Volunteering in Bali was an incredible experience and one I have shared with many, in the hope to encourage others to do the same. But in reality, volunteering abroad is a thing many consider doing but few rarely undertake. Some say this is because of time, others state cost as the reason they don’t take part in volunteering opportunities while travelling abroad. And in addition to both of these self imposed constraints, the ‘volunteering abroad’ landscape is confusing, especially with the boom of voluntourism in recent years. With such rapid growth in the travel volunteer sector, there is now a huge need to work out which programs are doing more harm than good…
but where do you start?
For me, when I am researching opportunities to make a positive impact abroad and volunteer my time and services, I rarely look online, I certainly didn’t when it came to volunteering in Bali. That is not to say you can’t, but as I mentioned above, the landscape is confusing and sometimes, it is difficult to know which organisations are genuinely helping the community and which organisations are playing a part in the volunteer-tourism industry.
**If you are starting your research online for volunteering abroad, please ensure you are joining forces with a genuine and authentic organisation who are putting the community's needs above and beyond the desire to make money. A couple of recommendations from Go Travel and Talk if you did want to organise something before you start travelling - GIVE Volunteers and Indigo Volunteers are two incredible organisations, connecting people with impact projects all over the world.
For me, when I am trying to find a project that I connect with on a deeper level, I talk to people when I arrive in the place I am visiting. In Bali, I asked around at my hostel in Ubud (shout out to The Onion Collective for all your help), I asked local taxi drivers, I asked questions when I took local tours and I chatted with other travellers about their experiences of volunteering in Bali and how I could get involved. The reason I seek impact opportunities in this way, is because I know there are many grassroots organisations out there who need the assistance of volunteers, but don’t have the money or online presence to invest in getting the word out.
Places to volunteer in Bali
On planning my recent trip to Bali, one of the most important things for me was to carve out some time to volunteer. I wanted to use my time to really get under the skin of this magnetic place rather than take part in the Instagram game of taking pretty pictures in tourist spots. For me, that doesn’t feed my soul, nor does it help anyone else in the process.
I met amazing people through volunteering in Bali and I made memories that will stay with me forever. These impact organisations blew me away; for their compassion, for their energy and for their devotion to improving life in Bali for themselves and for the local community. Most of these organisations don’t have the luxury of sourcing volunteers online, so I wanted to create this article to share my knowledge and experience of how you can join forces with amazing organisations and create a positive impact from your travels in Bali.
Volunteering in Bali: Sustainability
Get Plastic (Located primarily in Ubud, and throughout Bali and Indonesia)
Get Plastic is an incredible NGO dedicated to solving Indonesia’s plastic waste problem with the use of technology and education. Effectively, Get Plastic have created their very own home made machine that turns plastic waste into fuels, such as petrol and diesel. They also dispose of cigarette butts by turning them into plant feed, using an innovative transformation process. How cool is that?!
You can apply to volunteer in Bali with this organisation through Workaway or by contacting Alfa through the company Instagram @getplastic_id. Alfa is the community and communications manager based in Ubud. He would be more than happy to show you what they have been doing and how you can get involved.
Cost: Free, donations welcome.
Keep Bali Beautiful, Eco Village Tour (Located in Tangkas)
Keep Bali Beautiful is a project of Ahimsa in Action, an American NGO that supports community projects, primarily in Indonesia. Their mission is to provide funding and technical expertise to village recycling and educational programs.
In Bali, they have helped to create recycling programs that partner with local communities and schools to build and create sustainable recycling networks. They also focus on changing the beliefs and habits of the local people that contribute to plastic pollution as a way of creating lasting and sustainable change. By partnering with schools and creating EcoClubs all over eastern Bali, they are educating the next generation about the importance of recycling and what it takes to keep Bali Beautiful.
If you would like to volunteer in Bali with this incredible organisation, you can join them on an Eco Village Tour. The Eco Village Tour was started by Pak Darmawan from Tangkas Village in eastern Bali. He and his family have been farmers for five generations and Darmawan combines his role as a farmer with his job as an agricultural expert for his regional government. Five years ago, with the help of Keep Bali Beautiful, he launched a recycling program to solve the plastic pollution harming his village. As part of that project, Darmawan now gives tours of his village, alongside beach cleanup activities and a visit to the recycling centre that Darmawan founded. You will meet his family, enjoy a traditional Balinese lunch and learn of Darmawan’s beliefs, customs and future plans for the safekeeping of his village.
Cost: £20 - This is a social impact experience where 100% of what you pay goes directly back to Keep Bali Beautiful, thus investing into the community of Tangkas.
Trash Hero (Located on Gili Air and Gili Meno)
Trash Hero is an amazing volunteer led movement that aims to drive change within communities all over the world. They do this by motivating and supporting them to clean and prevent plastic waste as much as possible.
Trash Hero Gili Meno was founded in February 2015. With plastic waste coming in from the ocean, surrounding all sides of the island and with no waste management or infrastructure, something had to be done to save the beauty of this little island. Since then, the Trash Hero team on Gili Meno has grown from strength to strength under the guidance and love of Sulman Alfarizi Ali and Samsul “Adi” Hadi.
I met Sulman through Gili Meno Eco Hostel when I spent some time there late last year. Sulman is probably one of the most impressive people I have ever met. He used to work in the tourism sector but earlier last year, he gave up his job and founded the Brotherhood Recycling and Education Centre. He now works on improving their community waste management, with a focus on reduction, reuse and recycling. The Brotherhood is an incredible place to hang out with the locals and they now have a community driven bar that brings people together over communal style dinners with live music (40,000 IDR for a meal cooked by his wife). The entire Brotherhood Centre is made from salvaged waste, from bottled walls to can and plastic bag decorations. They hold workshops to educate people on recycling skills, like turning empty bottles into drinking glasses by hand and how to use low tech tools. Their Ecobrick initiative offers islanders rice in exchange for plastic bottles filled with non-recyclable trash, which provides a critical incentive not to open burn toxic materials on the island. The bottles are then used in construction projects all over the island.
