We live and work in the rice-farming villages of rural Sri Lanka. Every day we’re exposed to all sides of all of the stories and only one thing is perfectly clear: that the situation is getting worse for both elephants and people (2019 was the deadliest year on record since 1948), and that to turn this conflict into coexistence will require a holistic way of thinking/acting/moving forward.
Just yesterday we were driving down the main road that separates the Knuckles Mountains from the paddy fields to see 2 wild elephants bathing in the tank (reservoir) in the middle of the afternoon. Although they were beautiful, seeing them at that time of day and their proximity to the soon-to-be-harvested rice was unsettling, for the safety of both families of elephants and families of people.
In the midst of it all, we gather a momentum of hope when we hear those living among these majestic animals say: “The animals seem to appreciate a kindly touch. In the middle of his paddy, Lalith and his neighbours demonstrate their technique, passed down for generations. They sing to the animals: “Go away, little babies, go away. But once we’ve gathered the harvest, anything we leave is yours.” How on earth, Banyan asks, can that work? It just does, Lalith replies. After all, he adds, ‘We’re still here, and so are the elephants.”
This final quote is taken from a recent article published in The Economist. You can access the full article here.
We’ve begun setting up motion-sensor lights around test farms that have sustained recent crop-loss from several bull elephants. Different wattages, different angles and heights, and reflective tape hanging from the wires are being installed. Keeping subsistence farmers safe helps keep wild elephants safe, and when you help one you help the other.
And yet, this won’t fix the problem—no individual solution has been found anywhere in the international community. We hope that it WILL give farmers more time to respond when elephants approach their farms, while other conservation approaches are painstakingly implemented. Keeping an eye on and tending the immediate issues while also working to amend the larger problems is at the Heart of The Elephant Love Project.
Shifting conflict into coexistence will take creative and cooperative efforts by us all—farmers, conservationists, tourists, anyone anywhere who eats rice or papayas or loves elephants — such a tall order when it will be a slow change in a fast moving world. But not knowing how to fix the entire problem is no reason not to try to fix what we can, where we can, however we can.
Sometimes in the midst of such ongoing conflict it can seem impossible to even imagine that solutions can be discovered—and implemented—in time to save what we love. But it is that very love that demands we continue to try.
When you want to help elephants have a better life, particularly in countries that have known tremendous hardship and suffering, lending hand and heart to the school that resides in the elephant’s forest and near their sanctuary is a sound way to shift a past filled with conflict toward a future of coexistence. Although people from around the world help change the future for wild and captive elephants, in the end it will be up to the people who live among them to chart their future, and as anywhere, education is key.With boundless gratitude to the good people of the Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment (ELIE), in November Heart of Ganesh was able to supply and deliver much-needed school supplies to every one of the 127 children living in the middle of these elephant lands. Many of these children did not have the most basic learning necessities, let alone story books. The wonder and awe we witnessed as they opened their very own books inspired us to go right back to the Fundraising Drawing Board and create a proper space for MANY books, and the very first Lending Library of its kind in the commune.First the buildout: shored-up walls, brand new roof, and a fresh clean cement floor with a surrounding sidewalk. Next came newly built tables and shelves, and 2 locking glass bookcases to keep the brand new supplies safe from rats, rain, and theft. Then several coats of paint inside and out, with many volunteers from EVP lending their hands, hearts, and humor. Books have been purchased, art supplies are coming, and we’ll make sure to get photos of opening day when all of the children and teachers of Putrom 2 add their “leafy” handprints on the tree that graces the side of the library!Any sustainable project in rural Cambodia is fraught with consistent and unforeseen challenges, but what surprised us more than the challenges were the unforeseen miracles! Here’s one—Meet Savoun. Savoun was a teacher in Putrom for 7 years before falling out of a tree harvesting honey and breaking his back in 2015. Thanks to the consistent and steadfast support of ELIE, Savoun was able to receive the surgery and health care that saved his life. And now, Heart of Ganesh is preparing to get Savoun back in the classroom again, teaching in the soon-to-be wheelchair-accessible library! Savoun’s life, and that of his family as well as the the lives of all the students at Putrom 2, are set to change for the good in ways that were unfathomable a few short months ago.
Savoun in the library building then Ngok joined the team! Translators who speak Bunong, Khmai, and English and with a solid background in education are not around every corner! We’re thrilled that Ngok will enable HG to ensure Savoun has the supplies and support he needs to run a sound library, as well as implement plans and projects for fellow teachers and excited students to get the most out of hundreds of new books and dozens of art supplies.A few more hurdles remain for HG before opening day (March 29th!), with the greatest being the funding and building of a very long path! Without a vehicle capable of getting Savoun to school, the building of a cement path that his wheelchair can navigate is in the works. From his home, through the easement of 2 farms, across the broad school field and ending at the door of his classroom and library, this is no small feat. But the only way forward is through, so through we will go!
Bringing books and art into the school and the homes of rural teachers and their students will stretch open the close-in walls of village life, slowly creating additional options and choices for the future. At the same time, there is so much worthy of conservation here—from the surrounding dwindling forest and its elephant habitat, to the ways of ancient Bunong life that might be held in story and art as times quickly change. It will take creative minds to conserve what is so easily lost while claiming what is waiting to be found, and the new Putrom 2 Primary School Library is almost ready for 127 children to do just that! Stay tuned, more good news from the Heart coming soon!