NJ Students Travel to Sri Lanka to Teach ESL and Help Wild Elephants

June 24, 2015 | Education, Energy & Environment

By Lauren Wanko

Students are packing up donated supplied for kids in Sri Lanka. They’re volunteering with Guru Travel, a summer service program.

“We take American kids to teach ESL to the children of farmers and to do elephant research and conservation for the wildlife elephant population of Sri Lanka,” said Jamie Wasserman.

Montclair resident Wasserman started Guru Travel a few years after working with the elephants in Sri Lanka.

“Sri Lanka has one of the largest wild elephant populations in the world. Wild elephants populations are going to keep the elephants from extinction. They’re going to become extinct by 2030 so if we don’t do something now it’s an emergency,” Wasserman said. “Two hundred fifty elephants are killed every year in Sri Lanka because of the human/elephant conflict.”

The elephants eat the rice crop and other food the farmers grow, which is why these students will teach Sri Lankan children ESL — so they can pursue other careers and hopefully end the human/elephant conflict, says Wasserman.

“Every other organism helps them. They help every other organism so knowing you basically saved an entire ecosystem or country is really brilliant,” said Scarlett Held.

Isabel Held started Guru Travel’s ESL program.

“It’s also really humbling and it makes you feel really grateful for things that you have,” Held said.

This will be the second summer Guru Travel’s brought a group of volunteers. Last year they traveled with 15. This year, 20 are going. The majority are 12 to 23 years old. The trip costs $5,000. That covers the entire trip, including airfare and excursions.

All these students expect their lives will be transformed after this adventure.

“Elephants are my favorite animal. I’m shocked. It hasn’t exactly sunk in yet. I want to come back a much better person,” said Genevieve Van Lent.

“I’m hoping to learn more as I go. I think it’s going to impact me a lot,” said Lex Fall.

“I want to be more mindful. I think I will be more grateful for the things I have here,” said Charlotte Cailliarec.

College student Oliver Murphy plans to create a business plan for farmers to provide an additional source of income aside from their rice crop.

“We’re trying to incorporate orange trees because elephants don’t like oranges. They don’t like the smell. They don’t like eating them,” Murphy said.

The volunteers live in the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society field house for a month where there’s no hot water or Internet. They work with the conservation society staff, translators, scientists and drivers. Wasserman teaches the volunteers mediation and Buddhism, which they practice daily. They also work toward a personal and service goal. They teach the Sri Lankan students at the same school every year.

“I’m really excited to interact with kids,” said Nia Holton-Raphael.

Guru Travel volunteers leave for Sri Lanka on Saturday.