Work directly with retired and disabled elephants, giving them daily care and the support they need to lead a happy life.
For a relatively small country, Sri Lanka has a high population of elephants – over 4,000. Elephants play a big part in Sri Lankan culture and have been trained for religious, commercial and domestic purposes for thousands of years. The Sri Lankan elephant is the largest of the Asian elephant; they have patches of depigmentation (areas with no skin colour) on their ears, face, trunk and belly.
PMGY have created a programme that allows you to work directly with retired and disabled elephants, giving them daily care and the support they need to lead a happy life. The project fees for the programme are used to fund the care of the elephants. The elephants, now retired/disabled, have become surplus requirements to their owners. PMGY have taken on the responsibility of giving the elephants the love and affection they deserve.
You should arrive into Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo (airport code CMB) on the selected Saturday start date. You will be met at the airport by one of our local staff or an appointed driver who will be holding a named sign. They will take you to your accommodation where you will spend the rest of your day at leisure.
The programme ends on the Saturday of your final week and you should depart the accommodation on this day.
Can I use this program as part of a university or college placement?
It is certainly possible to use one of PMGY’s programmes as part of your university or college placement. Project staff can sign off any paperwork required by your course tutors. PMGY regularly receives medical, childcare, psychology and nursing placement students at our projects around the world and we have ties with some of the leading universities.
If you’re a course tutor and would like further information about how one of PMGY’s programmes could meet the placement requirements for your degree course then please contact us.
Is it safe to travel to PMGY destinations?
Although our volunteers work in the developing world, we always ensure our host locations are safe. Each programme has been extensively researched and has passed our strict vetting process. Our UK team undergo an extensive routine when establishing our in-country infrastructures and we continue to monitor our safety procedures on a regular basis. Furthermore, we monitor the stability of our volunteer destinations on a daily basis. Through our constant contact with consulates and embassies and our reports from our overseas teams, we are able to ensure that our volunteers are never placed in unstable regions.
The PMGY team have visited and participated in every programme we offer and verified them based on our own independent criteria. We carefully inspect every little detail of our set-up. From inspecting the living conditions, checking out the neighbourhoods you’ll be staying in, to tasting the food you’ll be eating – each and every programme we establish has gone through a lengthy and rigorous vetting process. Risk assessments have been written for all areas in which PMGY operate and our experienced local coordinators are always on-hand to manage any emergencies that may occur. Our UK team are always on the road reviewing our risk management procedures in the field and monitoring local conditions.
In emergency situations we have the necessary protocols and equipment in place and we are able to evacuate our volunteers from potential dangers. Our local coordinators are trained to deal with emergency circumstances.
When you join PMGY we will send you a Volunteer Handbook. This document addresses a range of issues such as health, safety, visa issues etc. Furthermore, our UK team are only ever a phone call away should you wish to discuss any aspect of your upcoming programme. When you arrive in-country, you’ll be given a comprehensive safety briefing during your orientation course by our local coordinators. We will go through everything from emergency procedures, how to use local transport and cultural differences. You’ll also be given the opportunity to purchase a local SIM card, something we strongly suggest, so you’re contactable at all times. We will provide you with a full list of the important contact numbers that you’ll need to know.
All our local teams are experienced development professionals who have years of experience in hosting international volunteers. They are our representatives on the ground and will assist you 24/7 throughout your stay. Whether you need to call home, travel at the weekend or require urgent assistance – they are there to support you.
While we cannot guarantee your volunteer experience to be 100% trouble free we have taken all the necessary precautions to make sure each programme is as safe as possible.
You will be working alongside a mahout (elephant carer) who has years of experience and draws upon generations of tribal knowledge about elephants. The activities you will be getting involved with on a daily basis include:
Feeding – The elephants are fed twice a day and their main source of nourishment comes from the leaves and branches of trees. Some of the elephant’s food can be collected from the project land but the rest is collected from the nearby forest area. PMGY also harvest their own bananas to provide additional food for the elephants.
The elephants are fed twice a day. You will have the chance to prepare the meals and hand-feed the elephants. How amazing is that?!
Washing – The elephants are also bathed twice a day. There is a small river next to the project land where you will wash and groom the elephants each day. Typically, coconut shells are used to scrub the elephant’s skin to ensure they are nice and clean. The elephants enjoy this part of the day the most as it is like a massage for them!
You will also have the chance to play with the elephants in the stream – an absolutely incredible experience to be part of!
Walking – The elephants need to walk a certain distance each day in order to keep up their health. You will assist the mahout in walking the elephants around the project site, giving them the daily exercise they need. Given the history some of these elephants have had, we do not endorse or allow any commercial riding of the elephant to take place at the project. However, on your last day at the project we give you the option to climb aboard on an elephant in the river where you are able to make yet more amazing photos and memories!
Alongside the daily tasks mentioned above, participants are also expected to help in cleaning and maintaining the project site. This includes collecting and piling the elephant dung to use as compost, cleaning the elephant’s bed and helping with the harvesting of banana plants that we grow.
