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Australian volunteer helps sorting and cataloguing books at the National Library of Cambodia
Australian volunteer helps sorting and cataloguing books at the National Library of Cambodia. Image © Department of Foreign Affairs Australia / Creative Commons

With age comes experience, and many traveling seniors seek to use their experience to help needy folk around the world. Many seniors find volunteer work in Southeast Asia, where there is no shortage of communities that need the extra expertise.

You’ll find the following volunteer activities in Southeast Asia, along with the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work in these fields; which of these fit your abilities and interests?

Nature Conservation

Southeast Asia’s wildlife is awesomely diverse, but is under constant pressure from expanding farms, aggressive fishing, and industrial development. Volunteer organizations in Southeast Asia can always use extra hands to help defuse these threats.

Indonesia’s Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (orangutan.or.id) and the Philippines’ Haribon Foundation (haribon.org.ph) both work to preserve the biodiversity in their respective communities while providing necessary livelihood assistance to affected townsfolk. WWF Philippines (wwf.org.ph) also manages biodiversity and species-conservation projects across the nation.

NGOs with a marine focus include Indonesia’s ProFauna (profauna.net), whose Bali office has put the local sea turtles under its protection; and the Philippines’ Coral Cay Conservation (coralcay.org) which looks out for the Philippines’ coral reefs.

Orphanages and Education

With war and poverty still a part of recent history in some remote areas, NGOs have scrambled to bridge the gap in social services. SOS Village (sos-childrensvillages.org) and KOTO (koto.com.au) help street kids in Vietnam bounce back by learning useful livelihood skills.

Teachers can also assist throughout Southeast Asia by volunteering in local educational projects, like those of Rise Above Foundation (riseabove-cebu.org) in Cebu, Philippines; East Bali Poverty Project (eastbalipovertyproject.org) in Bali, Indonesia; and Volunteer in Java (volunteerinjava.com) in West Java, Indonesia. 

Operation Smile volunteers performing surgery in the Philippines
Operation Smile volunteers performing surgery in the Philippines. Image © US Embassy Philippines / Creative Commons

Disaster Recovery

The Philippines was hit especially hard by deadly typhoons in the past few years, and the local government has largely succeeded in picking up the pieces with the help of international NGOs and their attendant army of volunteers.

There’s still plenty of work to do, though: volunteers who want hands-on experience in disaster recovery operations like house building and food distribution can sign up with NGOs like Volunteer for the Visayas (visayans.org), which focuses on the hard-hit city of Tacloban, Leyte; Hands On Manila (handsonmanila.org.ph), an NGO with operations in affected areas around the Philippines; and Habitat for Humanity (habitat.org.ph), which specializes in rebuilding communities after destructive natural disasters strike.

Medical Missions

Volunteers with medical experience will find plenty to do in Southeast Asia; international NGOs like Project Hope (projecthope.org) can efficiently direct volunteers to areas where their health-related skills can do the most good, from villages in Cambodia to seaside communities in the Philippines.

A number of Indonesian NGOs focus on reproductive health and female empowerment issues, among them Yayasan Bumi Sehat (bumisehatbali.org) and Yayasan Rama Sesana (yrsbali.org), both based in Bali and both always in need of volunteers.

All of the Above… and More

The NGOs and fields mentioned above only scratch the surface of volunteer opportunities in Southeast Asia. So with so many opportunities to help, how do you ensure your expertise and efforts go to the places that need them the most?

Begin with an organization based specifically in your country of origin to provide placements to citizens. In the U.S. you can call on the US Peace Corps (peacecorps.gov); in the UK  you can ask Voluntary Service Overseas (vso.org.uk) or VSO Canada (vsocan.org) for Canadian citizens; and in Australia you’ll talk to Australian Volunteers International (australianvolunteers.com).

A few host countries offer volunteer placement services and assistance specific to their needs. Travelers headed to Vietnam can look up the NGO Resource Centre (ngocentre.org.vn), which keeps tabs on most NGOs working in the country; Cambodia-headed volunteers can check out Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (ccc-cambodia.org), which lists the nation’s NGOs and their contact details.

With so many volunteer opportunities in the region, problems can and do arise. To ensure that you get the most out of your volunteer experience, read about the Dos and Don’t’s of Volunteer Tourism.