A Beginner’s Guide to Volunteering Abroad

Exploring Indonesia
July 2016

Commonly referred to as ‘voluntourism’, volunteer travel has become a booming industry in recent years, popular among travellers seeking a more authentic, meaningful and altruistic experience abroad. But sadly, in this growing industry (as with many industries), ethical practice is sometimes obscured by the profit motive.

While it is rich with culture and history, South East Asia is rife with scams that tourists should be aware of – unfortunately, volunteering is no exception. In Indonesia, there is often a tourist price and a local price, and offering to donate or volunteer can come with an inflated tourist price tag. Orphanage scams are among the most common in the region; locals ask you to donate a bag of rice at seventy dollars or spend a day with children who have been sent by their parents to “play orphans” as a source of income.

If you’re looking to volunteer, we can help you navigate your way through Indonesia without spending a fortune. When navigated with caution, your voluntourist experience can provide long term, sustainable solutions and care to real communities in need.

First, two weeks is not enough. It never is. To make real change, a minimum commitment of six weeks is advised. To provide real change, you need to have solid, well-researched plans in place. It’s important to get to know the culture, understand the needs of the community, and then begin to build a solid foundation for your work and efforts. That is just not something that can be done in under a month, and pouring money into organisations that let you help for just one week encourages the increasingly corrupt practice of voluntourism.

Second, find an organisation that pairs you with a project or initiative based on your skills. Do you have unique insights or knowledge that can enrich the community?  The objective should be to build on the skills and resources in developing countries, not to take away opportunity from locals.

Third, prepare for culture shock. Consider arriving a week ahead of schedule, to experience one of the larger nearby cities and adjust to your surroundings. Rest your head somewhere comfortable to rid yourself of the jet lag and ease yourself into the situation. It’s not uncommon for volunteers to quickly get home sick, turn right around and decide to go home. This is easily preventable with in-depth research on the destination country and a little time to let you adapt. 

Reputable volunteer agencies in Indonesia

Here is a list of organisations that are trusted and reliable sources, and will protect both your interests and that of the host country. Look for one that suits your skills and your passion; then contact them for more information and find out if this is the right choice for you.

  • NGOabroad – This organisation specialises in pairing people and assignments based on the individual’s experience and skill set, ensuring that both parties get the right benefits. They also help those who want to build a career volunteering and developing abroad. Their prices are more affordable than other services and more personalised. The first step is to take a fifteen-minute questionnaire that provides basic background information and helps them identify a suitable partnership. 
  • Volunteerforever – They are more so a fundraising platform for those looking to volunteer but they offer great resources and recent reviews of organisations. You can view their top programs reviewed by over 100 people, you can speak to other volunteers and create your own profile where you can review organisations that you’ve worked with and allow others to track your experience, all while raising money.
  • Blue Ventures – This is a marine conservation based program that has won numerous awards for their efforts and volunteer programs. They help rebuild coastal towns that depend on the water and their programs are locally led, providing volunteer opportunities and career possibilities. They have clear annual breakdowns and concise development plans based on the needs of the community and its people.
  • Bali Animal Welfare Association – BAWA provides medical care, educational seminars, vaccinations and lots of love to often overlooked and mistreated animals in Bali.
  • Yayasan Widya Sari – This is a local organisation that provides skills to underprivileged children. Many Balinese jobs depend on tourism and this organisation provides children with access to computer and English classes to improve their chances of employment in Bali. This organisation does allow short term stays but we don’t encourage them; children need stability and ongoing support, so popping in and out for a week won’t improve their chances for success.
  • Voluntary Service Overseas – VSO is easily one of the biggest and most well known names in the volunteer world. They have 542 local partnerships throughout 25 different countries. They aim to achieve lasting change by providing proper training for professionals in various fields to create sustainability and by listening to local demands. Furthermore, they provide yearly breakdowns and annual reports which are easily accessible via their website. You can also view what they have accomplished over the years.
  • Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) –This is a government organisation that is for those who are fully committed, as assignments can range from twelve to eighteen months. Airfare and accommodation is supplied while you are placed somewhere in the developing Indo-Pacific region.

Still unsure? Email ethical travel enthusiast Elnaz at elnazde@gmail.com for more help.