As a country undergoing rapid social and economic change, Indonesia is a dynamic place to be for travellers and volunteers from most walks of life. Social media and intercultural collaboration have also made off-the-beaten-path communities more innovative and accessible than ever, offering expats fulfilling volunteering opportunities just a doorstep away from some of Indonesia’s celebrated travel destinations.
In support of Indonesian initiatives for social and economic change across the archipelago, here are four social enterprises that offer expat-friendly volunteering opportunities.
Bring comfortable apparel and shoes, a raincoat, sun protection, insect repellent, flashlights, extra batteries, hard cash, and souvenirs – ideally a keepsake from your home country for your host family, a donation for the community, and a stock of small gifts (just in case).
LOMBOK: BARAKA NUSANTARA
From the scenic Sembalun highlands of Mount Rinjani, Baraka Nusantara markets Lombok artisan coffee internationally as Kopi Pahlawan and uses the proceeds to fund Rumah Belajar Sangkabira, a community library and Sasak language educational after- school program. Currently recovering from the Lombok earthquakes in August, Baraka is rebuilding the destroyed Rumah Belajar Sangkabira and revitalising the local economy through the Sangkabira Waste Management Program. In December, Baraka plans to resume its Australia Awards-funded collaboration for processing organic waste with Mycotech, a Jakarta-based social enterprise that makes vegan leather out of mushrooms.
Volunteering opportunity: Customisable self-funded programs include teaching English in Rumah Belajar Sangkabira; or facilitating waste management activities or workshops on related enterprise skills for Sangkabira Waste Management Program. Architects with interest in vernacular architecture can also ask about opportunities to contribute to post-earthquake rebuilding or the conservation of traditional structures. Apply through the Baraka Nusantara website.
Cost: Typical budgets for a seven-day program range from Rp2.2–3.5 million, including airport transfers, accommodation, local guides, local transportation, and three meals per day (excluding donations for Baraka). Wathan, local Baraka leader, owns a homestay.
Ideal for: Adults of any age who enjoy great coffee and/or children and are interested in cultural immersion opportunities with a Sasak Muslim community. Minors under 18 are welcome with parental supervision. Preferred professional backgrounds include agriculture, waste management, environmental conservation, cultural tourism, education, healthcare, microfinance, and financial literacy. True to the Sasak sangkabira philosophy, the ideal volunteer values a communal culture of mutual help, hard work and honesty. Conversational command of Indonesian preferred, but translators for hire are available upon request.
Travel destinations: Mount Rinjani National Park has re-opened, but hikes are not yet recommended. Alternatively, get scenic glances of the Sembalun hinterland from Bukit Pergasingan (just behind Rumah Belajar Sangkabira) and Bukit Selong. Swim in Umar Maya and Mangku Sakti waterfalls. Explore Desa Adat Beleq, which normally has seven Sasak traditional houses (although half of these are currently damaged by the earthquakes).
How to get there: Daily flights into Lombok International Airport from many major cities. Sembalun, a three-hour drive northeast of the airport, is best reached with a rented car.
TIMOR: LAKOAT KUJAWAS
Based in Taiftob village in the south-central Timor highlands of Mollo, Lakoat Kujawas is a rural creative co-working space that archives Timorese history and cultural knowledge through community engagement in literature, indigenous food and medicine, agriculture, handwoven textiles, community-based tourism, performing arts, film screenings, and artist residencies. Their social media-based brand LKJWS markets seasonal organic food products and kain tenun by Taiftob artisan farmers and weavers. A library and traditional homestay is available on the Lakoat Kujawas premises.
Volunteering opportunity: Apinat-Aklahat is a customisable three- to 14-day solo residency open for artists, writers, filmmakers, photographers, architects, product designers, and agricultural professionals. The residency’s aim is to facilitate intercultural knowledge exchange and applicable professional skills to the local community, while giving you a Timorese cultural immersion experience. Send your CV to firstname.lastname@example.org with a proposal detailing who you are, your focus of work, what you intend to share in Lakoat Kujawas, and a final product which Lakoat Kujawas can archive for further studies in the community, e.g. photographs, videos, books, articles, research papers, modules, or designs.
Cost: Self-organised sponsorship is recommended, but Lakoat Kujawas may also be able to connect you to their network of potential sponsors if needed. Please refrain from seeking sponsorship from political parties, mining companies, oil palm growers, tobacco companies and the like. Previously, a thespian who stayed then days and presented a theatre performance as her final product worked on a budget of Rp10 million, sponsored by a third-party art collective. Separately, community members of Lakoat Kujawas normally provide meals for volunteers on a potluck basis, which you are welcome to contribute to financially or in kind. Indicate in your proposal if you require halal, vegan, or other dietary restrictions.
Ideal for: Cultured adults of any age who enjoy literature and history, walks in the kebun, preparing wholesome home-cooked meals in the kitchen, and creating art. Lakoat Kujawas has not hosted minors so far, but are open to the possibility of hosting teenagers with or without parental supervision, to be approved on a case-by-case basis at the community’s discretion. Works best with volunteers who care about village revitalisation, contextual education, migrant workers and human rights. Translators are available for expats who need them.
