One has power to help many

My son, Brandon Iodice, and I just returned from a trip to Thailand sponsored by the Power of One, a nonprofit, cross-cultural, volunteer program that highlights trips to special places, where one person has made a difference and truly changed the world.

Brandon is a 15-year-old freshman at Hollis Brookline High School. We chose the Power of One-Thailand trip because it included visiting the Elephant Nature Park, outside Chiang Mai. We were at ENP for eight days, doing about four hours of volunteer work each day, with students from the U.S., Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Thailand. We learned a lot about each other, the various cultures we represented and also about the Asian elephant – sadly, they are on the brink of extinction.

A tiny woman named Sangduen Chailert, or "Lek" ("Little One"), from a small mountain village in Thailand, grew up caring for a baby elephant by chance. Knowing an elephant up close and personal, and seeing how horribly other elephants were treated, Lek knew she had to do something. Like horse whisperers in the U.S., Lek began experimenting with positive reinforcement training and teaching others to treat elephants in a more humane way. She also learned that you can’t fully train a bull elephant, and accepted that they are not to be used for human entertainment.

Lek’s ideas created much conflict in her village and across Thailand. Generations of people had worked with the elephants, violently "breaking their spirit" to use them for entertainment, logging, riding and even in war, if you go back far enough in history.

For many years, Lek continued her work, despite the extreme challenges she faced, but recently has been recognized worldwide as a conservation hero for her dedication to this magnificent animal.

Lek has influenced many elephant camps in Thailand and other surrounding countries to adopt more humane methods and treat these gentle giants with respect and kindness. Lek feels elephants should be allowed to be who they are and not used for human entertainment – such as elephant rides, circus acts or walking city streets so tourists can pay to feed them and get a picture.

Elephant Nature Park is only one of Lek’s many projects. At ENP, she rescues elephants from Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and more. These elephants have been damaged by logging, land mines, violent training, elephant breeding camps, separation from their mothers at too young an age – the list goes on. They are kept at ENP because they are not able to be reintroduced into the wild because of their injuries.

When at ENP, you see resilient elephants who have created new families to gather with, babies adopted and protected by several aunts, bulls kept in their own multi-acre bull yards with swimming pools, and herds of water buffalo, who resisted being slaughtered for the meat industry. They all receive veterinary care when needed, especially when they first arrive, so that eventually they are able to roam the vast expanse of ENP during the day.

At night, the elephants are placed in large stables so they don’t roam off into other elephant camps in the area, which don’t run under the same philosophy as Lek and ENP.

When at ENP, visitors are allowed to walk the park with a guide and to be up close with elephants that are known to be stable. Many herds of elephants can be seen grazing, swimming or rolling in mud short distances away, and photo ops are numerous.

Daily, we met at the river in the late afternoon to wash down the elephants as they snacked on baskets of fruit. An amazing raised platform walkway allows visitors a bird’s-eye view of the entire park. The water buffalo and the elephants walk right underneath the platform to visit the river or roll in mud.

Depending on the volunteer schedule, you may be able to feed the elephants, or prep food – a lot of it since elephants eat about one-third of their weight daily – help with ENP’s self-sustaining gardens, or scoop poop – yep that’s all part of it, and the poop is big! But not too smelly, since elephants are vegetarians.

ENP also rescues dogs and cats, so there is plenty to do for these animals, too – mostly love them, since they have clearly been neglected. Adopting these animals is also possible for a small fee, and ENP will cover transport and all paperwork necessary to make this possible.

Each elephant has a mahout assigned to them. These mahouts are trained to adhere to Lek’s philosophy. She has even influenced the creation of a university-like program where mahouts are trained to work with elephants using positive reinforcement and then move on to work all over Asia after graduating from the program. Her good work and philosophy is spreading!

Lek is currently working to buy vast expanses of land where less damaged elephants may be returned to the wild in a managed park, much like our own Yellowstone Park, where wolves are allowed to roam free.

Lek is amazing – there is no doubt – and I am grateful for the community she and her husband have created, not only because we were able to be so close to these amazing animals, but because I think it is important to make a difference – and she has!

Day visits to ENP are possible, and there is a waiting list for weeklong volunteer stays if you travel on your own. The Power of One program has a guaranteed reservation each January thanks to being a part of ENP since the beginning, more than 10 years ago. The conditions are rustic, all meals are provided, the food is vegan (no surprise). This is not a luxury resort, but comfortable enough and fulfilling when you pack your bags to return home.

Our Power of One trip also took us to the southern peninsula of Thailand, and we worked at two schools teaching English.One of the schools, grades 1-6, is on the border of Myanmar, where many refugees have made their way into Thailand.

Even though the Thai government felt they couldn’t afford to educate the Burmese children, the Banwangyang School director (another "Powerful One") feels all children deserve an education. His school has a population of 40 percent Burmese children.

