This is a photo taken of Hailie and an unnamed elephant in Thailand. It shows a peaceful moment when a young girl and a young pachyderm share time and space together in the wild. It was one of Hailie’s favorite moment’s on her service trip. But it isn’t the first thing she shared with me on the drive home from the airport. It wasn’t the most important to her. Instead, she told of an Indian man and his story of how he discovered as he was growing up, that because of the increased use of land for farming, wild elephants couldn’t find their way to the river without being violently hurt by local farmers. The farmers needed to farm; big footed animals were disrupting that. But the elephants needed to drink water…and swim and survive- and not being allowed access, was hurting them.
This Indian man’s discovery about the elephants not having a way to a river, inspired him to purchase a great big plot of land when he grew up. On it he lives a simple life. He uses the sun for electricity. He has a compost pile. Nothing he does hurts the environment. He bought the land not to become an elephant center where tourists could ride for a fee. He didn’t capture some and make a zoo where you could toss peanuts and watch them lumber from one end of the enclosure to the other. He used his limited resources to purchase the land for a simple straightforward reason: so the elephants would have a safe way to water. Nothing glamorous. And nothing most would think of as overly heroic. Unless you are a wise and gentle 16 year old, floating down a wild river in a foreign country (and continent) and finding your way to an Indian man’s corner of the world. While ACT testing and college choices floated around in the back of her mind, Hailie met this man who explained his story…and she was moved. And inspired. By his words…he told these kids that sometimes in life you need someone to help make a safe path for you and if they needed, they would always have a place at his camp until they figured which direction to go in their lives. And by his actions… he showed them the path the elephants walk to water.
When Hailie hugged me good bye and headed towards the international terminal as she set off on the trip, I did the mom prayers, of staying safe. Not getting Malaria. Getting enough sleep. But deep down, I had hoped she’d also be blessed with at least one especially sacred moment. And this Indian man/elephant trail was one such blessing that I know will make a big impact in not only her life. Of course, I want her to do well on the ACT’s. And get into a college that can support her goals. But more so, even, was seeing what resonates with this young woman, how she noted, and was inspired by and then adopted into her future plans…what really makes the world a beautiful place…that simple, non glamorous act of helping and supporting others on their paths. As Hailie knows already…it’s a good and true way to travel through life.