• Bukit Lawang Trust

Volunteer Questions Answered

Often, when talking to potential volunteer’s about the Trust we get asked the same questions over and over, so in this week’s blog, our Head of Education does her best to answer some of these common questions.

Why does it cost to volunteer at the Trust?

Many potential volunteers are put off by the cost of placements here at the Trust and it is indeed regrettable that we cannot make volunteering completely accessible for everyone. However, our volunteers’ fees play a very important role in keeping our centre open. While we understand that our volunteers work very hard, as we rely entirely on donations and volunteer fees to keep the Trust running, we sadly cannot afford to provide our international volunteers with free food, accommodation and transport. We do not spend a penny on advertising and thus often our donor audience is very small, making us all the more reliant on volunteer fees and the generosity of past volunteers. Without such fees, our charity would simply not exist and thus we would not be able to pay our local staff or educate the almost 300 students who attend our centre. While we appreciate that our fees can seem daunting for some, we truly believe that your experience here at the Trust will be invaluable – our volunteers get to experience teaching first hand, they get comprehensive training and induction from our staff here in Sumatra and a chance to totally immerse themselves in another culture. If you are planning a gap year, or a career break, please do consider us, as small NGO’s such as ourselves are one of the most worthwhile causes your money could go towards – realistically you would probably spend as much, if not more, if you spent two months partying in Thailand/ Bali!

Can you claim to be an environmentally focused charity when many of your volunteers fly in order to volunteer with you?

The seriousness of the Carbon Footprint created by long haul travel is very much on our minds here at the Trust. We welcome volunteers who are willing to use alternate modes of transport to arrive in Sumatra and we encourage volunteers to pay their airline to offset their carbon footprint. We do however, believe that many of our volunteers would have been choosing to travel anyhow, thus we are not actively encouraging long haul travel, rather we are suggesting that those who are already looking into such travel use their time abroad giving something back to the planet.

Why international volunteers, not just local staff?

We pay 6 local staff here at the Trust, as well as several drivers. We also currently have one local volunteer and hope to gain more in the future! We love having a mix of native English speakers as English teachers, alongside those who have learnt English as a second language – proving to our students that it is indeed possible to become fluent! These international volunteers are not taking jobs from the local community – indeed as I have already discussed, without these international volunteers paying volunteer fees, we would not able to pay our local staff. We hope to expand our local staff base in the future, but at the moment our equal balance of 7 local staff and volunteers to 5-10 international volunteers provides both students and staff the unique chance to interact with people from very different backgrounds.

What are the high points of volunteering at the Trust?

For me, the Trust has truly become my home. My favourite parts of life here include: our wonderful staff, the enthusiasm of all of our students, swimming in the river and our Saturday night Jungle Party! Indonesian life is incredibly relaxing – many of my Saturday’s are spent sitting by the river in the sun with a good book.

What are the low points?

My least favourite part of life here has to be the mosquitoes – my ankles will never look the same! While I adore the Trust, I must emphasise that life in North Sumatra is not for everyone. The weather is incredibly hot, our power cuts are frequent, our bathroom facilities are very basic and you will eat A LOT of rice and noodles. I love life here, but it is important that our volunteers know what they are getting themselves in for, as we hate seeing volunteers unhappy. If you need a hot shower and air conditioning, then staying here may not be for you!

Is Bukit Lawang a safe place to live?

Everyone in the village is incredibly friendly and looks out for their neighbours – so yes it is a very safe place in the sense that the community is incredibly welcoming. However, there are of course physical dangers such as fast motorbikes, Dengue fever and unclean water, which we like to make all our volunteers aware of. We advise all our volunteers to be cautious and to see a Doctor ASAP if they become concerned about their health.

What can volunteers do on evenings and weekends?

This is a very rural community – if you are looking for a cinema, a McDonalds and a shopping mall, you won’t find them here!

Evenings – Most evening’s we have a fitness class here at the Trust which you are welcome to join in – or even run if you feel that you are up to it! Following this we often go for a swim in the river to cool off. When we have enough volunteers, we have a cooking rota and like to eat all together in the evenings. We often watch movies all together – although Netflix doesn’t work here, so please feel free to download lots of films onto your laptop before you arrive – we will all appreciate a new selection! On Tuesday and Thursday evening we run a pub quiz in the village which we encourage our volunteers to attend and at times run for us. After a busy day at the school it can be quite nice to just relax in the evenings, so feel free to bring a good book or a set of cards!

Weekends – We highly encourage all of our volunteers to explore North Sumatra to the full. Your first weekend here will be an induction weekend, led by myself and the Head of Conservation. As part of this induction we will show you around the village, take you to the best swimming spots and introduce you to our famous Jungle Party. The following week, weather permitting, we will take you to the traditional market which occurs every Sunday at Landak river. Following this, you are free to do as you please at weekends – unless we have discussed a weekend event with you in advance (sometimes we carry out weekend litterpicks, clean up days, or visits from other schools and Universities). Our advice for your weekends off includes: Jungle trekking, visiting Lake Toba and visiting Berstagi. Sam and I will be happy to discuss your options with you, but please do remember that we are not tour guides! We are happy to put you in touch with the correct people and to recommend good places, but we advise you to do your own research to work out what suits you best.

We love living in North Sumatra and we want our volunteers to feel the same, thus, we try to be as open and honest as possible when you ask us questions!

If anyone is considering a placement here with us, please do drop us a message, as we are now recruiting for our Tiger Cycle commencing in May. We also have a couple of last-minute places available for our Orangutan cycle commencing in February. For any questions which you may have, which were not answered here, please check out our FAQ’s page which may be of help, or send us a message.

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