A former corporate real estate manager has swapped the rat race for a race to protect elephants in South Asia.

A year ago Alison Joseph of Brick Kiln Road, Stevenage, was made redundant from her London commuter job after the company she worked for was taken over. But rather than descend into gloom the 35-year-old used the opportunity to go off in a radical new direction.

“I decided to take the year to travel,” she said. “I started in Central America and then went to Sri Lanka for six weeks of volunteering. While there I fell in love with the elephants and decided to set up my own volunteering project to help the animals and people of Sri Lanka. I came back to Stevenage, packed up and rented out my house, and flew back.”

Back on the island she founded a new social and environmental project – Inspire Sri Lanka, to give volunteers the chance to work with and learn about the indigenous elephants, as well as teach children at a local orphanage.

“Volunteers get involved in everything from feeding to bathing the elephants, they receive education on topics such as elephant anatomy and conservation issues and are even taught mahout (elephant handler) skills.

“The volunteers also work with 45 girls aged five to 19-years-old teaching them English, maths and important life skills such as how to prepare for interviews and write CVs,” Alison said.

The cost of the volunteering holiday also raises funds to buy new clothes for the orphans and a project to rebuild a disused classroom, as well as supporting wildlife conservation charities to protect the elephants.

Alison said the experience has been truly rewarding and urged others facing unemployment to try new things.

“I think there are opportunities out there to think outside the norm and see if there’s something out there that they can do differently. It depends on people’s circumstances, but I would say think more broadly and maybe do something to try and make things better and not to be afraid to do something else.”

Inspire Sri Lanka welcomes volunteers all year round. To find out how to get involved go to www. elephantvolunteer.org