The children greeted us with plenty of smiles and flowers made of banana leaves. We painted a mural for them – a Shoots and Ladders game in their schoolyard, played classroom games to teach English, played field games with them and ran a soccer camp; many of the students traveling with us are very skilled at soccer.

As part of our trip, we also swam in the ocean and a magnificent waterfall, visited many Thai Buddhist temples, tied monks’ robes to trees to protect them from loggers, shopped at night markets, lit lanterns off into the sky on New Year’s Eve, experienced Thai food and dancing, and even saw Ronald McDonald with prayer hands outside the McDonald’s restaurants. All in all, it was an amazing trip!

The Power of One accepts applications from kids 15 and older to participate in two yearly trips. Adults are also welcome to apply as mentors to the students.

The winter trip is to Thailand, the summer trip to South Africa. In South Africa, you work in an orphanage/village called Botshabelo. We were lucky to spend our trip to Thailand with the founder of the South African Orphanage – Marion. She is another "Powerful One" who has changed the world. She and her family dedicate their lives as volunteers to the Botshabelo village. They feed up to 300 people daily – not only the 150 or so orphans they house, but many families from the local village who suffer from hunger.

Documentaries about both "Powerful Ones" can be seen on YouTube – PG-13 or older.

"Elephants on the Edge" is about Lek and the challenges for the Asian Elephant.

"Angels in the Dust" is about the Botshabelo Orphanage in South Africa.

For more information about these nonprofit organizations, visit BlueStarOfHope.org and click on Power of One, SaveElephant.org for the Asian elephants or Botshabelo.org about the African orphanage/village.

One has power to help many

My son, Brandon Iodice, and I just returned from a trip to Thailand sponsored by the Power of One, a nonprofit, cross-cultural, volunteer program that highlights trips to special places, where one person has made a difference and truly changed the world.

Brandon is a 15-year-old freshman at Hollis Brookline High School. We chose the Power of One-Thailand trip because it included visiting the Elephant Nature Park, outside Chiang Mai. We were at ENP for eight days, doing about four hours of volunteer work each day, with students from the U.S., Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Thailand. We learned a lot about each other, the various cultures we represented and also about the Asian elephant – sadly, they are on the brink of extinction.

A tiny woman named Sangduen Chailert, or "Lek" ("Little One"), from a small mountain village in Thailand, grew up caring for a baby elephant by chance. Knowing an elephant up close and personal, and seeing how horribly other elephants were treated, Lek knew she had to do something. Like horse whisperers in the U.S., Lek began experimenting with positive reinforcement training and teaching others to treat elephants in a more humane way. She also learned that you can’t fully train a bull elephant, and accepted that they are not to be used for human entertainment.

Lek’s ideas created much conflict in her village and across Thailand. Generations of people had worked with the elephants, violently "breaking their spirit" to use them for entertainment, logging, riding and even in war, if you go back far enough in history.

For many years, Lek continued her work, despite the extreme challenges she faced, but recently has been recognized worldwide as a conservation hero for her dedication to this magnificent animal.

Lek has influenced many elephant camps in Thailand and other surrounding countries to adopt more humane methods and treat these gentle giants with respect and kindness. Lek feels elephants should be allowed to be who they are and not used for human entertainment – such as elephant rides, circus acts or walking city streets so tourists can pay to feed them and get a picture.

Elephant Nature Park is only one of Lek’s many projects. At ENP, she rescues elephants from Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and more. These elephants have been damaged by logging, land mines, violent training, elephant breeding camps, separation from their mothers at too young an age – the list goes on. They are kept at ENP because they are not able to be reintroduced into the wild because of their injuries.

When at ENP, you see resilient elephants who have created new families to gather with, babies adopted and protected by several aunts, bulls kept in their own multi-acre bull yards with swimming pools, and herds of water buffalo, who resisted being slaughtered for the meat industry. They all receive veterinary care when needed, especially when they first arrive, so that eventually they are able to roam the vast expanse of ENP during the day.

At night, the elephants are placed in large stables so they don’t roam off into other elephant camps in the area, which don’t run under the same philosophy as Lek and ENP.

When at ENP, visitors are allowed to walk the park with a guide and to be up close with elephants that are known to be stable. Many herds of elephants can be seen grazing, swimming or rolling in mud short distances away, and photo ops are numerous.

Daily, we met at the river in the late afternoon to wash down the elephants as they snacked on baskets of fruit. An amazing raised platform walkway allows visitors a bird’s-eye view of the entire park. The water buffalo and the elephants walk right underneath the platform to visit the river or roll in mud.

Depending on the volunteer schedule, you may be able to feed the elephants, or prep food – a lot of it since elephants eat about one-third of their weight daily – help with ENP’s self-sustaining gardens, or scoop poop – yep that’s all part of it, and the poop is big! But not too smelly, since elephants are vegetarians.

