Thailand Elephant Conservation Global Citizens

Explore the lush mountainous region of northern Thailand and contribute to vital elephant conservation efforts.

Critical science

Critical science

You'll contribute to vital conservation research targeted at protecting the earth's most valuable ecosystems.
Ethical engagement

Ethical engagement

Using the UN's SDGs as a framework, we've made a commitment to positive, constructive and sustainable impact.
Beautiful adventures

Beautiful adventures

You'll spend your days exploring some of the world's most breathtaking, exhilarating and remote wildernesses.

Program information

Join GVI and discover Thailand. Students will explore and participate in conservation and environmental awareness projects that contribute to the United Nations Development Goals (UN SDGs) #4: Quality Education and #15: Life on Land. Volunteers will have the opportunity to support essential community and conservation project work in and around the traditional Karen community of Huay Pakoot. Visit local markets, hike through tropical jungles, view spectacular waterfalls, go bamboo water rafting, and participate in traditional Thai cooking and basket-weaving classes.

Overview
Itinerary
Covid-19 Response
What's It like?
Your Impact
Our Ethics
Program ethics
Parent Info
Support & Safety
What's Included
Live Updates

Program overview

Experience the breathtaking mountainous area of Chiang Mai when you arrive in Thailand. A peaceful town which is home to many temples, the group will be able to take in the sites and enjoy the local cuisine.  

After that, there will be the opportunity to further explore Thailand and learn about its culture. The group will visit Mae Chaem, where time might be spent hiking to see spectacular waterfalls or visiting the local market. Or there may be the option to take a language lesson to learn the local language, Pakinyaw. The group could also take a day to visit a buddhist monastery and learn about the practices and traditions of Buddhism. 

For the service component, groups will focus on activities such as promoting and increasing ethical elephant tourism as well as working on sustainable community development initiatives to create a viable self-sustaining ecotourism program for the village. As well as contributing towards the UN SDGs, the experience will offer insight into conservation issues facing the region and the measures the GVI team and their partners are taking in response to them.

During your time on this program in Thailand, there will be plenty of opportunities to learn more about Thai culture, helping you kickstart your journey toward becoming a global citizen.

*This overview is an example of the activities and project work that students might get involved in on this program. More specific details of the program are finalised several months before each start date and can be discussed further with your group enrollment manager. The overview shown here has been followed by our staff and group volunteers in the past.

Program details

Program type
Schools, University
Location
GVI Asia, Thailand, Chiang Mai
Focus
Marine Conservation

Itinerary

The following itinerary is an example of the activities and project work that participants might get involved in on this program. More specific details of the program are finalised several months before each start date. The itinerary shown below has been followed by our staff and group volunteers in the past.

Sunday

Day 1

Surrounded by the forests and mountains of northern Thailand, you’ll quickly ease into the peaceful way of life that exists in Chiang Mai. After meeting the GVI team at the airport and settling in, we’ll go over the details of our trip and learn more about the areas we will be visiting.

Monday

Day 2

From Chiang Mai we’ll head to the smaller city of Mae Chaem. On the way we’ll stop and hike to a few beautiful waterfalls, followed by lunch in the city. When we arrive at Mae Chaem we’ll meet with members of the local community, who’ll teach us Pakinyaw, the commonly used language in the area, and visit the local market.

Tuesday

Day 2

Today the group will take a day to visit a Buddhist monastery, where we’ll tour this ancient structure and learn more about the practices and traditions of Buddhism and it’s place in Thai culture.

Wednesday

Day 3

On this trip you’ll work with elephants relieved from tourism indenture. You’ll assist with monitoring the elephants’ behaviour as they are reintegrated into the forests and work alongside their mahouts (traditional elephant keepers). In the afternoon there might even be time for a friendly game of football.

Thursday

Day 5

During this stay there will be plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in the unique culture of the Karen community while staying in homestays. Use the afternoons to engaging in cultural activities such as traditional basket-weaving classes.

Friday

Day 6

Other activities you might take part in include learning about the medicinal power of native plants and working on creating a viable self-sustaining eco-tourism program for the village. In the evening the day’s achievements will be discussed and plans put in place for the following day’s work.

