After many years of working and dreaming of trying out something completely different, my wife and I took the plunge, quit our jobs and went travelling and volunteering for a while. There are many companies offering help with this kind of “voluntourism” now, but I did not regret the decision to go with The Great Projects. Deciding on the right project was even harder! I wanted to learn and do something new and make a real difference for the benefit of nature conservation at the same time. Unfortunately you have to watch out for projects that just want to make money and take advantage either of the volunteers or of the animals in a bad way!
At the Samboja Lestari Orangutan project
We decided to join the project helping to care for orangutans at a facility of the Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation in Indonesia.
Being near and helping these animals that are so closely related to us, is an amazing experience for anyone. The best thing about the project specifically is how well everyone can get involved and make a real difference for the benefit of the animals from day one! The BOS and Great Projects team at the rescue centre are so welcoming, they love what they do and will make you want to come back immediately.
The lodge the volunteers stay in to sleep, eat delicious food and relax in the evenings is very comfortable, even luxurious when compared to the camps of some other projects. You cannot wander out of it as it is located in the forest, so make sure you bring a book or your favourite game.
A typical day might include going through the jungle with machetes to collect leafes that the orangutans get to practise nest building with. Seeing this forest is amazing when you remember that it was re-grown from nothing but barren burned ground!
On other days you might chop down bamboo trees that will be used in small pieces to build enrichment items for the animals. My creativity wasn’t at it’s best, but the orangutans will usually figure out pretty quickly how to get to the nuts hidden inside the bamboo pieces anyway. Watching the animals play with these and other items is something I could easily spend the whole day with. Every one of them looks different and has their own personality. Some are happily playing, but sometimes you think you can see the sadness in their big eyes. The way the world is destroying the great apes’ forests is incomprehensible.
Other interesting parts of our work was building or maintaining enclosures and items for the enclosures. When did you last build a hammock from pieces of tyres or from old fire hoses?
Besides the orangutans the rescue centre also gives a home to sun bears that are also threatened by habitat destruction and the ruthless pet trade.
When you join the volunteer team, make sure you bring clothes that can get dirty – very dirty actually, as you don’t want to miss the chance to jump into the muddy moat surrounding the orangutan islands and clean the algae out of them! You can check our blog at kokocatsadventures.net for some more of our stories at the centre.
The work at Samboja Lestari can be hard; you will get dirty and sweaty, you will have ants crawling on you and you will worry about mosquitos – but when you come back to the lodge in the evening you will be proud and happy.