ENP also rescues dogs and cats, so there is plenty to do for these animals, too – mostly love them, since they have clearly been neglected. Adopting these animals is also possible for a small fee, and ENP will cover transport and all paperwork necessary to make this possible.

Each elephant has a mahout assigned to them. These mahouts are trained to adhere to Lek’s philosophy. She has even influenced the creation of a university-like program where mahouts are trained to work with elephants using positive reinforcement and then move on to work all over Asia after graduating from the program. Her good work and philosophy is spreading!

Lek is currently working to buy vast expanses of land where less damaged elephants may be returned to the wild in a managed park, much like our own Yellowstone Park, where wolves are allowed to roam free.

Lek is amazing – there is no doubt – and I am grateful for the community she and her husband have created, not only because we were able to be so close to these amazing animals, but because I think it is important to make a difference – and she has!

Day visits to ENP are possible, and there is a waiting list for weeklong volunteer stays if you travel on your own. The Power of One program has a guaranteed reservation each January thanks to being a part of ENP since the beginning, more than 10 years ago. The conditions are rustic, all meals are provided, the food is vegan (no surprise). This is not a luxury resort, but comfortable enough and fulfilling when you pack your bags to return home.

Our Power of One trip also took us to the southern peninsula of Thailand, and we worked at two schools teaching English.One of the schools, grades 1-6, is on the border of Myanmar, where many refugees have made their way into Thailand.

Even though the Thai government felt they couldn’t afford to educate the Burmese children, the Banwangyang School director (another "Powerful One") feels all children deserve an education. His school has a population of 40 percent Burmese children.

The children greeted us with plenty of smiles and flowers made of banana leaves. We painted a mural for them – a Shoots and Ladders game in their schoolyard, played classroom games to teach English, played field games with them and ran a soccer camp; many of the students traveling with us are very skilled at soccer.

As part of our trip, we also swam in the ocean and a magnificent waterfall, visited many Thai Buddhist temples, tied monks’ robes to trees to protect them from loggers, shopped at night markets, lit lanterns off into the sky on New Year’s Eve, experienced Thai food and dancing, and even saw Ronald McDonald with prayer hands outside the McDonald’s restaurants. All in all, it was an amazing trip!

The Power of One accepts applications from kids 15 and older to participate in two yearly trips. Adults are also welcome to apply as mentors to the students.

The winter trip is to Thailand, the summer trip to South Africa. In South Africa, you work in an orphanage/village called Botshabelo. We were lucky to spend our trip to Thailand with the founder of the South African Orphanage – Marion. She is another "Powerful One" who has changed the world. She and her family dedicate their lives as volunteers to the Botshabelo village. They feed up to 300 people daily – not only the 150 or so orphans they house, but many families from the local village who suffer from hunger.

Documentaries about both "Powerful Ones" can be seen on YouTube – PG-13 or older.

"Elephants on the Edge" is about Lek and the challenges for the Asian Elephant.

"Angels in the Dust" is about the Botshabelo Orphanage in South Africa.

For more information about these nonprofit organizations, visit BlueStarOfHope.org and click on Power of One, SaveElephant.org for the Asian elephants or Botshabelo.org about the African orphanage/village.

One has power to help many

My son, Brandon Iodice, and I just returned from a trip to Thailand sponsored by the Power of One, a nonprofit, cross-cultural, volunteer program that highlights trips to special places, where one person has made a difference and truly changed the world.

Brandon is a 15-year-old freshman at Hollis Brookline High School. We chose the Power of One-Thailand trip because it included visiting the Elephant Nature Park, outside Chiang Mai. We were at ENP for eight days, doing about four hours of volunteer work each day, with students from the U.S., Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Thailand. We learned a lot about each other, the various cultures we represented and also about the Asian elephant – sadly, they are on the brink of extinction.

A tiny woman named Sangduen Chailert, or "Lek" ("Little One"), from a small mountain village in Thailand, grew up caring for a baby elephant by chance. Knowing an elephant up close and personal, and seeing how horribly other elephants were treated, Lek knew she had to do something. Like horse whisperers in the U.S., Lek began experimenting with positive reinforcement training and teaching others to treat elephants in a more humane way. She also learned that you can’t fully train a bull elephant, and accepted that they are not to be used for human entertainment.

Lek’s ideas created much conflict in her village and across Thailand. Generations of people had worked with the elephants, violently "breaking their spirit" to use them for entertainment, logging, riding and even in war, if you go back far enough in history.

For many years, Lek continued her work, despite the extreme challenges she faced, but recently has been recognized worldwide as a conservation hero for her dedication to this magnificent animal.

Lek has influenced many elephant camps in Thailand and other surrounding countries to adopt more humane methods and treat these gentle giants with respect and kindness. Lek feels elephants should be allowed to be who they are and not used for human entertainment – such as elephant rides, circus acts or walking city streets so tourists can pay to feed them and get a picture.

