Volunteering in Bali

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

If you asked me a year and a half ago what I would be doing now, I can guarantee you I would never have got it right. Although taking a gap year was a sure thing, I had no idea the types of amazing things I was going to experience. I was always the kid who admired others for having the courage to travel to far off, remote destinations, always the one to say "I'll be there someday," while secretly thinking, will I be brave enough to actually go by myself? So when it finally came to making a decision on where I was going on my gap year, I completely shut down. For months I would just avoid talking about it, or planning anything because I was scared. I was anxious of flying on my own, being so far away from my family and not knowing anyone. 

After talking to friends and researching what others had done on their gap year, I came around to the idea of going abroad with a volunteer organisation. I chose IVHQ, because a few of my friends had used the organisation before and I had heard good things about them. They provided in country help, lifts from the airport to the homestay and food. It made me feel more comfortable that the only thing I needed to worry about was getting on the right plane (Even that terrified me). The program I eventually chose was, Bali - Ubud Kindergarten project. On the project I would be teaching English to kindergarten children, I liked the idea that I would be helping others and would be able to see the difference I was making even in just the time I was there. 

My flight plan: 
Toulouse (France) ==> Frankfurt (Germany) ==> Singapore ==> Denpasar (Indonesia) 

When I arrived in Denpasar airport I was relieved to see that there was someone waiting for me with my name on a piece of paper. There was also another girl who had just arrived. We drove around an hour and a half to just outside of Ubud, where we were introduced to the Green Lion representatives (the in-country charity). My house, called 'Tini house,' had two small bedrooms downstairs and one big one upstairs. It wasn't traditional style Indonesian housing, but did have elements of it. For example, the roof was not fully attached to the walls, the shower had stones on the floor, and the beds were made of bamboo. We also had our own Koi pond and a balcony that looked over rice terraces! The traditional style Indonesian housing was much more basic, consisting of several little unattached rooms (including a mini temple), tiled flooring and thin wooden doors. I was also lucky to get amazing flatmates who made me feel welcome and calm, even on my first day. 

The first week was the introduction period which included a number of different activities: 
1. The monkey forest - Very touristy but also good fun. The monkeys climb on your shoulders and take bananas from your hands. 
2. Batik painting - Making a design and putting dye onto cloth. 
3. Language lessons - Extremely helpful and interesting. 
4. Art village and rice field walk - Basically one very kind little old man selling his very impressive artwork. His speciality was painting intricate designs on eggs. 
5. Cooking lesson - Making spicy Tempe
6. Ubud Market and palace 
7. Balinese dance 
8. Making flower offerings 
9. Holy Water Temple (Tirta Empul) - Sarongs and covered shoulders. We offered our flower offerings at the temple and blessed ourselves by walking along a line of waterfalls. 

On my first weekend, me and a group of 4 friends had arranged to go to Gilli T, one of the small islands just off Bali. There was no need to buy tickets online or before flying out as tickets were much cheaper from one of the little travel stores in Ubud. My boat ticket return, which also included the taxi to and from the harbour, came to 450,000 rp (around 28eur), whereas online it can be as much as 100 euros. The boat ride to the island was interesting to say the least. Most people sat on the roof of the boat, where reggae remixes of songs were being blasted and drinks handed out (despite the fact it was 10am). Arriving at the island was pretty chaotic, there were people swarming the beach. Among the tourists waiting for boats, there were locals trying to sell cheap hotel packages, snorkelling trips and horse and carriage taxis (cars were not allowed on the island). Along with the 30° heat and oppressing humidity it was all very overwhelming. 

After wading through the throngs of people we made it 2 minutes down the 'road' to our hotel/hostel. With a pool, massive rooms (including a separate living room) and a view onto the beach it was well worth the under 13 euros we paid for it. It also happened to be 5 minutes from the main street, although I guess in Gilli most places are. The beach was hands down the most beautiful beach I have ever been to. Endless white sand and crystal-clear waters, not to mention, the colourful coral and variety of sea life. We rented snorkels from some, slightly dodgy, guys and ended up spending most of the day on the beach. We even got to swim with a turtle! Everything was so incredibly relaxed, it was as if nobody had a care in the world. There was music and little lounge areas with beanbags and chairs scattered along the beachfront. 

