by Oliver Jacobs
Early in 2009, after four years work in finance in the UK, I decided I wanted to make a change of career to work that encompassed a more socially beneficial element. I thought a valuable prelude to this change would be some overseas volunteer work which would draw on experience early in my career as an English Language Teacher.
Searching the internet for a suitable location and organisation I found that modern-day volunteering is big business: pay a rather large amount for a week’s or month’s experience of volunteering whilst the various organisations make a significant profit and the trail of money to areas of need dubious. In contrast, what I was keen to find was an organisation that was transparent, whose heart was in the right place and who would be able to provide channels within a culture that would allow me to be relatively independent, creative and give my time as a teacher. I would be happy to pay for all my living expenses, visas, flights and a small amount of direct funding for the projects I would work on.
For the last four months I have volunteered for the Bali Children‘s Project and found such an organisation. On arrival in Bali, a BCP representative collected me from the airport and dropped me at the volunteer house they had in Ubud. The next day I was greeted by Kadek, the friendly Balinese co-ordinator, who informed me I would be developing English programmes in two villages. One 30 minutes from Ubud; the other an hour away. After the first week of taking me and introducing me to the villages, Kadek set me up with an English speaking assistant, Sang Made. I hired my own motorbike, learnt the routes to the villages and taught everyday with Sang Made translating. Each group was made up of around fifty enthusiastic and fun-loving children aged between 6-13. I split the classes in four age groups and would teach from 2pm after their school day.
I typically taught using handouts I would create and photocopy before class from lessons I had taught on ESL programmes in Japan and Thailand. I would mix these with games. The villages had little to no resources so it was essential to be creative. In one of the villages we even built our own whiteboard! As my relationship with Sang Made grew, he invited me to stay with his family in rural Bali which enabled me to teach more intensively and provide sports sessions for the children in the afternoon.
Overall it has been an incredible experience. On a personal level, I have been able to experience real Balinese life and culture, the warmth of the people, see much of beautiful Bali in my free time and been thrilled to work with children again: the wonder, curiosity, playfulness, joy and lightness of it all. On a practical level my work has been well very received and the children have acquired the basics of the English Language – an indispensable skill for the Balinese people as they continue to encounter the effects of globalization and the need to find higher paying jobs to provide for their families.
I would highly recommend getting in touch with the Bali Children’s Project if you have a decent amount of experience in something pertinent to the development of children or the women’s programmes they run. They should be able to find you an area of need and then it will be very much up to you what you create. I’ll list below some of the practical elements I encountered of being a volunteer with the BCP:
Living Expenses: $300-$1000 per month. If you are living in Ubud, you will be living within a tourist hub with access to many lovely restaurants, spas and other treats to tempt after your work. You can find accommodation from $200-$500 per month and BCP might be able to help with this. In Ubud, at a bare minimum you could live on $10 a day by eating very cheaply. When I eventually moved to rural Bali I was able to live on as little as $100 per month all in, but such conditions may not suit everyone.
Volunteer Expenses: $60 per month. This would include the rent of a motorbike and bits and pieces for your project.
Visa Expenses: Initial $100 or so in your respective country which gets you 60 days. Then $60 a month after that. BCP will introduce you to a visa sponsor who will help you through the process. The visa you get is a Social Visa (211) which is a 6 month visa. It is initially valid for 60 days and then as above you must renew it every month. The sponsor will take care of this process. The second time you renew you must go in person to immigration to give fingerprints. After 6 months you will need to exit Indonesia to get a new Social Visa.
Assistance: As a small organisation, Bali Children’s Project do the best they can to assist you but it is really up to the individual to carve their own niche with the contacts they provide. I would suggest it is not a training camp for volunteers but a channel for experienced professionals to find and area of need for their work.
Flexibility: Balinese culture is layered with an enormous amount of ceremonies and as such heavily draws on family members to contribute. Such events, at least a weekly activity, will at times disrupt any schedule your create. You should be prepared to flexible and ease into Balitime.