some sort of environmental enrichment during the time they spend in the village.  Our babies can show some stereotypical behavior that they would have acquired in the camps to amuse themselves, and the goal of the enrichments is to cut down on this behavior as much as possible.  The enrichment program has created food related toys for the elephants to play with and puzzle them to keep their attention away from negative behaviors. In September, we created large barrels with holes in them to fill with elephant grass as a puzzle feeder, and we hope to continue to create enrichment devices to keep the elephants amused in the afternoon and evenings when they are in the village.  Having these devices has already shown positive changes in the frequency of stereotypical behavior and we look forward to the future of this project!

In October, GVI had the opportunity to participate in an annual sports tournament that Huay Pakoot competes in every year! Participants from 20 other villages came to Huay Pakoot to compete in football games, volleyball matches, and Tah Croch games.  Huay Pakoot had an amazing football team and won the finals on the last day of the tournament.  GVI created an all girls volleyball team, and despite the losses against the other more experienced teams, they had great spirit throughout the tournament and continued to cheer on the other teams from Huay Pakoot.  Once again, this tournament provided a great opportunity for GVI staff and volunteers to interact with villagers and build positive relationships, all while having fun in the sun and running around!

We participated in a 48 hour sleep-out in the forest as another fundraiser for the Song Kran Fund in November at the end of the rainy season! Our Mahouts helped us find a suitable campsite for the weekend, and we packed up our essentials and walked to our campsite, which was about 2 or 3 kilometers from Huay Pakoot.  We all worked together to collect firewood and clear a big area for sleeping, and then attempted to make our own lunch without the help of the Mahouts for once! It was very successful, and then we went on a hike down the nearby river to search for biodiversity near camp.  At night, we had the opportunity to hike and see the elephants, which is a rare opportunity, and despite the treacherous terrain, it was amazing to see them in a whole different light.  We went on gibbon hikes in the mornings, roasted marshmallows over the camp fire, and tried our best to get some sleep! The money raised for surviving this sleep out will be a huge help in building the clinic for our elephants in the new year! We also celebrated the lantern festival that takes place all over Thailand, both in Chiang Mai and Huay Pakoot.  We let off lanterns by the school, symbolizing the release of any stress or worries that you may have.  It was an amazing bonding experience that everyone took part in and had the chance to be worry free!

Our year has been wrapping up with Christmas celebrations on base, and New Year’s Celebrations with the villagers and guests from many other villages.  Another notable event that happened early in December was the completion of the Chiang Mai Marathon and 10k by 6 volunteers and staff members.  The motivated runners traveled to Chiang Mai the weekend before Christmas, woke up at the crack of dawn or before it, and ran around the old city, once again to raise money for the Song Kran Fund! Everyone completed the race in great times, and although they were sore coming back to the village, our program appreciates their motivation to help our elephants once again!

We want to thank you again for all of your support of our project and all of its goals, both long and short term.  Please stay tuned as we begin our new blog in the new year! Best wishes!!!


Monday, December 9, 2013

Karen Cook Book

For a while now, the Karen cookbook has been an ongoing project taken on by long-term volunteers. The idea is to gather recipes of the dishes we get served on a daily basis on the program and put them in a book along with instructions on how to make each dish. The book will also include pages about the history of Karen cooking as well as recipes gathered while cooking in the forest with the mahouts on elephant hikes.

Every other Wednesday we split up into groups of 3-5 volunteers and go to a homestay for a lesson in Karen cooking. Most of the recipes in we have so far come from these classes, but more involved volunteers may cook with their homestay on a regular basis. Cooking with the families mostly consists of chopping the ingredients and stirring them in the wok, but it is a great opportunity to interact with the villagers. Both to learn a bit more about their culture and to practice speaking their language.

When printed, the cookbook is meant to be a souvenir for volunteers, new and old, and the proceeds from the sales will go into the SongKran fund. The money raised in this fund will go toward building a clinic for the elephants in the village as well as toward educating the mahouts in medical care for their elephants.

I took over the project a week into my stay here in HuayPakoot, after the previous two who worked on the book left early. They had gotten a great deal done and so far I have not been able to add more than a few new recipes. During my remaining two months I hope to gather information on the history of Karen cooking. I also hope to cook more with my homestay to add more recipes and complete the book.

When I arrived here in HuayPakoot it was pumpkin season, and while we get less pumpkin now the dish below is still a very common one. Other common dishes include stirred cabbage with egg, stirred green beans with egg and fried rice with egg. For non-vegetarians the dishes often include pork, but can also include chicken, fish or a number of wild animals from the forest such as barking deer.

Here is an example of one of our recipes

Translates into‘stirred pumpkin and egg’

- 2 eggs
- pumpkin
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
- oil
- 2-3 cloves of garlic (optional)
Start with chopping the pumpkin into small rectangular pieces.
Boil the pumpkin until soft (approximately 40 minutes).

