Of trees, trunks and community building

Over the three weeks from 9 to 29 December, a group of 20 students took off for Chiang Mai in Thailand to set their hands to work helping elephants, planting trees and building dams in three villages as part of the NUS Rotaract Club special project Trees N Trunks '17.

The first 10 days were spent at Nongmontha Village, which Project Director Chong Zhen Yi, Year 2 NUS Arts and Social Sciences student, described as a secluded village in Northern Thailand.

“Due to human encroachment, the gibbons inhabiting the rainforests around the village are threatened by lack of food. To target this problem, we planted a thousand banana trees in the forest as a food source for the gibbons residing there. These banana trees will also hopefully serve to bring back flourishing wildlife to the forest,” Zhen Yi shared.


Two of the participants holding ice-cream sticks with names of people who pledged $5 per banana tree planted; these sticks were placed in the soil with each banana tree

The students also worked with villagers to construct dams to aid irrigation and the village’s water supply, as well as build paved roads to improve transport accessibility. Just before leaving the village, the students also visited the local school, organised a lunch and a day of play, and distributed donated items such as clothing, stationery, soap bars and glasses.

The next stop was Journey to Freedom, a visit to two villages under satellite projects of Elephant Nature Park (ENP) — an elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre in Northern Thailand. At the villages, their main task was to construct dams, creating water storage in the river to increase water supply for the villages, as well as a larger body of water for the elephants to play in.

Before starting work at ENP, the students learned about the dark secrets behind the various industries that exploit elephants, particularly the logging and tourism industries. “We were overwhelmed with emotion when we learnt about how the elephants were abused since young,” Zhen Yi recounted.

While at ENP, the students had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the elephants, playing a part in the daily maintenance and upkeep of their living environment — including clearing of waste, bathing, preparing food for and feeding the large animals.

“This trip has truly been a humbling experience for me, an experience that has reminded me of how ignorant we city kids can be, and how much ‘nature’ we are deprived of. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be on this trip, and I will never forget the lessons learnt in this 20-day journey, the hospitality of the hill tribe people, the animals that we have petted and named, and the friendships that I have forged during this trip,” reflected Foo Sze Hui, Year 2 NUS Science student and participant of Tree N Trunks '17.