However, despite being indisputably beautiful it was evident the island was suffering as a result of mass tourism. Piles of rubbish and dirt were not uncommon on the beaches and other areas of the island. It is unquestionable that tourism boosts the economy, provides jobs, and enables the flow of different beliefs, but it also creates huge environmental, social and, cultural problems. With plans to create more clubs, bars and hotels, will Gilli still have that traditional Indonesian charm in 5 years time? 

Gilli at night was alive with hundreds of people drinking and dancing on the beaches. There was this buzz of life and happiness that I hadn't seen or experienced before. The next day we went to the other side of the islands to visit the famous Ombok swings in the water. We decided it would be a good idea to cross through the middle of the island instead of taking the normal route around the edge… we instantly got lost. There were no hotels or tourists, mostly just locals and farmland. In some ways it was refreshing to see that the effects of tourism hadn't spread everywhere. The swings on the other hand were a stark contrast, very touristy. One thing that isn't shown on Instagram and Facebook photos is the massive line of people waiting impatiently behind you. It’s not exactly the serene environment it appears to be in photos. Luckily enough, if you’re someone who likes to take hundreds to photos and not feel pressured, there are many swings around the island some of which are much quieter (but just as good) as the Ombok swings. 

The ride home was far less eventful then the ride there. There was no blaring music or drinks. 

My first day teaching was a little all over the place. Teaching 30 five to six year olds, easy right? Just sit them down with some colouring books and they'll be quiet and entertained for hours. Wrong. If only I'd known this before my first day teaching. It's fair to say me and my teaching partner were considerably under prepared, with our one name game and English song. It started well, we arrived to our kindergarten at 7 am and were promptly pulled into the classroom by several overexcited children. The day started with the teacher talking to the children (in Balinese) about their weekends and homework assignments, before the cutest little welcome song. What we were not prepared for was the fact that after this the teacher would leave us completely alone to teach the class. This meant we basically had 30 over energetic, but adorable, children to look after. Not to mention the language barrier, it's hard to explain something to a child normally let alone one who doesn't understand a word you're saying. At the end of the day we were exhausted but also more confident for the next day as we knew what to expect. 

As the weeks continued we started to get into a routine, creating little games and tasks at Ricefield house (the lesson prep house that had computers and printers) after every day in preparation for the next day. We also started to get to know the children better, it was amazing to see how their personalities changed as they became more comfortable with us. For example there was one little boy who was very clever and always finished his work before everyone else, this proved to be slightly problematic as he was also the troublemaker and ring leader for all the other little boys. We learned that if he wasn't occupied there would be havoc, running around, jumping on tables, throwing things, you name it. It was also clear after a few sessions what worked and what didn't, for example the kids loved the creative activities e.g. painting, colouring, sticking, much more in comparison to the writing exercises. 

Over the weeks I definitely grew attached to my kids. They were always joyful and smiling (aside from that one time one of the kids punched another who proceeded to have a nosebleed and cry, by the end we had five very upset crying kids... but you get me) thoroughly excited just to be sat next to you or holding your hand at circle time. After a while I got used to the constant noise and havoc and realised it was probably never going to be quiet. I also learned a lot from them, not only patience, organisational skills and how to teach English, but also how to be grateful. Even though they had so little they were probably some of the happiest kids I have ever encountered. I learned that you can say things a hundred times, in a hundred different ways but in the end the only way they'll learn it is if you sit next to them and physically show them. And I learned to think outside the box, kids get bored easily and sometimes you just have to make games up on the spot. 

All in all teaching in that kindergarten was one of my favourite experiences from my gap year, and I would do it all over again in a second.  

