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You want to commit yourself to a meaningful cause, meet other young people from all over the world, step into the culture of one of the most beautiful islands on Earth… but you don’t know which organism to trust? Let me tell you about my unforgettable experience at « Volunteer in Bali« . But watch out, by the end of the article, you might jump in the first flight to Indonesia!
Table of content
1. First, some context…
In 2017, I started a Master’s degree that really didn’t fit my expectations. My mind tells me to stay – getting into this degree is hard and I deserve to be here… – but my heart tells me to run away. You guessed it: the heart won. I said adios to the arrogant professors of this fancy Paris school and after a 6-month internship in a e-tourism startup, I bought a way-one ticket to Indonesia.
After quite some research, I chose the organism of Volunteer in Bali. The NGO’s goal is to provide children of the island‘s less developped regions with a free access to education. More particularly with English classes, since the language is required for any career in tourism or hospitality (sectors that drive the local economy). The organism has four locations on the island, but I’ll only introduce you to the one I know (and by far the best one according to the rumors!): Tianyar, a fisherman’s village on the north-eastern coast of Bali.
FYI: there is also a program of marine conservation in the same village. If you’re more into scuba diving than teaching kids, you might want to check it out! Visit North Bali Reef Conservation for more info.
2. Becoming a volunteer
Who does the program fit with?
This program perfectly fits with those of you who are willing to…
– commit to a cause that speaks to their heart: access to education
– work with children
– discover the fantastic island of Bali in an authentic way, and not with a mojito on a crowded beach club
– share their daily life with new people with really diverse backgrounds
– go with the flow with a curious mind and a lot of joy to share 😉
Who can apply?
If English isn’t your mother tongue, you might be wondering… « Wait, but do I have to be fluent to give English classes? ». Fair question, although the answer is no! As long as you get by with the language, you’re fine. Keep in mind that the youngest kids are about 5 years old, so knowing the basics is enough with them! In any case, you’ll work along with a local professor, in case you need translation.
There’s also no age limit to apply. As long as you’re over 18 and full of enthusiasm, you’re most welcome! In actual facts, most volunteers are between 19 and 25, since many of them (me included, at that time) are students taking a gap year.
The minimum length of stay is 4 weeks and there is of course no limit! I personally stayed 3 months in 2017 and 2 weeks in 2018 (that was still allowed back then), just to see my students again on my way to my family’s in Indonesia. Here, it all depends on your level of motivation, your availability and your budget… Since this isn’t a free program – we’ll get to that very shortly.
How does the registration work?
Applying is a piece of cake: go on the website of Volunteer in Bali, click on « Apply » and fill in the form. If you choose the same village as me, you’ll tick the box « Program by the sea (Tianyar village) ». Once your application is validated, a representative of the NGO will get in touch to give you further detail on your arrival.
Be careful: don’t wait until last minute! In fact, if you choose to stay more than a month, you’ll need a visa. Depending on your local embassy, it can be hard to get the visa Sosial Budaya (socio-cultural visa), which allows you to volunteer in Indonesia and stay on the territory for a longer period of time. I struggled so much with the Paris embassy that I finally had to go without a visa! It is possible to get a tourist visa on arrival at the Denpasar airport, although it’s not the ideal solution. Go on the website of your local embassy for more info.
When you get to Bali, a driver will pick you up at the airport and you’ll meet all the new volunteers during the orientation day in Ubud. You’ll have to pay the program fee there (in cash). Why is it not free, are you asking? Well, simply because housing + meals are provided and many locals are working for the NGO to keep the project alive. You can find the fee’s details on this page.
3. Months filled with joy: a summary of my experiences there
Life in the village
Welcome to Tianyar! If this is your first time in Bali – or in Asia, more generally – maybe you’ll need some time to adapt. As someone who spent all their summers in Indonesia, I felt a little bit at home. The others, though, can be overwhelmed at first by the animals running around freely, scooters riding chaotically and the poor infrastructure! But don’t worry: the children of the Yayasan (=organism), its staff and the other locals will quickly make you feel super comfortable.
