Volunteering in the Philippines
Even at seven o'clock in the morning the sun was riding high and strong over Tacloban City on the island of Leyte. From inside the colorful Jeepney amongst a jumble of spades, sledgehammers and wheelbarrows, a voice called: "Let's Go Alan!" and our Filippino driver started the engine. From my perch on the roof I held on tightly as we bumped towards the seashore, where piles of debris stood as evidence of Typhoon Haiyan's recent deadly visit. As a volunteer I was there to help clear rubble so the people of Tacloban could begin to rebuild their lives.
Volunteering in the Philippines was one of the most intense, memorable experiences I've had in Asia. Every day I tirelessly cleared piles of wreckage in the searing heat, sometimes stumbling across stark reminders of the human cost of the typhoon: shoes, photos and plastic ID cards. I worked in neighborhoods where families slept in make-shift wood and tarpaulin shelters and was humbled by the Filippino people I met who had lost their livelihoods, homes and loved ones yet still had a smile and a cold drink to share with me.
The Pitfalls of Volunteering in Asia
I volunteered with All Hands, a not-for-profit organization that provides responsible volunteer opportunities and works long-term in communities affected by natural disasters. Unfortunately, not all volunteering options in Asia are as ethical and awareness is slowly growing about the pitfalls of 'Voluntourism'. UNICEF, for example, warns tourists not to volunteer at orphanages as it fuels a demand in child exploitation. The charity reports that 75% of children in Cambodian orphanages aren't orphans; they've been hired from their parents or trafficked into the country.
4 Ethical Volunteering Options in Asia
So how do you find an ethical volunteering gig? Here are four organizations I've found responsible placements with in Asia:
This American organization has been running for over 10 years and has worked with 35,000 volunteers to provide disaster relief in over 60 projects around the world. All Hands currently have volunteering opportunities in Nepal, Fiji, Ecuador and the USA.
Do I have to pay to volunteer with All Hands?
No, basic lodging and meals are provided but volunteers must pay for transportation to projects.
How to volunteer with All Hands:
Visit the All Hands website.
The Elephant Nature Park (ENP), Thailand
Elephants in Asia are often put through a process known as Phajann, whereby they are forced into a tiny 'crushing' pen and tortured until they are deemed submissive enough to be used for logging or tourism. The ENP rescues elephants from such abuse and provides a sanctuary for them in an idyllic valley in Northern Thailand. The park runs elephant volunteer programs as well as a Dog Rescue Project, which I worked on.
Do I have to pay to volunteer at the ENP?
Weekly packages at the Dog Rescue Project cost 5,000 THB, elephant packages cost between 12,000 and 15,000 THB; meals, lodging and transport are included.
How to volunteer with ENP:
Visit the ENP website to book volunteer packages.
Big Brother Mouse, Laos
Literacy levels in Laos are shockingly low and most children in the country have never owned a book. Big Brother Mouse, a not-for-profit Laotian project set-up by an American publisher in 2006, publishes books for children and encourages tourists to buy and distribute them in rural areas of the country. The center also offers daily English conversation practice for young Laotian adults which I took part in.
Do I have to pay to volunteer at Big Brother Mouse?
No, although you may like to buy some books to distribute in other parts of the country.
How to volunteer with Big Brother Mouse:
Drop into the office in Luang Prabang to offer help with English conversation practice every evening from 9 – 11am and 5 – 7pm; find out more on Big Brother Mouse website .
The Bali Animal Welfare Association, Indonesia
The BAWA is a not-for-profit organization established in 2007. The focus of their work is on vaccinating, neutering, rescuing and re-homing street dogs and cats in Bali, but they also help abused monkeys, horses and dolphins and educate local people about animal welfare and diseases like rabies. The center near Ubud costs 250,000 USD a year to run, so volunteers are always welcome. I was shown around the BAWA by a member of staff who told me about the problems animals face in Indonesia, from skin conditions and road accidents to the dog-meat trade.
Do I have to pay to volunteer at the BAWA?
No, but you must provide your own lodging and commit to staying for at least a week.
How to volunteer with the BAWA:
Apply via the BAWA website .
Written by: Amy Blyth
Amy Blyth is a travel junkie who's been exploring the world full-time since 2013. She's passionate about writing, loves cute animals and spends too much time drinking tea and reading travel blogs. Amy shares her adventures on her blog: Our Big Fat Travel Adventure .
All photos by Amy Blyth
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