Preheat the wok and pour in the oil. If using garlic, add the crushed cloves to the wok with the oil. Put in the eggs, add the boiled pumpkin and stir.
Put in the soy sauce and the oyster sauce.

Stir for an additional 7 minutes.

Serve :)


Friday, December 6, 2013

The vets visit Huay Pakoot!

This week, we had a visit from the vets from the conservation centre in Chiang Mai. They had come out to do health checks on our elephants and to look for any signs of illness or wounds. They began their health check with our three calves, Mario, Bpee Mai and Lulu by checking their weight, their height, their ears and their feet. Mario appeared to have some kind of insect living in his ear which they gave him an injection for and they also gave the calves some vitamins and deworming tablets.

Next we moved on into the forest to visit our first adult herd, Thong Dee, Mae San Jep and Mana. As soon as we arrived with Thong Dee, all the mahouts minus Patti Syee ran away from Thong Dee since they are terrified of being near her but Thong Dee seemed calm with the vets around her. Again the weights, feet and ears where checked and all seemed healthy with this herd. They were given some de-wormers, which Thong Dee and Mae San Jep ate off the ground and which Mana was given with pumpkin.

Next we moved onto our final herd, Kha Moon and Khum Suk. The health check on Kha moon went smoothly and she had no problems and ate her de-worming tablets no problem. Once the vets went to check Khum Suk, she started to get agitated and we had to give her a lot of elephant grass in order for her to keep still long enough for the vets to carry out their health check. Once the health check was completed, we found that all was healthy with this herd too.

Once the vets were done, they noticed an injury with one of our mahouts – Jordoh had stepped on a nail earlier on in the day whilst in the forest and was limping. The vets tended to his foot by flushing it with hydrogen peroxide several times and bandaging it up. Once they were finished, they vets had completed their job and where back on their way to Chiang Mai leaving us feeling more confident with the elephants health.

Kerri McCrea


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Natalie's week!

Monday morning. We set off at 7am and to my surprise start an uphill climb out of the village on the main road. Tong Dee, Mena and Sanjep have been moved from down the bottom of the forest. We soon turn off up a red dirt track and as it has been raining we start to collect the mud on the bottom of our shoes getting heavier and heavier with every step. The views from up the track are stunning as the sun shines and the rain holds off. We head off through the corn fields bags of bananas in hand for the Monday elephants feed. So far so good the terrain is relatively flat. Oh I thought it was to good to be true we are now into forest and head downhill to cross a small but slippery river and hike back up the other side we carry on walking for some time, we ask Gallape how much further he laughs and replies uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill. After two and a half hours we finally reach Tong Dee she beautiful and waits patiently as we take it turns to feed her bananas. We then move on to Sanjep who also waits graciously for bananasand finally we reach Mena. The elephants then walk off further into the forest and we try to follow and considering they move slowly they can certainly cover ground very quickly, we see them ahead crashing through the forest pulling down bamboo, happily eating on their way. We then had to head back the same way and what I challenge I found this hike, I had to dig deep my heart racing, lungs pumping and legs burning, eventually after six and a half hours we all finished the hike and I just wanted to cry with elation that I had made it.

Tuesday I had a bit of a chill out day, but did get a great night’s sleep after the hike the day before. We had been invited to take part in the village sports tournament as a volleyball team so we started a bit of practice about fifty percent of the team were afraid of the ball so taking part would be fun.
Wednesday it was back to baby hiking and oh I love them so much they are definitely my pace and this seems so much easier after Monday, the babies were great to all staying together . It’s the usual Bpee Mai and Mario show, Mario following and sticking as close to Bee Mai as possible, Lulu always in sight but doing her own thing and we follow them on their days wander through the forest. Mario has his usual little moment roaming between Lulu and Bpee Mai eventually settling with Bpee Mai. K We trek back as the heavens open and I retreat to my homestay for a cold bucket shower and a change of clothes, very refreshing. Afternoon we practice volleyball again oh the gola team have some work to do, it rains so we take cover and Kerri and I hang around for the villagers to turn up for practice and they allow us to join in and returning for dinner I feel really happy.

Thursday hike is a bit of a cheat but kindly Singtoe has still offered to take us to see the elephants, as the villagers have an event to attend, it’s kind of like a village fair people from the village and all other villages attend and there is fund raising and food. Singtoe drives us down to Cha Moon and Cham Suk and they are very comical today he gives them a heap of elephants grass each and Cha Moon eats at an amazing rate of knots and decides to help herself to her mother pile of grass, Cham Suk is not having this and tries to pick up as much grass as possible and move it from Cha Moons reach its quite comical. But she lets her more or less help herself. The mahouts believe that Cha Moon is about four to five months pregnant. Singtoe explains how she is moving much more slowly than normal and hoe sometimes she eats a huge amount and other times hardly anything, these are possible signs that she is pregnant. The two elephants move towards us and the mahouts move them back, I think the elephants are just being inquisitive. They carry on with the elephants grass and when they finish they head back into the forest and we get a lift back to base. We all head up my favorite pathway to the temple at the top of the hill there is a huge gathering and free food and drinks to try. They all seem to bring an offering which is a homemade tree decorated with money and treats, cups, plates and other gifts. The villagers then all gather round to pray at the temple.

