With over 17,000 islands, 300 native ethnicities, and 700 distinct dialects, Indonesia has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. More than 60 percent of the country is forested and the constant volcanic activity has produced an environment supporting thousands of animal species. Those interested in volunteering in Indonesia will find volunteer opportunities in conservation, wildlife rescue, agriculture, non-profits, healthcare, and education. Wildly abundant in nature, culture, and volunteer placements, Indonesia truly lives up to its national maxim: “Unity in Diversity.”
Java – Over half of Indonesia’s population lives on this island, making it the economic and political center of the archipelago and home of the nation’s capital city, Jakarta, which is also the most populated city in Southeast Asia. With so much going on, volunteering in Jakarta is possible in almost every industry. Volunteers can contribute to conservation efforts, help in orphanages, teach English, build websites, or aid in non-profit organizations. Other popular cities for volunteering in Indonesia on Java island include Semarang and Surabaya.
Bali – One of the premier tropical island destinations of Southeast Asia, is Bali known for high-quality coffee and spectacular attractions, like black sand volcanic beaches and colorful dance rituals. Over 80 percent of the island’s economy depends on tourism alone. While most of Indonesia practices Islam, the majority of Balinese people follow the Hindu religion. This is a great place to volunteer in Indonesia in the areas of turtle conservation, health care education, and construction. The main cities for volunteering in Bali are Denpasar, Ubud, and Nusa Punida.
Borneo – Home to the highest peak in Southeast Asia, the oldest rainforest in the world, and over 15,000 species of flora, this island is perfect for individuals who want to get involved in conservation, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, and anti-poaching operations through volunteering in Indonesia. Animal protection projects for the declining native Orangutan population are particularly common.
West Papua – This island is covered in over 75 percent forest. Unfortunately, the local people and habitats are being threatened by logging interests and increasing palm oil plantations. Efforts are needed in the fight against deforestation and displacement. However, there are also opportunities to volunteer in West Papua in Marine conservation, diving, and fishing.
Projects & Placements
Given the level of biodiversity, it’s no wonder that volunteering abroad in Indonesia often focuses on conservation, and more specifically wildlife rescue. Everyday, turtles, orangutans, Malaysian sun bears, Javan leopards, and hundreds of other animal species are sold on the black market in Indonesia, and many more animals are in need of proper rehabilitation. Other conservation efforts include marine research, protection of coral reefs and sea life, anti-poaching and anti-deforestation campaigns, recycling programs, and environmental education.
With all the volcanic activity, earthquakes and tsunamis in Indonesia are somewhat common. There are many volunteer programs available to help with relief efforts like construction, renovation, farming and healthcare. Similarly, volunteers can contribute to humanitarian efforts by working at orphanages, caring for abused or disabled children, participating in community development and service programs, or teaching at local schools.
Placements typically last anywhere from one week to several weeks or months, depending on where you choose to volunteer in Indonesia and in what type of placement. It’s not generally a requirement to know the local language, however language classes are available and encouraged by volunteer program providers.
Costs & Affordability
Foreign volunteers can get by with surprisingly little money while volunteering in Indonesia. Depending on the length of the volunteer program, costs can range anywhere from $180 $3500, which typically includes accommodation, meals, and outings. A round trip plane ticket from L.A. to Jakarta costs just under $1000 USD, airfare will most likely be the biggest expense associated with volunteering abroad in Indonesia. But once there, the dollar stretches a bit further in Indonesia.
Hotels can be rather inexpensive compared to the West, and transportation options are also affordable; a monthly transportation pass will set you back about $13 and a cheap meal can be as little as $2. Average rent for a one bedroom apartment in the city center is under $400 and in more rural areas as low as $170.
Accommodation & Visas
Most volunteer programs in Indonesia include accommodation in program fees. It is typically a shared room, guest house, or volunteer housing with fellow volunteers. Housing with homestays in smaller villages allows volunteers to experience the culture firsthand and mingle with locals daily.
All volunteers must apply for a 60-day Social/Cultural visa before volunteering in Indonesia, volunteering on a tourist visa is not allowed. Volunteers will need to apply for a visa at their local Indonesian Embassy, which will require a valid passport, photos, a letter of invitation from the sponsoring volunteer organization in Indonesia, a copy of the ID card of the person who signed the letter, itinerary and proof of ticket purchase, and a $50 application fee. Depending on the program length, volunteers may be required to extend their visa once in-country.
Benefits & Challenges
- Safety & Awareness: Indonesia lies in a hazardous geographical region, it is naturally volcanic and prone to earthquakes, so volunteers should get familiar with safety procedures and tips and be prepared to recognize signs of danger. It wouldn’t hurt to know a little First Aid as well.
- Population: Islands with denser urban populations face challenges when it comes to poverty, cleanliness, pollution, traffic accidents, garbage, resources, and recycling. If volunteering in Jakarta or Bali, volunteers should be prepared to deal with the consequences of living in highly populated areas that are somewhat isolated from the mainland.
- Religion: Indonesia is the largest Islamic nation in the world, with over 90 percent of the population practicing Islam, so be sure to read up on the history and traditions of Islam, and research the cultural do’s and don’ts of Indonesia.
- Geography: Indonesia is full of lush rainforests, green rice fields, stunning beaches, and some of the most diverse and exotic plant and animal life on the planet. Be sure to get out there and experience everything this wonderland has to offer when volunteering in Indonesia. Make every day an adventure as a volunteer in Indonesia!