Finding Profound Serenity With Elephants

Learn how Sameer Sabberwal’s passion for technology and giving back led to a special bond with Sri Lankan elephants.
Finding Profound Serenity With Elephants
May 02, 2024

By Sameer Sabberwal · Solutions Architect · Canada

with Helen Gall

4 Minute Read · 6 Minute Listen

I grew up on a farm in Northern India where I learned to love nature and the land.

My family believed in education just as much as farming, which led me to study Engineering in the United States at the University of Southern California. After graduating, I started working for Cisco, where I've had the chance to be part of exciting technology changes, from 4G to cloud computing.

I've lived and worked in different places, from Massachusetts to California, and now I'm in Vancouver, Canada. I've found a great balance between my job as a Solutions Architect for Cisco and my passion for the outdoors.

Growing up in India, elephants were more than just majestic creatures; they were revered like gods — adorned with embroidered garments and jewelry.

Two Asian elephants stand under trees.
Meet Kumari (56) and Menike (42), two female elephants staying at the Freedom Project in Kegalle, Sri Lanka — a shelter for captive elephants.

I vividly recall the clinking of a bell each Sunday morning, announcing the arrival of a saffron-clad man with a high-pitched voice proclaiming, "The embodiment of Lord Ganesha is at your doorstep. Please feed him."

This profound reverence for elephants was instilled in me from a young age. My mother would present bananas to the towering 10-foot-tall elephant named Ganesh, seeking its blessings. It was this enchanting presence that first cast its spell on me when I was about six or seven years old.

As I grew older and found a deeper connection with myself, I appreciated how elephants’ immense strength, wisdom, compassion, and tolerance made them spiritual guides with many meanings.

They instilled a sense of stability in my life. Elephants’ strong communal and familial instincts — akin to those of wolves — taught me the importance of caring for and respecting others.

This was a driving force behind my commitment to serve my community.

Despite their enormous size, elephants emanate a profound serenity that helped me find inner peace and live in the present, free from daily anxieties.

An elephant keeper stands by an elephant, holding an ankus stick.
The elephant keepers at Elephant Freedom Project are the best. And the elephants love them too! Mahouts carry an ankus stick to direct the elephants when they are out for walks and bathing at the river.

In 2023, my journey took me to Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Southern India, where I trekked and camped deep within the forest.

It filled my heart with pure joy to observe elephants in their natural habitat, protect their young, and swim across rivers. I knew I needed to contribute more.

For years, these elephants endured the grueling tourist riding industry, but now they are safe. The elephants are inseparable, enjoying long walks and river baths. They spend their days at the project moving freely, with visitors accompanying them on strolls — strictly no riding.

The small, family-operated Elephant Freedom Project provides refuge for these majestic animals, liberating them from the burdens of the riding industry and wood logging.

For their protection, they are still chained at night. The EFP aspires to construct a four-acre night enclosure adjacent to the river on private forest land near Kegalle to offer a chain-free, natural environment.

Thanks to Cisco and Time2Give, I had the privilege of volunteering at the project recently. My mornings were spent guiding the elephants through the lush tropical jungle and cleaning their sleeping quarters — a euphemism for "scooping elephant dung." Surprisingly, it's quite heavy!

Afternoons were reserved for river baths, scrubbing them with coconut husk, followed by evening activities with tourists to raise additional funds to keep the project running.

Sameer stands between two elephants.
One of the mahouts (elephant keepers) came to my rescue when Menike, the younger elephant, accidently stomped on my foot. No harm, no foul.

I spent time with the project leaders at the jungle site, brainstorming ideas for the new night enclosure, envisioning trails, shelters, and bedding, all with the goal of providing the elephants with a safe secure and comfortable long-term home.

Helping others has always been important to me. Thanks to Cisco, I've been able to keep volunteering in each city I've lived in, supporting local organizations like Shelter Movers in Vancouver and Boston Cares.

But volunteering at the Elephant Freedom Project stands out as one of the most extraordinary, rewarding experiences — and one I eagerly await to repeat, particularly to aid in the completion of the night enclosures.

These noble creatures deserve happiness, day and night.

You can help make a difference: Visit the project, offer your time as a volunteer, or make a donation.

Let's join hands to ensure they never return to a life of servitude or substandard living conditions. These gentle giants truly deserve better.

Related links