Would you like to give something back whilst you travel? Sometimes it is not all about seeing the Top 10 sights in a country, but about staying put for a while and finding out more about how your visit can help the local community. Jessica Simmonds from Scotland decided to take time out of her gap year to volunteer for three months in Thailand. She chose Lanta Animal Welfare, (LAW) a non-profit organisation based on Koh Lanta, Thailand, which takes care of the large population of stray dogs and cats on the island. Her experience was fun, rewarding and most of all valuable to the local area…
The Team of Volunteers at Lanta Animal Welfare!
I found Lanta Animal Welfare online and it looked perfect for me. Just out of school, I was taking a gap year and wanted to work with animals somewhere exciting before starting uni and studying veterinary medicine. I organised my placement through ‘personal overseas development’ who helped me to sort out everything in needed and sent me on my way!
Three months of hard, fun and rewarding work later, I could definitely say I had found the right place for me!
It is a fantastic organisation. There is a large population of stray cats and dogs on the island of Koh Lanta in South Thailand and LAW is working towards sterilising and vaccinating them all, along with pets owned by islanders and visitors, in order to increase their welfare and quality of life.
Volunteers work hard. We did six-hour shifts, six days of the week, making breakfast and dinner for the 30 resident dogs and 20-odd cats, cleaning out cages, giving medication, changing dressings, walking dogs, playing with puppies (always a favourite) and helping out in surgery.
Treating sick puppies at the pet surgery in Koh Lanta
It’s demanding work, and sometimes emotional, as animals are treated very differently in the East as to how we Westerners treat them, so conditions aren’t always favourable. However, for every sad case, there are many happy ones – it’s fantastic to see a dog or cat rehomed to a loving family after treatment; something that is definitely increasing.
Volunteers also give tours of the centre to tourists and help them with walking dogs if they so desire. The centre runs entirely on donations, so tourist visits are an essential part of the day-to-day running of LAW.
Happy, healthy dogs at Lanta Animal Welfare
During my time at the centre I got the chance to help ‘spread the word’ about a big sterilisation week that the centre was organising – it was great to be able to talk to islanders about what LAW does and try and raise awareness of the importance of sterilisation and vaccines. It seemed to work, with the number of people bringing in animals to surgery increasing.
A kitten brought into the surgery in Koh Lanta
I also got to work at the LAW stall at the ‘Lanta Laanta’ festival, which takes place in the island’s atmospheric Old Town every March. If you are around during that time, you should definitely check it out. There’s lots of music, dancing, local crafts and souvenirs, fire shows, and (most importantly?!) food. Our stall was selling Time for Lime mojitos and LAW t-shirts to raise funds for the centre, the mojitos in particular went down very well and great fun was had by all who attended!
Also a few words on the location: Koh Lanta is a gorgeous island in the Andaman – all white sandy beaches and blue sea. Many a day off was spent zoning out on one of the many beaches, or going on a snorkelling trip to Ko Rok, part of the marine national park that surrounds Lanta and is only an hour away by speedboat! There is lots to do on your day off: exploring on your moped (the best way to get around), caving in the south of the island, hitting one of the many cute beach bars for a cold Singha, heading up to the main port of Saladan for a wander around the market stalls) or chilling out at Time for Lime, the bar, restaurant and cooking school run by the founder of LAW. Profits from Time for Lime go to LAW, so every mojito counts, and damn they are good mojitos…
So, in short, if you want to make a difference and are thinking of volunteering with LAW, do it! It’s a really worthwhile charity, run by great people who really care about their cause and you will learn a lot during your time there, however long that is. I came away from my placement with lots of photos, lots of memories plus new knowledge and new friends that will be with me for many years!