Travel destinations: Lakoat Kujawas can organise trips to important adat ritual sites such as Fatu Kanaf rock and Oe Kanaf springs, and Fatumnasi traditional village (entry point to Mount Mutis and its eucalyptus forest). Ask Lakoat Kujawas about the Sandalwood Heritage Trail tour package they’re developing with cultural tourism professionals Agni Malagina and Wiwin Wiyonoputri. In February to April you can join the lakoat (loquat) harvest. If you’re lucky, there might be a wedding you’re welcome to crash, or rituals relating to planting or harvest season.
How to get there: Daily flights into Kupang International Airport from Jakarta, Bali, Surabaya, and other major cities. Taiftob, a three- to four-hour drive from Kupang, is best reached with a rented car via Soe and Kapan.
FLORES AND THROUGHOUT EASTERN INDONESIA: TRAVEL SPARKS
Starting in West Flores with the intention of giving fair opportunities to local travel guides, social travel organiser Travel Sparks now operates throughout the island’s popular destinations, with volunteering options in Flores-based Rainbow Reading Gardens – a non-profit network of community libraries promoting literacy in eastern Indonesia’s remote communities. Proceeds from Travel Sparks support Rainbow Reading Gardens’ 107 libraries on 18 islands in eastern Indonesia.
Volunteering opportunity: Tailor-made programs are typically 4D3N, though ones as long as two weeks have also been organised. For a 4D3N itinerary, typically two or more days are spent volunteering at a local Rainbow Reading Gardens library. You decide your own volunteering agenda, and have the option of staying at local homestays if you prefer a more immersive experience. Children at the local Rainbow Reading Gardens appreciate stories about your profession or home country. Sign up at the Travel Sparks booking page. Longer-term, non-holiday volunteers can also register at the Rainbow Reading Gardens’ volunteer sign-up page.
Cost: Budgets are to be consulted with Travel Sparks. Everyone supporting your trip on-site (guides, ship crews, cooks, drivers) are local and paid fair wages above typical market rates, hence helping them afford sending children to school, buying school supplies, and staying in school.
Ideal for: Adventurous volunteers of all ages welcome, including accompanied children and seniors. Works best with volunteers who care about education and environmental conservation, respect local cultural norms, and appreciate interaction with those who call your “travel destination” home. Command of Indonesian optional, as you will be accompanied by an English-speaking local guide.
Travel destinations: Travel Sparks specialises on Komodo National Park, Labuan Bajo, and other destinations throughout Flores such as Mount Kelimutu’s tricolour lakes, Liang Bua Homo floresiensis cave, and the traditional houses of Wae Rebo and Bena. But Rainbow Reading Gardens is also present throughout eastern Indonesia in islands such as Sumba, Banda (Maluku), Buton (Southeast Sulawesi, near Wakatobi), and Raja Ampat (West Papua) – for which Travel Sparks is happy to organise a volunteering itinerary. Travel Sparks also partners with various local dance troupes – booking a performance is one of their ways of supporting the livelihoods of traditional artists.
How to get there: To be organised by Travel Sparks.
SOUTH SULAWESI: PPLH PUNTONDO
Situated by a mangrove beach with a gorgeous elevated walkway through lush gardens and wooden bungalows, Pusat Pendidikan Lingkungan Hidup Puntondo is a non-profit educational centre that focuses on building the capacity and environmental consciousness of Puntondo subvillage’s coastal community through trainings and the development of sustainable community-based enterprises. Most locals are fisherfolk who depend on marine sustainability for their livelihoods and are vulnerable to threats such as plastic pollution and destructive fishing. PPLH Puntondo collaborates with national and expat volunteers in finding solutions and alternative livelihoods for the local community.
Volunteering opportunities: PPLH Puntondo welcomes volunteers for mangrove planting, coral reef transplantations, workshops on environmental knowledge and skills for teachers and other target groups, waste management, and production of seaweed- and fish-based snacks. Volunteering programs are typically one to three months long. To sign up, send your CV and details on your interests and expertise
Cost: Lodging and three meals at PPLH Puntondo costs Rp150,000 per day. Volunteers typically organise their own funding. Consult PPLH Puntondo for other costs and details.
Ideal for: Physically fit mid-career professionals ages 25 to 50 with experience in environmental education and community development. Intermediate to fluent level of Indonesian recommended.
Travel destinations: Puntondo beach is on the premises of PPLH Puntondo, and several others (Punaga, Topejawa) are within an hour’s reach. Waterfalls in the Bangkoa highlands such as Timurung, Ko’mara and Niagara Barassang are about a two-hour drive inland. About three hours’ drive east, PPLH Puntondo is assisting a community in the Bantaeng highlands for an eco-tourism initiative. Bantaeng is halfway between Puntondo and Bira, the coastal community best known for the making of South Sulawesi’s traditional phinisi ships. Dive resorts are available in Bira.
How to get there: Daily flights into Makassar International Airport from most major cities. Puntondo, a three-hour drive south of Makassar, is best reached with a rented car.