Team work makes the dream work!
It goes without saying that it takes a team to keep the wheels in motion at a facility like BEES, as well as a community of people from near and far to help us grow and continue. Whether that be directly hands on, on the ground or through donations and supporting us through other means, by sharing our posts and helping to raise awareness of our mission, it all makes a difference and helps us achieve incredible things.
As many of you will know we are currently working to raise funds to build a new home for our Head Caretaker (Mahout) Aner and his Family. We need to raise these funds to build this home for them, to give them more comfortable facilities, but not only for them to have a much-needed upgrade to living facilities, but for our local construction workers to receive much needed income. Due to closure of borders and restrictions because of the pandemic, BEES has had no income for almost a year now. Without an income through our Visitor Program, we are struggling and are relying on Donations through BEES Elephant Foundation – BEF to help the sanctuary to survive the crisis period. In a measure to survive what we originally thought would only be a few challenging months, we halted a few plans, we were forced to cut some staff wages, delay projects etc. All these measures where only meant to be temporary (like 6-8 months), but unfortunately the Coronavirus crisis continues and we are no longer able to continue to delay certain things.
We decided to kick off the new year with new hope. Keeping budgets in mind we have started building Aner our head caretaker and his Families new home, even though we are yet to raise all the funds, our local construction workers are needing the work and its dry season, so we decided the time is now. New Year, New Home, New Hope.
Who is Aner and how did he and his family end up joining us at BEES?
BEES first welcomed Aner in early 2013. Mae Kam’s original caretaker Ai’Dapo was hired by BEES when Mae Kam retired in 2012, fell badly ill and was no longer able to carry out his duties, due to complications of malaria. We were sad to lose Ai’Dapo in such unfortunate circumstances, he had really stepped into the role as caretaker for Mae Kam. We called Mae Kam’s Owner P’or Panuu for advice on finding a new full-time caretaker for Mae Kam. At that time Mae Kam was still under contract agreement before we later purchased her 2015. Aner had met Mae Kam years before, but he had quite a bit to adapt to in this new setting where roles were reversed and the humans now worked for the elephants.
Aner has a very unique story, he fled Burma when he was just 13 years old. He was going to be torn from his family and forced to be a soldier and do unspeakable things, so he decided to make a run for Thailand, knowing that if he was caught, he would be shot and killed. He travelled a long journey by foot, finding himself in a district called Khun Yuam, in a little village in Northern Thailand where he was adopted by a Thai Karen Family who had ties with local Government. Through them he was able to get a non-Thai immigrant ID card and was able to work and move around the Northern provinces of Thailand. When he was 16 years old he started working and along the way he met working elephants. He found it good work, he enjoyed getting to know elephants and he was able to make an income and send money home to his adoptive family. Fast forward to 2013 and Aner had a few years’ experience under his belt working with elephants. It was just what we needed a kind, caring mahout, with experience and knowledge of elephant care. Except we would soon learn that Aner was suffering depression and quite a broken man. Everything was great, he was a hard worker, he was getting along really well with Mae Kam, he was learning our management style, the only issue was that when he wasn’t working, he often enjoyed drinking, a little bit too much. There are many mahouts who like to have a drink every now and then, but it shouldn’t become a daily ritual before bed to drown one’s sorrows.
After several months working at BEES on a good wage, Aner had saved enough money to purchase his first motorbike. He was very pleased with himself and wanted to return to his adoptive family’s village for a visit and show them his new motorbike. He began to disappear for a week or two at a time leaving Burm to look after Mae Kam, which for Mae Kam wasn’t a problem as she adores Burm. The only problem was that Burm has a number of responsibilities around the sanctuary and couldn’t stay with her as a fulltime caretaker so we really needed Aner to return and not leave so often. Aner was really great with her and they were developing a good bond. Aner started to return home often leaving Burm to care for Mae Kam which was becoming a challenge. One day Aner returned from visiting his village and it was like he was a new man. Something had happened and we could sense he was happier. He went from being a troubled man, to a man with a sparkle in his eye and his sleepy soul had been awakened. We just didn’t know by what. After a few months and seeing him spending a lot more time on his phone, he finally came to us with a huge grin, to let us know he had fallen in love. The girl he had fallen in love with was pregnant, he was to be a father. This was what had changed him, he was finally able to fill a void. He asked if it would be possible for her to come and live here at the sanctuary.
We were overjoyed for him, this was great news, he was no longer drinking, he was happier and he wouldn’t disappear so often. Of course, we said yes and welcomed her with open arms. He returned to his village where Cherry his special lady had been working to prepare to bring her back to BEES, where she could live alongside Aner, with a roof over her head, food, electricity, running water and Aner would have a good income and prepare for the baby’s arrival. Little did we know that there was another surprise, another little human was also coming with her, her son from a previous husband. His name was Glaycee and he was the cutest little firecracker, 6 years old with his top front teeth missing and had the most awesome smile. He was very soon nicknamed Ben 10 and was a super hero kid, helping with everything he could and still does today. We couldn’t be happier for Aner. It was as though prayers were answered, he had purpose, he stopped drinking and really stepped up into the roll of stepfather for Glaycee and husband for Cherry. As the months passed by, Cherry’s belly began to grow with their beautiful baby girl’s arrival getting closer. One afternoon they came to us arguing and Cherry was crying, Aner was very angry.