Over the course of your time on PMGY’s Sri Lanka Elephant Experience, the mahouts will teach you all about elephants. This includes telling you the words that mahout’s use to command the elephants. You will also get the chance to learn about the temperament of the elephants and how to understand their behaviour.
As the elephants are older, they require regular health checks. This will vary from official visits from a veterinarian to traditional Sinhalese methods carried out by the mahout.
We recommend you bring clothes and an old pair of trainers with you that you do not mind getting dirty or leaving behind! There will be a lot of elephant interaction and the mahout is eager to share his knowledge. PMGY will place a coordinator at the project to assist participants as the mahouts only speak a basic level of English.
IN & AROUND AMBALANGODA
PMGY volunteers are based in Ambalangoda, which is a lively oceanside town situated on the South West Coast.
It is traditionally a fishing community but is famous for being the major production centre for demonic wooden masks. The traditional masks were originally designed to be worn by performers in kolam and other southern Sri Lankan dances, but are now mainly used as souvenirs. Many families hang a mask on their front door to ward off evil spirits.
The town has all the amenities you could require such as banks, hospitals and shops including a very popular ice cream shop. There is also a central bus and train station, which has good links to all the major destinations you are likely to go to. Plus, the beach is only a 5 minute tuk tuk ride from the Volunteer House.
Hikkaduwa has long been among the most popular of Sri Lanka’s beach spots. It has a lively and fun vibe – definitely a backpacker town. It is also your best bet for evening drinks and meals out during your time with us. Furthermore, the surfing in the Hikkaduwa region is quite well known and gets the best surf during its dry season, November to March.
Bentota is a good option for those looking for a relaxing weekend by the beach. It is one of the more established beach resorts on the west coast of Sri Lanka with a number of activities available to you. You can go on a river cruise, visit a turtle hatchery, check out Sri Lanka’s tallest Buddha statue or try out some of the many water sports available. There are also plenty of affordable guesthouses as well as beachside bars and restaurants to keep you entertained at night.
Galle is always a favourite of ours. The UNESCO World Heritage protected Galle Fort is an 18th-century Dutch walled town with chic shops, grand colonial houses and beautiful beaches. Unawatuna beach is the place to be for a lazy weekend by the sea. There are plenty of places to stay, of differing price and quality. Unawatuna has a good nightlife and a number of activities you can get up to – jet skiing, scuba diving, glass boat cruises and even surfing (although you may need to head a little further up the coast for this to the town of Habaraduwa or Ahangama).
You will be met on-arrival by a member of the PMGY Sri Lanka team who will be wearing a PMGY T-shirt and holding a PMGY sign. We advise all volunteers to wear their PMGY t-shirt (if they’ve purchased one) as this helps us identify you at the airport.
Once you’ve met up with our local team you will be driven to our Volunteer House in Ambalangoda. The journey takes around 2.5 hours.
During your time with PMGY in Sri Lanka you will live in our Volunteer House which is located in a peaceful suburb of Ambalangoda. Just 20 minutes drive from the centre where you will find local restaurants, small convenience stores and ATMs. You’ll be living with other PMGY volunteers from around the world, so you’ll make plenty of friends along the way.
The accommodation is basic but comfortable with Wi-Fi (there will be a small charge). Each room has bunk beds with up to 9 people per room in same-sex rooms. Volunteers are provided with fans in the room and their own mosquito net and bed linen. Bathrooms are shared, have a shower and western style toilet. The water is cold but this shouldn’t be a problem as Sri Lanka is hot and humid all year-round!
The house has Wi-Fi (although intermittent) and a communal area for volunteers to hang out. There will also be fridge space available for volunteers to store any items they need to keep chilled. We encourage you to bring some small padlocks and/or store any valuables with our local team in their private area.
A member of our local team will also live at the house. This ensures you have around the clock support and security.
The majority of our projects are not within walking distance of our Volunteer House. PMGY will take you to and from the project each day either by tuk tuk or minivan and the cost of this service is included in your Programme Fee.
During our busiest months (June to September) you may be placed at alternative accommodation. This could be a nearby guesthouse or one of our summer Volunteer Houses.
You will be served three meals per day at the Volunteer House. Most meals are traditional Sri Lankan dishes that can be typically quite spicy. Sri Lankan cuisine consists of a lot of rice and the meat is mainly fish or chicken – vegetarian options are always available. A weekly menu has been introduced that blends Sri Lanka cuisine with Western cuisine so you will know in advance what is on the menu for that day! Below is an example of the meals we serve our volunteers:
Breakfast – Egg, toast, fruit with tea.
Lunch – Dhal and spinach curry, poppadums, paprika tofu and rice.
Dinner – Mixed vegetable noodles, tomato curry, omelette and poppadoms.
All meals are freshly prepared each day. If you fancy some western comforts, you will find plenty of restaurants serving western meals in the nearby town of Hikkaduwa. Hikkaduwa is a 20 minute journey from Ambalangoda and the cost to get there by tuk tuk is around £3 per way. This is a popular place that volunteers go to in the evening, as it is a trendy backpackers town.
* Please inform us in your application if you have any dietary requirements. Couples, families and older volunteers will be accommodated to suit their needs.