Friday is bright and sunny and we all eventually wander up to watch the football and wait to be called for the volleyball. Our first match is against the little pinkies (a team of ten year old school girls about half our size) and all the villagers gather round to watch the Gola team. At first we hold our own and it’s 11-12 they soon take the lead and win the first half 25-12, we swop sides of the court and are thrashed, but it’s all good fun and we pose for a picture with them. We play are next round later in the day with the same result, but we are getting marginally better and have at least one more match tomorrow. We watch the football Huaypakood seem to win all their games, the married team have mixed results and the second team also do well. We return on Saturday but the weather is misty and drizzly, we play our final match and also lose however 25-20 and 25-12 is much more respectable. Huaypakood win the whole tournament for football on Sunday and Hauypakood first volleyball team come second, the weekend draws to a close. 

48 hour Survival Sleep-out!

Last weekend, GVI staff and volunteers slept out in the forest for 2 days to raise money for the Song Kran fund. The Song Kran fund hopes to gain money to put mahouts through ethical elephant training and raise money to build a clinic for elephants in the village in case there’s any emergency. . GVI staff and volunteers asked friends and family to donate to the cause via social media.

A major point of the sleep out was learning to take care of ourselves at our makeshift base in the forest; cooking surviving at our home in the forest. However, the mahouts don’t seem to think we, as volunteers, can do anything right and they ended up doing a lot of the things we wanted to try to do ourselves. However, each opportunity the volunteers observed what the mahouts were doing. We watched Jordoh make bamboo cups and bamboo spoons and then all the volunteers took turns trying to make a bamboo spoon. For a while, the mahouts left and when Jordoh came back, he threw all the spoons the volunteers made away and made a new set; so at least we can say we tried even though they were not mahout approved spoons. Boon Chew and Suhwit loaned us their machetes to make bamboo cups. And Dee laid out a tarp for us to sleep on.

Volunteers had a little more success cooking. A few volunteers were actually able to keep a fire going and Friday, when we arrived in the forest, we managed to make a lunch of mashed potatoes and noodles for ourselves and Dee and Jordoh; they seemed a little wary of the mashed potatoes. However, with the exception of making fried rice on Saturday, the mahouts cooked all our meals; not that anyone was complaining because we got to eat Dee’s pumpkin and the mahouts made us chicken. After cooking each time, the mahouts tried to take the dishes down to the river to wash but all volunteers managed to hold them off in the task.

One of the unforeseen highlights of the sleep out was how much time we got to spend with the mahouts; even though from their standpoint they probably thought they were babysitting us. Friday night, all, if not most, of the mahouts were with us in the forest for dinner; a few left a few hours later after hiking to go to bed in the village. So at least we can say we slept out in the forest when some of the mahouts will not. The mahouts who did sleep in the forest with us  slept around the campfire. We all had fun drinking hot chocolate with the mahouts and having them teach us how to properly use a slingshot.

All in all, the sleep out was a success. No one got hurt and we got to, at least, observe some survival skills the mahouts displayed on our sleep out. It wasn’t quite what we planned for but what in life is ever what we think it will be?

By Megan Brase


Monday, November 11, 2013

Huay Pakoot Sports Tournament

This month was Huay Pakoots annual sports tournament which is held in the village every year and can only mean one thing, getting active and getting sports gear on! The tournament is attended by twenty other local villages and the sports that are hosted at this event are football, volleyball and tah croch (a traditional Thai sport). GVI donated a generous contribution towards the tournament which allowed it to be so successful.

When GVI staff and volunteers first heard about the tournament a few months ago, everyone was very excited and enthusiastic about getting involved. The girls wanted to get involved with the volleyball even though most of them had never even played before but training schedules where made to practise and although everyone soon realised they were doomed from the beginning, they were just out to have fun! As the project has a low number of male volunteers at the minute, the boys on project where invited by the locals to join their team.

The teams practised for a few days before the tournament began (unlike the locals who had been practising for months) and few staff and volunteers even practised volleyball with the local girls of Huay Pakoot who had entered their own team and attempted to teach the volunteers some of their volleyball skills. When the team shirts arrived the day before the tournament (yellow and blue, the Huay Pakoot colours!), it became clear that there was no way of backing out and so there was a mixture of fear and excitement on project but everyone was looking forward to what the next day would bring.

