Tim’s Experience

Volunteering in Indonesia

Tim Taylor – Volunteer with LPTM, Makassar, Sulawesi, Indonesia

September 2008 – March 2009

Motivation for Volunteering

I had time available to travel to a part of the world i had never visited. I wanted to do soemthing good for the environment, and had always enjoyed working outside planting trees and plants. In England I had worked for a volunteer organisation called the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, teaching people about their environment, building fences, pathways,bird hides, clearing ditches and drainage systems, cutting back undergrowth, clearing weeds. Also at weekends i was a member of a local volunteer group in Bedfordshire gathering wild seeds from native British trees, propagating and planting out in a nursery to help plant a new forest called the Forest of Marston Vale near Bedford.

So  when i was searching on the Internet for a volunteering opportunity abroad, i was very interested in the Web site of Go Abroad.com which showed an opportunity with the organisation LPTM in Makassar, Sulawesi, Indonesia. It offered detailed descriptions of a volunteer project of reforestation in a dry area of south sulawesi called Takalar. It explained the tradition of Bitti tree wood used for centuries in building the Phinisi boats that carry trade all around the Indonesian islands. Most of the forests have been cut down and there is very little native Bitti tree forest left. Now, LPTM’s project  was teaching local people how to plant and cultivate the fast-growing Bitti tree seedlings in fields near their village, in order for the people to gain a livelihood in the future. The timber can be harvested after 5 years for commercial use, used in fences and local building.

I e-mailed the Director of LPTM, Dr Baharuddin Abidin. I was very pleased with his prompt reply and answers to my questions. I sent off my CV and references, pasport details and all other information requested. I received all the booking arrangements and details of the organisation within 3 weeks of my first approach. I was impressed with the care which had gone into the descriptions of the various volunteer arrangements (such as Reforestation, Internships,, Teaching, Consultation) and the Agreement which we have to sign , which states clearly the requirements, rules and obligations on both parties. My imagination was captured by the descriptions of the volunteer work and the opportunity to learn about an Islamic country.

I arrived in Makassar on 18th September 2008. I was given a wonderful reception by Dr Abidin, his family and an Australian volunteer called Laura who was teaching in Makassar for 8 weeks. At the airport i was presented with a bouquet of flowers (for the first time in my life!). I was taken to my accommodation at the Wisma Hasanuddin, a student guesthouse for one of the largest universities in Makassar, right in the centre of the city and very close to the largest mosque, Al Markaz. The guesthouse is run by Ibu Hasni, a very nice, helpful and pleasant lady who looks after the students, does laundry and cleans your room. My room was simple but comfortable with its own separate toilet and shower facility. I could use the kitchen to cook my own food on the gas stove.

My fellow volunteer Laura gave me a three day orientation of the city, showed me the choice of transport by petepete (public small bus), becak (the tricycle driven by pedal power) or Taxi, and the main shopping centres, markets and malls. I visited Fort Rotterdam and the famous Losari Beach where the best sunsets in all of SE Asia are to be seen. I was introduced to the staff of LPTM and my teacher, Pak Arie, who was to teach me Bahasa Indonesia for 2 months (3 lessons of 2 hrs per week). I met the staff and children of the Pondok (small school) run by LPTM in a poor area of the city. This was where Laura worked.

I also met many of the staff and teachers at the large mosque, Al Markaz which was very near my Wisma and the office of LPTM.

Pak Baha’s family were very hospitable to me, and Laura and I often ate dinner with his family. Pak Baha took me every Friday down to the village of Pandala where LPTM had its reforestation project. Each Friday the day began early at 6.15am when i went to Baha’s house. We loaded the car with tree seedlings and tools, then went to pick up Baha’s friend (also called Pak Baha, or Baha Number 2). The drive south of Makassar down along the coast to Pandalar took about 2 hours, driving through rice and corn fields, tropical plantations of bananas, watermelons and vegetables. When we arrived at the village, we always called to pay our respects to the head of the village (Pak Dusun). We unloaded the tree seedlings and met our helpers from the village, Paks Eustace and Mamman. We discussed the work  of planting that had been done and what was needed to be done in the next week. We walked out onto the fields to see the work of planting. We then returned to the village and cooked noodles and brewed tea for the men. On these weekly visits i got to know the people of the village and the lovely children, who always greeted us with cheerful smiles and ‘Hello Mister, how are you today?’. I usually gave them sweets (gula-gula) or biscuits. Our base in the village was the home of Pak Darman and his family. Pak Darman was the local officer in charge of the Transmigrasi policy of the area, where the government had planned to re-locate Javanese fishermen from over-populated Java to Takalar, however the policy was failing due to the extreme dryness and lack of water in the Takalar area. In September and October the ground was very hard and digging the soil was very difficult. However, the wet monsoon season arrives in November, and the clay soil soon becomes extremely heavy and sticky, but easier to dig planting holes. I was to spend one whole month, December,  living and working in Pandala, and i saw just how heavily it rains and how difficult it is to plant trees in these conditions.

During my volunteering in Makassar i got to learn about the Islamic faith through many discussions with Pak Baha and his family. I was introduced to many religious teachers and was taken to the Islamic festivals of Idul Fitry (at the end of Ramadan in September) and Idul Adlah (beginning of December). I was welcomed in the villages and cities to pray in the mosques and i learnt more about Islam from an English translation of the Qu’ran. I heard the calls to prayer every day. I discussed with many friends about the Islamic religion and gained a fuller understanding. This aspect of volunteering in Indonesia is so important to create a better understanding between western religious beliefs and cultures and the Moslem religion and culture. Islamic principles of charity, selflessness, integrity and compassion underpin the whole inspiration and philosophies of LPTM, and are practised in a very practical and tangible way. I learnt about Islamic charitable giving, about compassion and concern for those ill or poor, about family unity, about education, about work ethics, honesty and discipline.

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You can further read Tim’s notes on:

  • The tree planting procedure here.
  • His ponderings on waste disposal problems in rural area here.
  • His observation on rural animals here.
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