Picking a volunteer program in Malaysia allows volunteers to see both ends of the spectrum plus everything in between. This small but endlessly intriguing country is a treasure trove of diverse volunteer opportunities. Malaysia offers the convenience of city living with world-class amenities along with the allure of miles of unspoiled countryside. Volunteers can choose between environmental sustainability in the untamed jungle of Borneo or teaching English in the modern capital city of Kuala Lumpur. But one thing is for sure, whether you stay in a jungle hut or skyrise apartment your time will be well spent.
Malaysia is located at the southernmost tip of southeast Asia and is made up of two main land masses that are separated by the South China Sea. One is referred to as the Peninsular Malaysia or West Malaysia. The other piece is called Malaysian Borneo or East Malaysia. Its rich variety of cultural, ethnic, and ecological diversity make it possible for all areas of volunteerism to thrive.
Peninsular Malaysia is home to two of the country's three federal territories, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya. Known as the bridge that links Asia to Singapore, it is where most of the action happens in terms of modernity. This western part of Malaysia is the seat of government and of the economy. The country’s hopes of becoming a developed nation are slowly coming to fruition. They are a driven society looking to progress so the air often holds a sense of urgency and determination. The iconic Petronas Twin Towers are matching buildings that soar nearly 1,500 feet into the air. They are attached by the highest two-story skybridge in the world. The impressive structure serves as a symbol of all the country hopes to become.
Malaysian Borneo is known for being more laid back and rural. It lends a sense of comfort and relaxation to its visitors. Sarawak, the largest Malaysian state, makes up the vast majority of East Borneo and offers the classic Borneo experience. Find yourself volunteering in corners of the globe that seem untouched by time. The terrain is made up of beaches, rock formations, and deep jungle. This half of the country is host to environmental conservation volunteers from across the globe.
Malaysia is particularly popular with environmental and animal volunteer experiences. Begin your search and find endless opportunities for working with orangutans, turtles, and tigers. It is also a great location for teaching English. Both the rural and urban areas have a great need for teachers.
The Kaya Responsible Travel volunteer programs combine environmental conservation and community empowerment. One program places volunteers in a rural village in Borneo on the banks of the Kinabatangan River. The area is an ecological paradise with wildlife ranging from various primates like orangutans and gibbons, and proboscis and langur monkeys, to rare pygmy elephants and freshwater crocodiles.
Under this program, volunteers do not only get the chance to spend time examining nature and managing the flora and fauna but also trekking up Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Southeast Asia, and traipsing in the Turtle Islands, a cluster of islands and islets between Malaysia and the Philippines that is the primary breeding ground of the endangered green turtle.
A similar program is the Globalteer's Borneo Marine and Turtle Conservation Project which focuses on protecting and replanting the area's coral reefs that have suffered over the years from illegal blast fishing. Volunteer effort also go towards the protection of endangered Hawksbill and Green turtles.
If you want to focus primarily on turtles try the Juara Turtle Project, which offers a volunteer project on Tioman Island, about 32 kilometers east of Peninsular Malaysia. The island, which is around 39 kilometers long and 12 kilometers wide, is a breeding ground for both green and hawksbill sea turtles. Under the project, volunteers help gather turtle eggs and then transport them to hatcheries. Once they hatch, the turtles are brought back to the beach and released into the wild.
There are plenty of people and animals outside of the sea in need of attention as well. Travellers Worldwide offers a Teach Abroad volunteer program in Sabah in Borneo. Volunteers will teach in rural villages near Kota Marudu. English is prevalently taught but it is especially hard in these rural areas for children to ever have a chance to truly practice the language. Learning from a native speaker would be priceless. The program allows people to stay anywhere from 1 week to 2 years. Accommodation can be made onsite at the school or volunteers live with local families.
Another Travellers Worldwide program puts volunteers at the Malaysian Wildlife Park to care for needy animals. Volunteers handle elephants, orangutans, monkeys, clouded leopards, tigers, sun bears, rhinoceroses, and birds. The park is about 10 miles southwest of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah in East Malaysia.
Healthy & Safety
Recommended vaccinations include Hepatitis A and B, and yellow fever (depending on where you have been beforehand or may be going). If your volunteer opportunity is outdoor based Rabies and Japanese Encephalitis are also recommended.
Malaysia is regarded as relatively safe and although terrorism has been a concern in the past it is very rare and with proper precautions should not be a problem. The most common problem is non-violent crime such as pick pocketing and bag snatching. Keep a tight hand and watchful eyes on your belongings especially when using public transportation or in the bigger cities.