I volunteered with Starfish – Surin in the fall of 2013. Though I enjoyed the entire two weeks of my term, there are several moments that stood out as defining and memorable.

1. Cooking dinner every night in the elephant village.
While working with the elephants for a week in a small village outside of Surin, we lived in an amazing house. Even more amazing, every night Worn, with the volunteers’ attempts to help, made us amazing, authentic Thai food for dinner. The process always took a while, but we were able to hang out and chat while we cooked. Then, we ate just as the sun was going down, with golden fields and playful elephants in the background.

2. Clutching on to the back of an elephant to avoid being thrown into a pond.

Every day, we took the elephants down to a large pond so they could bathe, romp around, and enjoy themselves. The first time I went, I was on the back of a large elephant, who didn’t hesitate for a second to charge right in. He then proceeded to rock his body back and forth before completely submerging himself. With no rope or anything to hold on to, it was quite an effort to not fall off or float away. Despite it being slightly frightening, this part was an absolute blast.

3. Nap time in the daycare center.

For the first week of my volunteer term, I helped out at a nursery school/daycare in Surin. Most of the day it was complete madness with 40-50 toddlers all running around playing, yelling, crying, laughing, and taking their clothes off. Though overwhelming at times, it was a lot of fun to let loose and play with these cuties. My favorite part of the day, however, was afternoon nap time, when the kids curled up on their little mats and nodded off. Their angelic faces and soft breathing was a stark contrast to the chaos of the morning, and left me with a sweet memory.

4. Feeling like a warrior cutting down banana trees.
Part of my duties while residing in the elephant village was providing food for the elephants when they weren’t out grazing. This meant wearing long sleeves, long pants, and gloves in the hot sun, wielding a machete, and cutting down sugar cane, dying banana trees and coconut palms. If chopping things with a machete doesn’t make you feel like a bad ass, I don’t know what will. It was also fun watching the elephants excitedly take the food out of your hands with their long and dexterous trunks, then transfer it to their mouths.

5. Playing practical jokes on other volunteers.
Working with the other volunteers every day led to quick friendships and lots of fun times. One day, my friend and I decided to play a joke on the married couple staying in a room on the bottom floor of the house. We scavenged whatever furniture and other objects we could find and carefully stacked them in front of their door, preventing them from leaving their room without deconstructing our creation. This went on all week, and they had no idea who was pulling the pranks. Finally, as we drove home after the last day, the truth came out, and everyone had a good laugh.

This is a guest post by Mandi Schmitt from This Limitless World about her experience on one of our projects in Surin, Thailand. Mandi is an adventurous global explorer with a gypsy soul. She quickly realized that the normal, sedentary life just wasn’t for her and made it her life’s ambition to never stop exploring. 

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