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Alumni Profiles

An Unforgettable Adventure: Making the world a better place while chasing a dream

Olivia walks with an elephant and a Thai native during a service trip

Graduating from Western Colorado University during the height of a global pandemic made diving into a career an uncertain pursuit. As the world opened up, graduates adapted and explored new endeavors they would not have otherwise. Caught between career paths and planning for the future, best friends and Western Alumni C.J. Edgar (‘20) and Olivia Murphy-Welconish (‘21) saw a window of opportunity to chase a dream.  

Inspired by a documentary about orphaned orangutans and baby elephants, Olivia dreamed of working with elephants since she was young. Since meeting as Western Orientation Leaders, C.J. and Olivia have become designated adventure buddies and set out to see that dream come to fruition at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT). For a whole month, they joined nearly 30 other volunteers varying in age, background, and nationality to work with endangered Asian elephants.  

Among the many facets of volunteering overseas, they learned about the ethics of caring for elephants. All of the elephants in the care of WFFT had, at one point or another, been exploited or abused. Their situations ranged from being forced to work in the logging industry to being placed in trekking camps for tourist entertainment. For this lifestyle to be imposed on an elephant, they go through a process called “the Phajaan.” This translates to “the breaking of the spirit.” Once an elephant’s spirit is broken, it can never again care for itself in the wild. Currently, there are more Asian elephants subjected to the Phajaan than there are left in the wild.  

Olivia and CJ take a selfie with an elephant.

The staff and volunteers at WFFT strive to make a difference in the lives of their nearly 700 rescued animals by creating a safe, open, and caring place for them to peacefully live for the rest of their years. Most, except the elephants, can even eventually be released. All animals are given access to a steady source of food, medical care, and the option to socialize with each other during their stay at the sanctuary. 

To witness and contribute to a force of good greater than oneself was an empowering experience neither C.J. nor Olivia will soon forget. The leadership skills instilled in them from their time as Western students gave them the courage to try something far newer than anything they had experienced before, ultimately resulting in the manifestation of an adventure that was truly once in a lifetime. Above all, the bonds they formed with the staff, volunteers, and animals were incredibly impactful and taught them more about the world as a whole than they could have ever imagined.  

“If there is anything we can say about chasing a dream, it’s that now is the time to do it. Don’t wait.” 

-Olivia & C.J. 

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