The first day of the tournament arrived; some volunteers helped out with cooking the lunches whilst everyone else made their way up to the school where the tournament was being held and watched all the people from the other villages turn up. Once everyone had arrived, the tournament kicked off with the football matches and we watched Huay Pakoot’s three teams go to victory with GVI as their cheer leaders!

In the afternoon, the volleyball began and the Huay Pakoot local girls where one of the first teams to play, again showing their skills and winning the match. Soon after it was GVI’s turn to play and they were faced with their opponents, a group of eleven year olds who as it turned out were very good and ended up winning the match. GVI had one more match that day which was also a loss but the local teams all seemed to be doing very well and progressed through.

The next day the team had one more match to redeem their name which again was another lose and so GVI was knocked out of the tournament which meant everyone spent the remaining time as cheerleaders for the local girls volleyball team and the local boys football teams which all seemed to be doing very well. The tah croch also began this day with some of our mahouts and locals playing but unfortunately they didn’t get too far.

At the end of the day, the football team with some of the male volunteers had to go into penalties and one of our volunteers was requested to take one. Everyone was cheering him on, both locals and non-locals but the pressure was too much and he missed.

On the last day of the tournament we had the semi finals and the finals. It began with the volleyball where the Huay Pakoot girls won their semi final game and sailed through to the final only to be defeated at the last post but they where a well deserved second place. Next was the semi-finals of the football where the two Huay Pakoot teams played against each other and the stronger team won and went through to the final.

The final was very tense and ended with penalties but in the end Huay Pakoot was the winning team with everyone playing extremely well. The tournament lasted for three days and it was a huge success all around. Everyone had fun both watching and taking part and you can really see the togetherness of the local communities and how they all work together to make things such as this happen without any disagreements. 

Meeting the Eles!

The second day trekking with the elephant, I meet Kham Moon and Kham Suk a mother and daughter adult herd. We trek up my favorite track again and down the main road, following the mahouts into the forest, we find a clearing and mahouts head off to find the girls. We sit in the clearing (and I have a pepper moment, Nikki plays her I pod Wayward son by Kansas plays it is completely surreal). We then hear the elephant bell in the distance and Jordoh returns with Kham Moon, she stands patiently whilst we do a health check and then goes off into the river, a short time later we hear the second bell and Singtoe appears form further up the mountain forest with Kham Suk. She also stands whilst we health check, the mahout leads her towards the river, Kham Moon has moved further up the river and as Kham Suk heads for the water she slaps her trunk on floor, which unsettles Kham Moon, the mahouts give some instruction and the elephants settle and join each other at the river they stay for a while easy viewing distance but start to head up river, making viewing more difficult but they now seem happy surrounded by trees and plentiful food, in their element.
The ever thoughtful mahouts make sure we can still have a view of these majestic creatures, Singtoe make a path down over, it’s about a 200 foot drop to the river and elephants, there is no path, he nimbly cuts away the trees, bamboo and it seem whatever he is standing on throws it to the elephants and carries on his route all the way down this drop to the elephants. After clearing a view for us to watch he heads back up the same route, it’s miraculous to watch, myself and Kate open mouthed and Singtoe is standing next to us again, sing a song. I sometimes don’t know who to watch the Mahouts or the elephants,  as this is also a very natural habitat for the Mahouts they are like magicians.  
Then its lunch time a bit of pot luck all lunches provided by homestays in the middle a pot of rice each and the Mahouts get to work again. They bring some ingredients with them and find some in the forest. They chop bamboo and make an excellent serving dish / heating instrument, then start a small fire and make a fish soup heating water adding herbs and spices, when heated they add packets of noodles. They then peeled boiled eggs which they have brought in their pack and mash these in another bamboo serving dish they just managed to knock up in a few seconds. The eggs are mixed with coriander, chillies which have been toasted over the open fire, salt and forest herbs which have been crushed together in a bamboo made pestle and mortar. Lunch is ready and is delicious. We watch the elephants a little longer they are then left in the forest and we head back to base and I still cannot believe the terrain we are trekking but this is elephant territory and the best environment in which to see them.
Thursday after the day’s activities I head with Gemma to record enrichment for Mario (the babies are kept in the village overnight for safety and taken to the forest each day) we take a barrel with a rope strategically placed in it and fill it full of elephant grass the barrel is tied to a tree stump and given to Mario. We record his behavior for stereotypical and the records are kept for research to see if this brakes up the monotomy of being in the village. After a while we add some bananas and elephant grass mixed in the barrel.
Friday we head off to Pai for the weekend as the elephants have the weekend free to roam the forest without us trekking. Pai is a cool, chilled out hippy town about five hours from the village. It has a cafĂ© type culture with loads of hostels, places to eat, is great for shopping both day and at the  weekend we all head back refreshed for the next week.