Saturday

Day 7

Today there will be the opportunity to participate in a Thai cooking class hosted by local women as they share some of their secrets for creating traditional dishes. In the afternoon you’ll be able to go on a short hike to learn more about the areas surrounding the village.

Sunday

Day 8

The days are long and jam-packed with activities, so you should expect to be working in a hot and humid forest climate. In the evenings, students will have group and individual reflection time to think about and process what they have been learning.

Monday

Day 9

Towards the end of this trip, we’ll add some time for adventure by going bamboo rafting and visiting a national park which forms part of the Himalayan mountain range. You can expect to see remote villages, view astonishing landscapes, and visit off-the-beaten-track monuments.

Tuesday

Day 10

On our final day we'll have a celebration to mark the end of a job well done. As a team, you’ll look back over the last week and talk about how you have grown as global citizens. Then you’ll travel to the airport with GVI staff and your new friends for your flight home. **Your trip can be extended to include additional side trips and/or further service work.

Covid-19 Response

Health and Hygiene

For over 20 years, GVI has prioritised the health and safety of our staff, participants, partners and local community members. In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, GVI has created the GVI health and hygiene team to put in place new standards of cleanliness, norms and behaviours that meet or exceed international recommendations to ensure the ongoing safety of GVI’s participants, staff and communities around the world. Internationally recommended practices, such as advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the governments Australia, UK and US, continue to be monitored and the standards are likely to change if and when international advice changes.

The work GVI is contributing to across the globe remains important and the following measures allow our participants to continue to join GVI’s programs and continue impacting positively on their world and the communities we work with. The following changes to our existing protocols have been made by the GVI health and hygiene team to strengthen our health and hygiene protocols and ensure that international standard safeguards are in place to protect our participants, staff and host communities.

Download our Travel Smart Checklist

Essential information you need to travel safely during the COVID-19 pandemic - including destination ratings, flight bookings and tests.

Read up on our COVID-19 protocols

What's It like?

If you’d like to find out what the experience of joining a GVI project is really like, simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our many Alumni.

We’ll try to match you to an Alum based on your location, nationality, age, stage of academic career, gender, and program interests. This allows you to gain insights into the experience that is most relevant to you.

Depending on your location you might be able to speak to an Alum over the phone or online, or meet up with them face-to-face at a coffee shop nearby. We also run a series of small events around the world where you can speak to GVI Alumni, Ambassadors and staff members.

Get a first-hand perspective

Meet us

Your Impact

All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.

Prior to your arrival on base, you will be educated about the UN SDGs. Then once you arrive on base, you’ll learn about the specific goals we have in this particular location, our various objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these.

Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to be an active global citizen after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

Please note: Both conservation- and community-focused programs are offered at this location.

GVI Chiang Mai’s programs work in collaboration with the local Karen hill tribe and village of Huay Pakoot. To promote sustainable ecotourism, we work with the elephant-keeping community to assist monitor the introduction of elephants into their natural habitat after their previous lives in tourist camps.

Your contribution will assist in keeping these elephants in protected forests, continuing the conservation of these beautiful animals and what remains of their fragmented forest habitats, as well as providing funding to keep the project running. We also offer alternative livelihoods and English lessons to the local community. Upskilling in English helps facilitate a self-sustainable ecotourism industry. The goal of this project is to have semi-wild herds of elephants living, socialising, and foraging in their natural habitat – supervised by their mahouts from their local village.

Elephant Surveys

We work with local mahouts to track elephants in the forest – collecting behavioural data through observation, taking note of the following:

  • Two-minute interval activity budget on each elephant
  • Interaction with other elephants
  • Vocalisation recordings (written not audio)
  • Monitoring stereotyping behaviour

Every week we do a health check (eye drainage, tongue check, etcetera). It’s important to note that we have a hands-off approach.

Biodiversity Hikes

We conduct day and night biodiversity hikes, recording any species we see, including birds, gibbons, bats, snakes, reptiles, lizards, amphibians, frogs, and toads. We add images to iNaturalist and eBird.

Quality Education

We work with the local government school – with both teachers and students. Our school-based teaching involves English language, health and wellness workshops, environmental education workshops, and sports activities. Our community-based lessons involve adult and child learners in the community. These are often informal evening sessions, based around what the learners want to learn.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals

All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). We want to be able to measure our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, so all our staff and volunteers know which UN SDGs they’re making a substantial contribution to. This also helps our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.

