I volunteered on the island of Nusa Penida for two weeks and in all honesty, it was a dream. Imagine paradise, imagine empty white sandy beaches, glorious sunsets and swimming in the crystal clear sea every single morning. But there is more to say for my experience and although it was massively enjoyable, I feel there are a number of overlooked truths to volunteering that I want to express. I did a three-week programme with ‘Green Lion Bali’ one week on mainland Bali followed by two weeks working on a turtle conservation programme. Our volunteering consisted largely of feeding the turtles, cleaning their tanks, collecting seaweed, catching crabs, litter picking and volunteering in the local school teaching English.
I would definitely consider myself an easy going person, I wasn’t bothered if we ate the same meals every night or didn’t have wifi for a few days, but here’s the deal. I paid around £700 to volunteer for two weeks, it’s not cheap, worth it? Entirely. Originally, I was kind of imposed to the fact I had to pay to work, isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? It took me a while to accept that this wasn’t the most outrageous idea, I was doing piss easy work in the most exotic location having the best time of my life, I didn’t really have the right to complain. However, it did come to my attention that I didn’t actually know where my money was going. Accommodation and food were basic, I mean like really basic, our room just about fit two sets of bunk beds and a fan. Most meals usually consisted of eggs, tofu, rice, rambutan, watermelon and maybe a spring roll if we were lucky. Don’t get me wrong, I literally cannot fault the experience I had, our volunteer accommodation was located seconds away from the most stunning tropical beaches, we spent our evening drinking arok and bintang at the beach bar, beach campfires every night, I want to make it clear that I was in no way bothered about the standards of our accommodation or diets.
But if the money wasn’t going towards that, where else could it be being spent. My main concern was the conditions of the tanks and the turtle’s quality of life; I’d hate to think these turtles were spending their days in shallow tanks for anything other than their own benefit. Green lion took in turtles in order to increase their likelihood of survival, whether that be eggs that are yet to hatch or older injured turtles. Upon arrival we were all informed of the different breeds of turtle that are growing more and more endangered, only 1 out of every 1000 turtle eggs will reach adulthood. I found it hard to fault their intentions, however, we were told about two turtles who were unlikely to ever be released back into the sea. Olivia, a turtle who had a severly injured fin after being caught in a net and Rio, an albino turtle. A number of the volunteers, including myself, quickly became anxious that these turtles were here to attract volunteers and make money.
The staff at Green Lion were phenomenal, they always responded to our questions honestly and in as much detail as possible. By the end of my trip I felt reassured that, although the conservation centre wasn’t perfect, it was constantly developing and not just a mere tourist trap. I think it’s important to research who you book any volunteer trip with, I paid £700 to Gap 360, but I had friends who paid much less to companies such as IVHQ. Going into a volunteer programme, especially one that involves the wellbeing of animals, you should never be quick to judge. It is down to you to research the facilities and question those in charge, this way you can make your own decision, after talking to the head of our programme and expressing our opinions, we released Olivia back into the sea and through facebook I have seen that Rio has also recently been returned. It’s things like this that actually make you realise what an impact your work has, admittedly it can be difficult when you cannot see direct outcome of your volunteering. But thanks to some patience (and social media) it’s plain to see that the work done by Green Lion, being nursed and brought back to strength, massively increased their chances of survival in the wild.