Personal fulfilment and a unique experience of local communities

An incredibly diverse range of short term volunteering opportunities now exist throughout the countries of Southeast Asia. Programmes focus on diverse areas such as animal welfare, wildlife conservation, childcare, education, community projects, even combination projects such as caring for Orang-utans whilst taking part in a Karma Yoga Retreat.

Volunteering is a great way to make travelling more fulfilling and to really make a difference in parts of the world where volunteer organisations are offering life-changing support to those who need it most.

On top of this, as a volunteer you often enjoy unique opportunities to immerse yourself in local communities and cultures, while during time off you get to explore breathtaking natural attractions and cultural landmarks.

Below is a selection of worthy opportunities to spark your interest in volunteering during a visit to Southeast Asia.

Outreach Centre and Teaching in Cambodia

This community project has two areas which volunteers can be engaged in – your time is divided between helping at a children’s HIV outreach centre and supporting English lessons at a rural Primary School. The assistance provided makes a huge difference in what are the front lines of poverty and discrimination in rural Cambodia. Children with HIV often receive inadequate healthcare, education and support in these areas, so joining the team means you can really make a difference to their lives.

The outreach centre focuses on supporting children who are HIV positive, giving them and their families much needed support, including; nutritional food, medical treatments and emotional support. The project also employs a team of dedicated full time staff, however they are often stretched to the limit, so the role of the volunteer is really to spend time with the children, playing, organising games, activities, sports and lending a hand where needed, for example in food preparation.

In the school, volunteers support the children in their classwork and help them learn new vocabulary in their English lessons, providing one-to-one assistance where needed.

This is an ideal project for anyone wishing to work with children. No teaching experience is required but a volunteer must be willing to learn on the job and always eager to get involved in all areas of the project.

Volunteers work five days a week and can spend the rest of their time exploring the local area – Kampot town, or taking trips to Kep or Bokor National Park.

Marine Research in the Perhentian Islands

The Perhentian Islands lie approximately 10 miles off the north-eastern coast of Western Malaysia, and are host to some spectacular marine wildlife and coastline. This volunteer programme offers an amazing opportunity to assist ecological PhD studies taking place in the area, which is focused towards monitoring the local ecosystem.

New research into the Black Tip Reef Shark and Sea Turtle Identification began recently and the studies are carefully designed to promote conservation and preservation of the region’s stunning natural environment.

Volunteers help conduct surveys and checks across eight different sites on the two islands; with the opportunity to scuba dive and experience the marine wildlife up close. This project also has strong ties with the local community and volunteers can immerse themselves in the local culture – interacting with the children who come to visit the headquarters and partaking in traditional Malay dinners cooked by neighbouring villagers.

As this is a scuba diving and marine research programme, full training in diving as well as some education in marine biology are built into the volunteer’s itinerary. This means the minimum length of participation is one month, which includes a scuba diving course and series of scientific lectures, as well as assisting with research once the courses have been completed.

Construction Projects in India

Based in local villages in Kerala, south west India, this project focuses on the development of local slums through the building of eco-toilets, home repairs, constructing new houses and renovating schools and playgrounds to help make them safer environments for children.

These projects are vital to these areas. For example, the eco-toilet systems help stop widespread contamination and disease, whilst improved housing and education help to lift families out of poverty and give them much needed stability and shelter.

Volunteers taking part in the projects will have the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in local community life, not only when they are working (often alongside community members) but also because the accommodation is situated in the heart of the local community at Fort Kochi, where first hand experiences of Indian culture abound.

The programme is centred on a Monday to Friday working week, with days spent assisting in surrounding villages or at local schools. This leaves the weekends free for exploration of the area. Long term field staff can help volunteers make the most of their free time and are happy to provide a wealth of information. The projects run for 1, 2, 3 or 4 week intervals, and have bi-monthly start dates.

Volunteer with Orangutans in Indonesia

Based in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the Wildlife Rescue Centre Jogja cares for injured wild animals, as well as those confiscated from illegal private owners, and attempts to rehabilitate them for release into the wild.

The main priority at the centre is the welfare of the animals – it is not a zoo, but rather a facility for care and education. Interaction with the local community is also key, and the centre provides jobs for adults, as well as hosting clubs and education sessions for local children.

As a volunteer at the Wildlife Rescue Centre Jogja , you must be willing to get your hands dirty and share in all parts of the centre’s life. This includes working hands on with the animals – feeding, cleaning cages and attending informal sessions within the local village. Placements last for a minimum of a week and can be increased in weekly intervals.

In addition to making a much needed difference, you will be given the privilege of attending a true Javan dinner with a local family, and on your days off there’s a variety of wonderful cultural experiences to enjoy, including the Sultan’s Palace and Borobudur – the world’s largest Buddhist temple.


Volunteering Tips

All volunteer opportunities offer unique experiences, so which is best for you really depends on your personal skills, experiences and preferences. Here a few tips to help you get started.

  • On a short term volunteering placement you really want to use your time wisely, which is why many people go through agencies. However, it is still advisable to do some research beforehand and make sure that you are booking through a legitimate and well-organised company and know what to expect on arrival.
  • Although many placements can seem expensive; the price often decreases the longer one volunteers for, so the first week is far more expensive than the second or third weeks. The cost almost always covers everything except flights, so as long as you are going through reputable channels you can be assured that your money is going towards helping these essential programmes continue to run.
  • Before you book a placement, always check the programme specific requirements – some have age or fitness requirements. Also, especially if working with animals, always make sure that you have read the complete medical information and had all the necessary vaccinations.
  • For more information on Cambodia project, or to register interest, check out the Pod Volunteer website listing: https://www.podvolunteer.org/Child-care-and-orphanages/hiv-outreach-centre.html
  • For more information on the Malaysia project, or to register interest, visit the listing on the Ecoteer Responsible Travel website: http://ecoteerresponsibletravel.com/portfolio/perhentian-marine-research-volunteer
  • For more information or to book a place on the project in India, check the website: http://www.gvi.co.uk/programs/volunteer-construction-projects-india

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Lily Guy-Vogel
Lily, originally from London, and a former Medieval Literature student, has had the travel bug ever since she can remember, and has travelled extensively, never wishing to stay in one place for too long! She has written for a stream of publications and blogs on her way, often bringing a comedic edge to her work. She loves adventure and exploring new places, and is determined to set foot in every continent before choosing a home.