Prior to your arrival on base, you’ll be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. Then, once on base you’ll learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also insight into how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.

Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.

Our partners

Project objectives

 

GVI Chiang Mai Long-term Objectives:

1. Increase and promote ethical elephant tourism.

2. Create a viable self-sustaining eco-tourism program for the village. As well as supporting a stable herd of elephants living naturally in the forested area of the village.

3. Improve standards of living and job opportunities for people in the Huay Pakoot village.

4. Improve sustainable natural resource management in the Huay Pakoot area.

Our Ethics

Below is a list of core ethics and best practices we believe are essential to the operation of high quality, ethical volunteer and sustainable development programs. We believe that all responsible volunteer and sustainable development operations should focus upon these principles. If you are considering volunteering, these are some of the key considerations you should question, to ensure that your time and money contributes towards positive change.

 

We want to constantly develop our own understanding of ethical best practice. In so doing, we aim to provide an exemplary industry standard for other education institutions, international development organisations, and social enterprises. Our Badge of Ethics stands for the drive to always do good, better. Find out more, click on the Badge below.

Our 10 ethical commitments

01

Locally Driven, Collaborative Projects

We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.

02

Clear Objectives & Sustainable Outcomes

We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.

03

Impact Reporting

We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.

04

Working Against Dependency

We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.

05

Responsible Exit Strategies

For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.

06

Clear Roles & Specialized Training

We aim to ensure that every participant is assigned a clear role and that they are fully trained and supported to carry out their work by specialized staff.

07

Respect for all

In all our actions we aim to respect the skills and efforts of all and seek to protect the rights, culture and dignity of everyone who engages with GVI.

08

Local Ownership

We work to ensure that credit for the results of any project, along with any data collected, research conducted, or Intellectual Property developed, remains the property of local organizations.

09

Transitioning from the Orphanage Model

We do not condone and aim to withdraw support of orphanages and residential care centers.

10

Child and Vulnerable adult policies

We will live by our Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult policies.

Continual Development

As an organization, GVI is committed to striving toward best practice, and to educating both our potential participants, our partners, and the world at large about them. Both the volunteering and sustainable development sectors are increasingly, and rightly, under scrutiny. Many recent local and global articles highlight poor practices and questionable ethics. GVI is widely recognized for striving to apply global best practice in the volunteering, education and sustainable development sectors throughout our operations by reputable organizations such as ChildSafe.

However, global best practice is always evolving and we dedicate both time and resources to engage with internationally respected experts and learn from the latest research to ensure our programs both fulfil their potential to create maximum positive impact, and minimise their potential to create unintentional negative impact. Along with and as part of the sustainable development and volunteering community, we are constantly learning and applying this learning to practice. We do not always get everything right, but we seek feedback from our community members, partners, participants and our staff, and react accordingly. We know are already doing a great job, and feedback we have received confirms this, but we aim to do even better and are continuously refining our operations to improve upon our already excellent reputation.

Program ethics

No orphanage programs

We don’t support or allow participants to work in institutional residential care facilities, also known as orphanages. We partner with ReThink Orphanages and Freedom United.

Learn more
Child and vulnerable adult protection policy

Our Child and Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy requires all our staff and participants to complete a criminal background check and to learn why you shouldn’t reveal a child’s identifying factors in photographs. We support the ChildSafe Movement.

Learn more
No medical volunteering

We don’t offer any programs where our participants engage in medical treatment. This is because our participants aren’t typically qualified to do this work and would therefore not be able to do this work in their home country. Our participants only assist with public health programs.

Learn more
No disability support programs

We don’t offer any programs where our participants work directly with people with disabilities. This is because our participants aren’t typically qualified to do this work and would therefore not be able to do this work in their home country.

Learn more
Aligned to local objectives

Each one of our initiatives is aligned to objectives set by a local organisation or professional. Our staff and participants work to support these local actors in achieving their specific goals.

Local employees remain employed

Our participants don’t replace the staff employed by local organisations. Rather, they support currently employed staff with achieving their objectives. Our goal is always to increase local capacity to address local problems.