On my second weekend, my friends and I took a taxi to Gunung Kawi temple located just outside of Ubud. The temple was incredible, with massive stone shrines carved into the rock faces, and a contemporary temple alongside the old temple. It's located in the Pakerisan river valley, down a 300 step-decent which cuts through traditional shops and rice fields.We also got a glimpse at couple taking their wedding photos. The man holding a baton and woman dressed in a jewel adorned dress much like the sari worn in India. After the temple we went to Tukad Cepung waterfall, which was spectacular. The walk down went through a secluded jungle and cave. The waterfall itself was massive coming through a hole in the top of the cave. It was serene, the only sound being that of the water hitting the floor. As a fairly unknown waterfall it was also empty. On Sunday we went to Junglefish a hotel with a infinity pool into the jungle. It was calm and a nice place to get western food (if you need a break from the traditional food). 

For my final week I had three days off from teaching due to religious holidays, so me and my friends decided to spend them on Nusa Cenningan, a tiny island next to Nusa Lembongan. We booked a villa, as prices were low considering we were 8 people, and set off at the weekend. The day we decided to go it started violently storming, and taking a rocky boat with two seriously ill friends was not fun. Then when we finally made it to Nusa Lembongan we realised we didn't know how to get to Nusa Cenningan and spent about 2 hours trying to work out how to get to our villa... We crossed the bright yellow footpath bridge to Nusa Cenningan where a group of guys were waiting to pick us up in what seemed like a pick up truck. This along with the fact that they were filming us made the whole situation slightly uneasy. Never the less we piled into the van and went on a bumpy ride to the villa. 

The Villa itself was beautiful and secluded, with a giant living space and our own mini houses overlooking the sea. During our time on the island we went to 'blue lagoon', surfers point, snorkelled to an underwater Buddha and celebrated Ogo ogo and Nyepi day. Ogo ogo day is the day when all of Bali comes together and parades down the street with massive papier maché evil spirits, shouting and chanting. The next day Nyepi day (or silent day) everyone must stay in their houses and use no electricity, including cooking equipment and light. The idea is that all the noise will lure the evil spirits to the island, however when they arrive to the island on Nyepi day, because it is so dark and quiet, the spirits will think no one is about and will leave quietly. It was interesting to see all the locals come together and be a part of such a big festival. However my favourite part of the experience was by far Nyepi day. 

The idea of switching off all contact with the outside world was initially scary, but as the day went on I felt almost liberated by it. There were no outside influences or pressures from social media. We spent the day talking and playing cards and at night we watched the stars (Cheesy right). It's something you don't really do until it's the only thing you can do. With no electricity on the whole of Bali (this was enforced by police and fines) the stars were incredible. In that night alone I spotted at least 6 shooting stars. It made me realise just how important it is to switch of from technology for a while.  

While this was essentially the end of my core Bali experience, I could probably go on forever about other aspects about it. But considering this is already pretty long I'll just leave you with a list of random important details: 

  1. Motorbikes are the main mode of transport and are also pretty fun
  2. The vegetarian/Vegan food is incredible (Alchemy & Clear Cafe)
  3. Drink litres of water 
  4. The locals are some of the nicest people I've ever met 
  5. Stray cats and dogs everywhere 
  6. The Yoga barn - go take a class 
  7. Massages 
  8. Cupit bbq - go find it
  10. The markets are great - you will want to buy everything 
  11. Silver is cheap 
  12. It torrential rains pretty regularly
  13. Chilli tempe = incredible 
  14. It is so hot and humid you feel like you need to shower 10 times a day 
  15. Chickens everywhere 
  16. Lizards everywhere 
  17. Most things are extremely cheap under 50,000rp = 3.5 eur
✈ Next Thailand 

Green Lion 


  1. Sounds Incredible! I've visited bali once as a holiday but id love to go back and do something like this x

    1. It was! You definitely should, it was probably the best parts of my gap year x

  2. Such an amazing experience, the island looks so beautiful - loving your photography! x

    Anika | anikamay.co.uk


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