This month we’re featuring alum Maya Elia! After returning home from her program to Thailand last summer, she started Elepants, a non-profit that sells Thai Harem pants and donates 100% of its profits to the Lampang Thai Elephant Conservation Center.
What was the specific moment or experience that inspired you to start your nonprofit, Elepants?
“My journey starting Elepants happened over the course of a few months, but the idea of the organization came to me after I came home from my program. When I came back to Dallas, I looked around and saw crowded shopping malls and I missed the vast Thai jungle. Rather than waking up to bathe our elephants in a river, I woke up to check social media. I rode in a car instead of atop a majestic elephant, and although I wasn’t ungrateful for the amazing opportunities I enjoyed in Dallas, I missed being surrounded by the gentle giants that I had become so close to during my week in Thailand. I had come home from “the Land of Smiles” with incredible stories, memories, pictures, and pants. And wow, did all of my friends love the harem pants I was wearing! I decided that I wanted to hold onto these beautiful memories for as long as I could, which would hopefully be my whole life. Then I came up with the idea to order similar pants from Thailand and sell them to my Dallas friends and send the profits back to my elephant friends. Everyone wins. So I created Elepants and I continue to relive my Rustic experience with every pair I sell.”
What would you tell someone going on a Rustic Pathways program for the first time?
“I would tell a Rustic Rookie to be open to everything. Try new foods, go outside of your comfort zone, and immerse yourself in a culture completely different from your own. Traveling is such an amazing opportunity, and it opens so many doors to things you might not have known existed prior to your program. If you go into your Rustic program with a positive outlook and a desire to learn more about the world, you’ll come back with so much more.”
How has your Rustic Pathways experience changed or impacted your goals for after high school?
“My experience with Rustic Pathways has taught me that everyone is capable of changing the world. Of course there will be obstacles and people telling you that your goals are impossible, but with the right mindset anything is achievable. Rustic Pathways has impacted my life immensely, and I’m not sure where I would be without it. Not only has my experience with Rustic taught me so much about the world, but it has also taught me so many things about myself. Because of Rustic Pathways, my goals for the future are ambitious but achievable.”
How has a travel experience impacted your own personal, academic, or professional goals? Comment below!
Lauren joined Rustic Pathways in 2008 after graduating from Emory University. She spent her first six years in Costa Rica overseeing our operations and seasonal staff. Lauren then formed our Alumni Association where she developed programs for continuing student involvement. She now uses her extensive skill set to continue to improve the hiring and training of all program leaders across the globe. Lauren lives in Chicago, travels often, and enjoys maintaining her Spanish fluency.