Local employees remain focused

Participants require training and support to ensure that they carry out tasks correctly. Our staff provide this training and support so that local staff can focus on what is truly important to their organisation at the time.

Parent Info

‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Heritage, one of our teen volunteers who has participated on two GVI programs, one in Costa Rica and another in South Africa.

We are a parent-run organisation that is incredibly serious about health and safety, and increasing the impact, as well as the long-term career benefits of our programs. Our programs help young people develop the skills to select a career path that is personally fulfilling, and live a life aligned to the well-being of our planet and the global community.

Ken and Linda Jeffrey, whose son Sam volunteered with GVI in Thailand, talk about how the experience affected Sam. He also went on to volunteer with GVI again in South Africa. ‘I know it sounds like a cliche but in a sense, he did go away as a boy and he came back as a young man. Both of us could recommend GVI without any hesitation to any other parent thinking about exploring an opportunity for their children to explore the world and to see different parts of it.’

Parent Info Pack

Download the Parent Pack and learn more about:

Our staff: All our projects are run by staff, selected, vetted, trained, and managed by our central office.
Health and safety: Our safety practices include a child and vulnerable adult protection policy and high participant ratios.
Staying in touch: See what’s happening on base, by following a hub’s dedicated Facebook page.
Free parent consultations: We would love to talk to you about exciting opportunities available for your child.

Download parent pack

Support & Safety

We won’t sugarcoat it — traveling abroad is usually a complex process that carries an element of risk. But this is exactly why we’re passionate about providing extensive support throughout the process as well as the highest safety standards during the in-country phase. We believe that volunteering abroad should not only be impactful, but an enjoyable experience that carries as little risk as possible. This is exactly how we’ve been able to maintain our reputation as the most highly respected volunteering organisations in the sector over the past two decades.

COVID-19 safety

Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.

Learn more

Safety

Upon arrival at the airport, participants will be greeted by a GVI staff member. All GVI staff are our own and all our programs around the world are run by our staff. All GVI field staff are background checked, Emergency First Response and safety trained. The minimum staff to participant ratio on GVI’s programs is one to six, although on several bases we have a ratio of one to three. When finishing the experience, participants will provide feedback on all aspects of their program.

Support

Once a participant books, they will be assigned a personal support coordinator who will oversee their pre-departure journey. The support coordinator helps to bridge the gap between program enrolment and arrival at one of our field bases. Your personal support coordinator will ensure that you are provided with all the necessary information required to apply for visas, background checks, and any other documentation.

Download our Travel Smart Checklist

Essential information you need to travel safely during the COVID-19 pandemic - including destination ratings, flight bookings and tests.

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What’s included?

What's Included
General
Volunteer
Intern
24-hour emergency desk
24-hour in-country support
Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)
All project equipment
Food (except on long-term internship placements
Safe and basic accommodation (usually shared)
Pre-program training
Volunteer
Intern
Group introductory call
Welcome presentation
Endorsed GVI Specialisation Course
Endorsed Leadership Course
Project work
Volunteer
Intern
Sustainable project work
Leadership responsibilities
Data collection and research
Real projects with partners
Remote support
Volunteer
Intern
Program training
Remote Internship Supervisor
Remote Academic Internship Supervisor
Remote Career Internship Supervisor
Post-program
Volunteer
Intern
Preferential recruitment on GVI positions
Job portal access
Endorsed Careers Course
Career coaching sessions
Certificates and achievements
Volunteer
Intern
PDF reference - upon request
Linkedin reference and skills endorsement
What's Excluded
General
Volunteer
Intern
Additional drinks and gratuities
Extra local excursions
Flights
International and domestic airport taxes
Medical and travel insurance
Personal items and toiletries
Police or background check
Visa costs

Live Updates

GVI Thailand Chiang Mai works in collaboration with the village of Huay Pakoot to attempt to reintroduce captive elephants back into their natural environment. Volunteers and interns collect data on elephant proximity, touch and foraging. We also have a community aspect of teaching at the local school, teaching homestay families and teaching the mahouts English. Our long term goal is to help the community become self sustainable and to eventually be able to run their own conservation project. The project is based in the village of Huay Pakoot which is a Karen Hill Tribe village about five hours from Chiang Mai.
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