How to Volunteer in South East Asia

Volunteering in SE Asia, a How-to Guide

250-adWhile at first glance, South-East Asia seems a calm and tranquil region, there are many problems that lurk just below the surface, both humanitarian and ecological. This article hopes to serve as an advisory guide to help you make a difference in the region, from helping to protect the endangered orang-utan from extinction in Borneo, to teaching English in Phnom Penh, to helping the orphaned and poverty-stricken children of Vietnam, there is much work to be done, and much that you can help with. If you don’t have the ability to volunteer personally, this guide will also show you other methods to make a difference.

The Plight of the Orang-utan – Help Our Red Brothers

The orang-utan species are a highly intelligent great ape species, the Sumatran Orang-utan and the Bornean Orang-utan, both highly endangered, and found only in Indonesia and Malaysia. These creatures face extinction due to their habitats being destroyed by loggers to make way for palm oil plantations – as well as this threat, they also face widespread danger from being hunted for food, as well as for use of their body parts in traditional medicine. They are also subject to widespread hunting in revenge for them eating crops grown in their former habitat. Their bones are also often secretly traded as souvenirs in cities throughout Indonesia. Many are also taken as illegal pets, with mothers killed so that their infants may be taken and sold on as pets, often with the result of the infants dying due to having no mother to care for them.

you have the power to take action

Many organizations are set up to help these creatures however, with one such being Orangutan Foundation International, run by Dr Birute Galdikas which offers both long and short-term volunteering placements at the orangutang care centre, as well as helping sun bears, another vulnerable creature in the region. Donations are also welcomed if volunteering is not possible. Other charities hard at work to protect orang-utans include the World Wildlife Fund.

Construction work in Laos – building a better future in one of SE Asia’s poorest countries

Laos is consistently ranked as one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, where whole communities often go without clean water or sanitation facilities, but you can help make a difference, Global Vision International is an organization that organizes volunteering to Laos (as well as the rest of the world) with a key program being short-term volunteering on construction projects, helping to bring basic amenities to some of the country’s most needy people, with the construction project varying as the communities’ needs change, from building water filtration systems to sanitation facilities.

Other voluntary positions offered by GVI include teaching English to novice monks, supplementing the stretched teachers, making sure the novices get the attention they need to get a full education. Other placements include six month teaching internships, and a 4 week placement working on community and teaching projects, followed by a 4 day adventure trek through picturesque villages in the Laotian countryside.

Teaching English in SE Asia

In the modern world, knowledge of English is an excellent skill to have, by teaching English to young people, you would be giving them a crucial life skill, which will help them throughout their life, as well as participating in a cultural exchange, and becoming immersed in Asian culture in a way you will never forget.

Schools throughout SE Asia welcome fluent English speakers from the world over, one such example can be found at Volunteer In Cambodia, Conversations With Foreigners is a popular language school located in Phnom Penh, which teaches conversational English to Cambodian students aged from 13-60. Anyone over 18 with a fluent knowledge of English can apply, though those over 70 will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Any profits made by the school go directly to a rural NGO, and over $100,000 has so far been raised.

Volunteering in an orphanage in Vietnam

Vietnam has an extremely high number of orphans and street children, something which the Global Volunteer network hope to help change, through the linked program, you can apply to help at orphanages, disability centres, and shelters for street children, in both North and South Vietnam, giving these children the love, attention and affection which they have been deprived of.

The program features placements of between 2 and 8 weeks, with longer placements available if asked for.

Help protect the victimized Rohingya People of Burma

As you may or may not be aware, Burma is in trouble. Not only is it still suffering under the military junta that has ruled the country since 1962, committing massive, systematic human rights violations, but the Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority are also being attacked and killed by the Buddhist extremists. Due to the danger of the region, direct volunteering is not commonly possible, however, you are urged to write to your political representative and to donate anything you can to campaigns to help Burma, such as the Burma Campaign.

Other volunteering programs

Soon Berdiri will launch it’s own volunteering initiatives starting in Sumatra and carrying on in various other countries. In the mean time there are many other voluntary placements available, not just in South-east Asia, but the world over, with sites such as Idealist listing voluntary placements of all kinds, in almost every country, so whether you want to volunteer on reef check dives in Burma, work on arts programs for children in Indonesia, you will find something to suit your specific abilities and time commitments.


Volunteers at an elephant camp in Sumatra

Other ways to help

If you’re reading this guide and want to help out in South-East Asia but can’t spare the time or expenses to volunteer, there are many other ways to help the region. Many of the above charities and foundations accept donations happily, and in some cases, that is the only way to help, due to dangers in the area or because of expertise required by any volunteers that goes beyond just a will to take action, such as specialized zoological or medical knowledge.

Another way to help the charities is to stage a fundraiser at your place of work or education. Organize a garage sale or sponsored run and donate the proceeds to the charities. Recommend the charities to your friends, buy goods from their stores, post about them on social networking sites, and increase their visibility and the visibility of the problems. Educate people as to the problems in the area, and increase awareness. Even if you personally cannot go to these regions, you can increase the awareness, so that those who can, do; you have the power to take action, and the power to fight back and change things for the better.

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