You can volunteer and support their mission by taking part in their weekly Sunday trash walks across the island. You can invest as much or as little time as you like but usually the walks last for 1-2 hours. You will meet incredible people, local and tourists alike, and actively leave the place you are visiting better than when you found it.
Cost: FREE. Unless you would like to donate :) Speak to Sulman.
Volunteering In Bali: Animals
Turtle Conservation in Bali
The Gili Islands are incredibly important for marine turtle conservation, which is why actions have been taken on Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan to protect their safety and encourage their reproduction. In nature, only 1 turtle hatching out of 1000 makes it to adulthood and reproduces their own offspring. But while this number seems incredibly small, it has worked for millions of years will healthy populations of turtles surviving throughout the world. However, with the introduction of humans, boats and plastic waste, their numbers have been drastically reduced.
Gili Trawangan Turtle Hatchery
The purpose of this hatchery is to save the turtle eggs from predators and safeguard newborn turtles, allowing them to hatch in a protected sandpit. Turtle eggs are collected by locals and brought to the sanctuary and placed in secure incubation areas. After hatching, the turtles are kept in tanks until they are healthy enough to be released into the ocean. Any injured turtles are also cared for until they are well enough to be released into the sea.
To visit the Turtle Hatchery on Gili Trawangan and learn about turtle conservation in Bali, walk along the beachfront until you see the Dino Cafe. Outside of this local Warung, you will find the Turtle Hatchery, lovingly created by the owner and keen conservationist, Pak Dino. Pak is always around to answer any questions you have and give you an insight into their work and mission.
Take some time out of your island relaxing and expand your knowledge so you can share it with others. You can volunteer with this turtle conservation by collecting turtle eggs for safeguarding or by offering a donation (which the hatchery depends on).
Cost: Free but donations are welcome.
Gili Meno Turtle Sanctuary
This beautiful little organisation has been going for around 6 years. You can really feel their passion for turtle conservation as they engage about the work they have dedicated their lives to. While you cannot volunteer with this organisation, for a small donation of 150,000 IDR, you can release a baby turtle into the sea and learn about their efforts to protect the turtles on Gili Meno. The sanctuary is right on the beach. If you are staying at the Gili Meno Eco Hostel, with your back to the hostel looking out to the sea, take a right and walk along the beach for around 15 minutes. Get there early when it opens at 9am to avoid other tourists on the beach releasing turtles. We got there at 8.50am and had the beach and the experience to ourselves.
Cost: Donation of 150,000 IDR.
The Sea Turtle Conservation Project
If you would like to invest a bit more time (and money) in volunteering in Bali, the Sea Turtle Conservation project on Nusa Penida is a great option. Alongside a team of like minded and dedicated volunteers, you will play a key part in protecting and sustaining the sea turtle population on this beautiful island. You will take part in conservation awareness campaigns, collect vital data, feed the turtles as well as monitoring their health, search for turtle eggs, rescue and tent to sick or injured turtles and work with other marine conservation organisations from around the world. This is a really beautiful opportunity to make a significant difference and from day one, the work is hands on. When you are not volunteering, you will have the opportunity to explore one of Bali’s most beautiful islands as well as exploring the main island of Bali.
Cost Program fees start at $400 for 1 week (inclusive of accommodation, some meals and transfers).
Bali Animal Welfare Association ~ BAWA (Located in Ubud)
Founded in 2007 by American expat and now Bali resident, Janice Girardi, Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) is a non-profit organisation based in Ubud. BAWA work to save, protect and improve the lives of all animals in Bali and further afield, from snakes to dolphins, but with a key focus on Bali’s Heritage Dog, the islands genetically unique street dog that is under threat.
BAWA’s mission is to relieve the suffering of animals by providing emergency responses and rescues as well as providing food, medication, rehabilitation and adoption. They also practice human population control, disease control and run intensive education programs for sustainable and long lasting improvement to animal welfare. Funded entirely by donations, BAWA relies heavily on volunteers and you can get involved in many different ways!
Volunteering in Bali with this organisation means that you will help with feeding the street dogs and walk those who are up for adoption. For both of these volunteering activities, you must have had your rabies jabs. So if you are interested in doing this while in Ubud, take your rabies certification with you. For a donation of just $5, you could feed a street dog for an entire week!
If that is not what you had in mind for volunteering in Bali, you can offer your services in other ways. Perhaps you are a social media whiz, or have a love of numbers and experience in administration? You can also join the Friends of BAWA network, donate, or have some fun doing a little fundraising. BAWA are also always looking for people to adopt animals in need. Please note that for some of these volunteering experiences, you don’t need to be in Bali, you can do it from your own home!
To contact BAWA, send them an email with your questions and enquiry at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or drop in and visit them at their office in Ubud:
Address: Jl. A.A. Gede Rai No.550, Lodtunduh, Kecamatan Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571
Hours: 9am-5pm (closed on Sat and Sun).
Phone: +62 812-3840-133
Cost: $5 donation, with variations depending on what you would like to do.
Closing Thoughts On Volunteering In Bali
These are just the places I found along my travels in Bali, but there are many more that you could volunteer with. Volunteering in Bali, or in fact anywhere abroad, is an amazing way for you to create a positive impact, not just for the places you are visiting but for yourself and for those people who you pass that knowledge on to. The volunteering opportunities here don’t cost the earth to join, nor do they expect a huge time commitment and yet the experience could change the whole essence of your trip, and provide a valuable extra pair of hands for these organisations.