While most tweens are obsessed about fashion fad, selfies, and celebrities, a young girl from Thailand is focused on protecting our planet's natural treasures. Meet 12-year-old Genie-Yanisa Sangpakdee. In an email interview with me from Thailand, she explained that she has spoken before hundreds of people on animal welfare issues; has led anti-Styrofoam and environmental campaigns, and has been interviewed on popular TV shows.
"I do understand that fashion is a part of life for most girls but I think it is unimportant. I don't really care too much about what I wear etc. Saving not only elephants but living breathing beings is more important to me because you are saving a life!"
Such unique interests and views have made it difficult for her classmates to relate with Genie. But that hasn't stopped her from helping them, especially whenever they felt threatened by little critters.
"Sometimes there are house geckos or spiders etc., and the reactions my friends have are screaming and stomping on the insects. They will always call me to pick the animal up and free it outside."
Genie, when she was 10-years-old
In 2013 she was selected as one of the six finalists in the Voice Kids Thailand TV show. And she harnesses her beautiful voice to serve the voiceless, including elephants and humans. In the past, she has also performed at juvenile detention centers to offer prisoners a sense of "comfort".
Since 2014 Genie has been composing and recording songs depicting the plight of endangered animals, including the Asian elephants that are vanishing at an alarming rate from our planet.
"Elephants are majestic creatures. They have a beautiful soul and their brains are so complex. They have emotions just like we do and are problem solvers. They are so much like humans."
Watching these regal animals being exploited in the tourism industry deeply saddens Genie. She says, every time she sees tourists riding elephants it breaks her heart. And while she's sympathetic towards the handlers, she has a hard time understanding why tourists would ever ride elephants, facilitating the vicious cycle of torturous practices.
"Usually the mahouts come from really poor families, they harvest rice etc. but then when there is a drought they can't do anything to earn money so they turn to elephants in shows, rides for tourists. I would say a lot of western tourists already know what happens before elephants can be so tame and docile."
Genie's love affair with elephants began since her childhood. She has seen them forced to beg on the streets of Bangkok at night and hidden during the day inside a massive field behind her home in the same city. Occasionally she would spot a trunk stretching across the fence to grab some bananas off their backyard garden, as her parents allowed the elephants to eat peacefully. It is this kind of attitude towards the gentle giants that seems to have instilled love and compassion in Genie's heart.
"My mom disliked zoos. She said it was cruel to pay to watch sad animals treated poorly. It is wrong for a living being to suffer like this and become human slaves. I mean like, what have these animals done wrong to live like this?"
Genie's passion for Thailand's iconic animal has caught the attention of the nation's Prime Minister, who presented her with the "Best Youth Award" recently.
And a high ranking US embassy official was so deeply moved by her genuine concerns for the gentle giants that he invited her to meet Kuhn Lek Chialert, a world-renowned elephant advocate who created the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in Chiang Mai.
Here Genie was exposed to the harsh truth behind Thailand's captive elephants, and her life changed forever after watching a video that portrayed how elephants' spirits are broken using unimaginable and inhumane torture.
"It consisted of beatings and lashings inside a small bamboo crate, everything inflicted on the elephant would basically scar the elephant both physically and mentally forever. After listening to her presentation Khun Lek could tell that I was very interested in this subject so she made me an elephant ambassador."
Aside from saving the endangered Asian elephants, Genie is also on a mission to reduce her carbon footprint and leave behind the precious natural treasures that she has been able to enjoy. During a precarious time in our planet's history, her profoundly meaningful message strikes at the core of humanity.
"One of the simplest and overlooked things in life is to think before doing something. I also truly hope that more people can become interested in service and action and also more about caring for our world."
In doing her part, Genie is now lending her voice to an African elephant called Nosey, who is exploited in circuses in the USA. She has composed a song called Nosey's Wish that you can listen by clicking HERE. Meantime, Genie continues to spread awareness through her songs and is also raising funds for elephants by selling unique bracelets and her watercolor paintings. So far she has raised and donated 5,620 Baht (US$165) to the ENP, and 11,500 Baht (US$338) to another elephant conservation group.
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