You’ll stay in adorable bungalows (non-mixed and shared with other volunteers – in average 4), ideally located between the school and the black-sand beach. It’s not great luxury, but as long as you have some sense of community and you’re not being picky, you’ll truly enjoy this simple life in harmony with nature. I mean, can you think about anything better than waking up to the sound of the waves and finishing the day with a sunset walk with the dogs?
Giving classes at the school center
A typical day goes as follows: copious breakfast, free morning to prepare your class, lunch, afternoon at school with the kids (on some days, swimming or danse classes after the English course), dinner and evening free to chat around the volunteer’s table or on the beach, by the bonfire. The schedule is the same from Monday to Thursday, meaning you have a 3-day break per week to discover the island with your new adventure companions.
As you can tell, the commitment to the Yayaysan is not super intensive. It is however up to you to fully dedicate yourself to the experience. Do you want to spend more time with the kids? Stay at school after classes finish! They’ll happily offer you to join their volleyball game. Are you eager to find out more about balinese culture or learn some Indonesian? Chat with the people from the staff! Would you like to give dancing, singing or yoga classes? Share your idea with the managers! All your initiatives will be welcomed.
A magical discovery of local life
Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to attend local events outside of school! The Nyepi, undoubtedly the most fascinating balinese celebration, marks the beginning of the Balinese Hindu year. Do some research on its date: if it happens while you’re there, you’ll experience something unique (in 2020, it took place on March 25th). You can find more info about this holiday on this article.
During my time there, I got the chance to take part to the NGO’s birthday party, which was thrown in grand style and with all the students and representatives of the organism! Yep, that is me on the first picture, mic in hand and dressed as the master of ceremony 😉
I also decided to go visit the village’s public school, along with other volunteers, to introduce and promote the organism to the students. How sweet it was randomly bumping into one of our kids, sitting proudly in their school uniform! This was also the opportunity to find out more about the indonesian public school system.
4. Some advice before you go…
Go for the right reasons: volunteer, yes, tourist, no
Have you heard about volunteer tourism? The phenomenon consists in combining travel and volunteering and there’s much debate on the subject. Now I’m not here to claim the right opinion on this (if you’re interested, read this article from The Conversation). Instead, I can tell you from experience that some volunteers didn’t belong in the organism. Because it’s so easy to apply, you sometimes end up with people who don’t show the slightest interest to the NGO and who consider this a cheap holiday trip where to get boost your instagram with pictures of cute indonesian children. Pretty exasperating. So despite the beauty of the place, keep in mind that you’re not here on vacation. You’ll have a lot of time in your hands to visit the island during the week-ends!
Be a bit prepared
Don’t go if…
– You’re not actually willing to help (am I repeating myself?)
– You’re not ready to give up on your comfortable western lifestyle
– You’re not willing to fully respect local customs (have I told you about those girls sunbathing in a bikini in front of a sacred temple?)
– You struggle a lot with English. Sure, maybe you can teach the younger kids, but it will build a barrier between you and the other volunteers / locals.
– You don’t like children. Believe it or not, I’ve already met a volunteer who claimed to hate them! No comment…
Going with empty pockets: probably a bad idea!
To finish, avoid going with no savings. Not only is there a program fee, but let’s be honest: it would be a shame not to enjoy Bali, and why not the rest of Indonesia while you’re there! And although life is super cheap, it can be tricky to find the good deals when you’re new (you also easily get ripped-off…).
A few words to conclude…
If after all these tips you feel ready to embark on the adventure, don’t think about it twice and go! At the end of the day, the hardest part is leaving the village and saying goodbye to your kids, after making countless beautiful memories. The experience is so powerful that many volunteers, including me, come back several years in a row or keep helping the NGO from their home country… 3 years later, I still keep in touch with the beautiful people I met there!
So what’s holding you back?