Elephant Nature Park is only one of Lek’s many projects. At ENP, she rescues elephants from Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and more. These elephants have been damaged by logging, land mines, violent training, elephant breeding camps, separation from their mothers at too young an age – the list goes on. They are kept at ENP because they are not able to be reintroduced into the wild because of their injuries.

When at ENP, you see resilient elephants who have created new families to gather with, babies adopted and protected by several aunts, bulls kept in their own multi-acre bull yards with swimming pools, and herds of water buffalo, who resisted being slaughtered for the meat industry. They all receive veterinary care when needed, especially when they first arrive, so that eventually they are able to roam the vast expanse of ENP during the day.

At night, the elephants are placed in large stables so they don’t roam off into other elephant camps in the area, which don’t run under the same philosophy as Lek and ENP.

When at ENP, visitors are allowed to walk the park with a guide and to be up close with elephants that are known to be stable. Many herds of elephants can be seen grazing, swimming or rolling in mud short distances away, and photo ops are numerous.

Daily, we met at the river in the late afternoon to wash down the elephants as they snacked on baskets of fruit. An amazing raised platform walkway allows visitors a bird’s-eye view of the entire park. The water buffalo and the elephants walk right underneath the platform to visit the river or roll in mud.

Depending on the volunteer schedule, you may be able to feed the elephants, or prep food – a lot of it since elephants eat about one-third of their weight daily – help with ENP’s self-sustaining gardens, or scoop poop – yep that’s all part of it, and the poop is big! But not too smelly, since elephants are vegetarians.

ENP also rescues dogs and cats, so there is plenty to do for these animals, too – mostly love them, since they have clearly been neglected. Adopting these animals is also possible for a small fee, and ENP will cover transport and all paperwork necessary to make this possible.

Each elephant has a mahout assigned to them. These mahouts are trained to adhere to Lek’s philosophy. She has even influenced the creation of a university-like program where mahouts are trained to work with elephants using positive reinforcement and then move on to work all over Asia after graduating from the program. Her good work and philosophy is spreading!

Lek is currently working to buy vast expanses of land where less damaged elephants may be returned to the wild in a managed park, much like our own Yellowstone Park, where wolves are allowed to roam free.

Lek is amazing – there is no doubt – and I am grateful for the community she and her husband have created, not only because we were able to be so close to these amazing animals, but because I think it is important to make a difference – and she has!

Day visits to ENP are possible, and there is a waiting list for weeklong volunteer stays if you travel on your own. The Power of One program has a guaranteed reservation each January thanks to being a part of ENP since the beginning, more than 10 years ago. The conditions are rustic, all meals are provided, the food is vegan (no surprise). This is not a luxury resort, but comfortable enough and fulfilling when you pack your bags to return home.

Our Power of One trip also took us to the southern peninsula of Thailand, and we worked at two schools teaching English.One of the schools, grades 1-6, is on the border of Myanmar, where many refugees have made their way into Thailand.

Even though the Thai government felt they couldn’t afford to educate the Burmese children, the Banwangyang School director (another "Powerful One") feels all children deserve an education. His school has a population of 40 percent Burmese children.

The children greeted us with plenty of smiles and flowers made of banana leaves. We painted a mural for them – a Shoots and Ladders game in their schoolyard, played classroom games to teach English, played field games with them and ran a soccer camp; many of the students traveling with us are very skilled at soccer.

As part of our trip, we also swam in the ocean and a magnificent waterfall, visited many Thai Buddhist temples, tied monks’ robes to trees to protect them from loggers, shopped at night markets, lit lanterns off into the sky on New Year’s Eve, experienced Thai food and dancing, and even saw Ronald McDonald with prayer hands outside the McDonald’s restaurants. All in all, it was an amazing trip!

The Power of One accepts applications from kids 15 and older to participate in two yearly trips. Adults are also welcome to apply as mentors to the students.

The winter trip is to Thailand, the summer trip to South Africa. In South Africa, you work in an orphanage/village called Botshabelo. We were lucky to spend our trip to Thailand with the founder of the South African Orphanage – Marion. She is another "Powerful One" who has changed the world. She and her family dedicate their lives as volunteers to the Botshabelo village. They feed up to 300 people daily – not only the 150 or so orphans they house, but many families from the local village who suffer from hunger.

Documentaries about both "Powerful Ones" can be seen on YouTube – PG-13 or older.

"Elephants on the Edge" is about Lek and the challenges for the Asian Elephant.

"Angels in the Dust" is about the Botshabelo Orphanage in South Africa.

For more information about these nonprofit organizations, visit BlueStarOfHope.org and click on Power of One, SaveElephant.org for the Asian elephants or Botshabelo.org about the African orphanage/village.