Once they had calmed down, we came to find out Cherry had been keeping a secret, she had two other children living in her mother’s village. Glaycee had two siblings living with their grandmother and she had not told Aner. The grandmother was not able to care for the children any longer as she was too frail and ill, Cherry’s sister was to return home to care for Cherry’s mother and the children needed to return to Cherry. So, there was only one option – to go to get the children and reunite them with their mother. Aner immediately accepted the two children as his own. Glaytu, who then was 2 years old and Ngae Ngae who was 11 years old.
And on the 11th June 2014 after much anticipation awaiting her arrival, their little daughter Baby Whan was born.
Aner had become a proud father, not just to his biological daughter Whan, but also to Ngae Ngae, Glaycee and Glaytu. He became the head Caretaker (Mahout) at the Sanctuary, as full time with Mae Kam, training the new Caretakers that joined and ensuring they did their jobs well. All was great until Cherry received news that changed everything. In the middle of 2015, Cherry’s sister called and was no longer able to take care of the poorly grandmother. Cherry was forced to return to the grandmother’s (her mother’s) home and eventually requested the children and Aner followed her as they didn’t want to be apart. At the time we were unsure if they would ever return and we were heartbroken, but we understood they had to take care of family. After a few months Aner had trained another caretaker to look after Mae Kam and he left to be with his family. It wasn’t the same without them, we missed them and Mae Kam missed Aner. Mae Kam enjoyed being with Burm, but after Aner left she struggled with the new caretakers they just weren’t a good fit. In late 2016 after a year of struggles finding a good fit for Mae Kam, we invited Aner to return to work. Aner agreed, he had not been able to find good work in the grandmother’s village and things were very challenging for them. He was so happy to return to the security of the sanctuary where he had a place to live and make a good wage. He had missed Mae Kam and she had missed him. After several months the whole family was able to return in 2017 after another family member took on the role to care of the grandmother. We were able to get Whan, Glaycee and Glaytu enrolled at the local school. Ngae Ngae unfortunately wasn’t able to get into a suitable school setting due to her age and not having been able to go to school from a young age. So we took Ngae Ngae under our wings and she joined in the daily tasks at the sanctuary, always with a big beautiful smile. Still today Ngae Ngae learns Thai and a little bit of English with our staff and guests. Ngae Ngae turned 18 years old on the 12th January 2021, it’s been amazing watching her grow into the woman she is now.
Glaycee and Leo (Burm and Emily’s son) have become the best of friends over the last few years. While Leo loves to play with all the Caretaker staff kids, he has a very special bond with Glaycee.
The hut that they have always lived in while at BEES, is the first hut the sanctuary built for Caretaker staff in late 2012. The hut is made from Bamboo and wood, it has gone through a lot of wear and tear. The hut was not designed for a family but more as simple staff accommodation. The family has never once complained and always made it work. When the family came back, we replaced the roofing from grass to tin and bought in materials to make it a bit more comfortable and built a little sheltered area behind the hut where they could hang out.
This year has been a hard year and Aner knew the sanctuary was struggling so he took it upon himself to make do with recycled materials laying around to fix up some things on the hut. They have used an old vinyl sign to make a wind break on one of the walls in the hut that became damaged from termites and tried to fix other bits and pieces with whatever materials where available around the sanctuary.
A permanent structure that will protect them from the elements is needed before the next rainy season starts. Even though it’s a challenging time and we are struggling, it’s time to make a beautiful new home for them.
Whether they stay forever or just until all the kids get through school, we want to make sure they have the safety and comfort they need and deserve. Now that it’s dry season, it’s the best time to build and the construction workers are available as it is outside of the farming season. With no work from BEES for the past year, our local construction workers are getting desperate for work. We decided to start the build and all the BEES Staff have come together to help set the foundations and construct the roofing alongside the local construction workers.
A caretaker (mahout) with a happy life, makes for an elephant with a happy life. We always strive to provide the very best, not only for our elephants, but for their amazing Caretakers as well. For without Aner, Mae Kam would not have the quality life she has.
Aner has such a vital role here and we are so lucky to have him. He is kind, patient and understanding, spending every day by Mae Kam’s side keeping her safe as she roams the forest and fields. He knows and understands Mae Kam and how to meet her needs, working tirelessly to ensure every day is a good day for her foraging and exploring in nature alongside her best friend Mae Dok. These are the qualities we need in Caretakers, men who truly love their work, respect their elephants and want to ensure the elephants have a happy more natural life.
Help us show this incredible man and his family what they mean to BEES and the elephants. Together let’s build him and his beautiful family a new home!
Please help us to raise the funds to help BEES ensure 2021 is a great year for this beautiful family.
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Thank you for your continued kindness and support. Together we are able to achieve amazing things and we know with your support we will survive these challenges and go on to continue to make a difference in the lives of Elephants, Animals and the Community.