My story of being an eco-volunteer from Sweden to Malaysia
How did you end up in Sweden at the age of 18?
I was looking for voluntary work and I stumbled upon the website of WWOOFing on the Internet. It is an organisation that helps people find ecofarms to volunteer at all over the world, where they will get free accommodation and food in exchange for 4-5-6 hours of work per day. The host families normally do their best to involve their volunteers in their everyday life and they often organise programmes or sightseeing for their guests.
I had no concrete plan for a place that I wanted to go to; therefore, I went through the pages of many different countries, and in the end, that’s what made me go for Sweden. Their website is so straightforward and well-organised that I thought it would be a good place for my first experience. The site is done in a way that it is displayed which hosts still have availabilities and which time frames farms prefer.
After this, most of the time was taken up by choosing the place within Sweden that I liked the best, because I was curious what kind of activities I was going to be able to organise nearby. I thought of it as a holiday at the same time as work, therefore, I wanted to volunteer somewhere where there was plenty to do. My other condition was to be able to work with animals.
Was it easy to find a place like this?
I sent my application to about 15 farms, to which I attached a short introduction about myself, my skills and my interests and I wrote about why I was particularly interested in helping out at that specific place. Unfortunately, a lot of places did not even bother answering, and a few of the places told me that they were not able to host me as they already had enough volunteers. Therefore, I had to give up my wish to work with animals and broaden my list of potential farms. In the end, I was contacted by an old couple from Marson, which is a small island 70 kilometres from Stockholm, and they told me they could accommodate me as a volunteer for August. They were really kind and described everything in detail, and for me, it was also important that they kept in touch through e-mails until the day of my arrival.
Was it a good decision to pick them?
The island was like a fairy tale, and I really liked the farm as well. It was equipped with everything, and the area was characterised with traditional dark red cottages made of wood. The farm was situated next to a lake, and belonging to it, there was a 1 acre piece of land, where different kinds of fruits were grown. Thomas, the host father made a glass house, a wind turbine and solar panels by himself, and he also kept bees, which were all things that fascinated me greatly. Besides, it was a very special experience to live in a camper van. In the beginning, they offered me the house as the other option, but for me the camper van seemed like a much better adventure.
What kind of tasks were you given?
It was incredibly varied. We waded the roots of the apple and pear trees, and we picked potatoes. But the majority of the work was fruit picking as the time I arrived was the season of currants. I was also responsible for keeping the glass house tidy. I started there every day: I picked the ripe fruits and vegetables, and I watered and cut them. In the glass house, we had tomatoes, cucumbers, raspberries and mangolds, whereas in the garden, it was mostly currants, apples, pears, plums, chokeberry, raspberry and potatoes.
I often helped with the preparation of the various jams and syrups. Besides, the host family travelled to Stockholm every weekend to sell their products at the organic market, and if there was enough space in the car, they took me with them too.
Did you have time for your own activities besides all this?
Of course! In my free time, I travelled around in the area, and I visited the sights of Strangnas, Mariefred and Uppsala. Sometimes I went kayaking, but because of the rain, it did not become a regular activity. Although it was summer, the weather was very unpredictable and the temperature often dropped during the night. From the second week on, I got a radiator because sometimes it was so cold that even two blankets were not enough. For the same reason, I did not manage to swim in the lake at all, not even once!
I visited Stockholm in the weekends a few times. We organised some programmes together with the host family, they took me around on the motorboat, and we visited Enköping together by car. And since they were supplying vegetables and fruits to a Michelin star restaurant, they invited me there for a goodbye dinner.
What did you get out of these few weeks?
I was 18, and till today, it is amongst the best adventures of my life! I gained a lot of new experience, I got to know a lot of new people, and I became more independent because I often had to find solutions by myself. That’s the reason why I was sure that this would not be my last voluntary holiday, and I was right; this year, I took the plunge again to apply for a similar programme in Malaysia.
Was it any different applying now than it was in 2010?
This time I used the WorkAway website, which has the same concept, i.e. free accommodation and food in exchange for your voluntary work, but it is slightly different as it has a wider range of projects and applicants can not only choose from ecofarms but also from hostels, meditation centres or cafés too, just to mention a few.
In the Asian countries, there is a lot of voluntary work to be done, but I was only searching amongst opportunities to do with nature. I sent my application to two places, and to my biggest surprise, both of them got back to me in a very short time.
Which one did you choose in the end?
The name of the project was Bamboo Village. The place is located on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, one hour from the downtown area, in the middle of the jungle. It is completely isolated; I could hardly find it on my first day. All the buildings are made of bamboo and function as apartments. The volunteers live in the apartments that do not have guests at the time, and the place is almost completely under their control.
The work is quite laid-back; the official requirements are 3-5 hours, but sometimes we did not even do 3 hours. When I arrived, there were two English, three Dutch and one German volunteers at the place. Later, two other guys from Iran and Belgium joined as well. As there were a lot of us, the work was divided; everybody did what they were good at or what they could do without difficulties. But normally the girls were responsible for cleaning, and the boys took care of maintenance while gardening was done together.
So, this means that you had a lot of free time, right?
Yes. We cooked together with the other volunteers every day and had dinner together. Community life was in the kitchen; after dinner, we sat down to play cards and talk. The owner of the projects took us into town on more occasions; one of these times, we organised programmes together, the other time everybody did what they felt like doing. During my first day, I got to know a local guy called Fami, who then became a core part of our group. We did an excursion together to the nearby view tower, and he sometimes took us to the city and to the Batu cave. Some of the volunteers, with me included, organised a jungle tour and a night bath at the warm water spring nearby.
What were the highlights of the time spent there?
It was a real adventure to live in the jungle! In the mornings, monkeys were jumping around on the trees, we used spring water in the bathroom, which stayed incredibly cold all the time. As it was the rainy season, it rained every day or even when it didn’t, the sky was still overcast. Because of the high humidity level, the clothes and towels were drying for days and even after that, they seemed wet.
The equipment of the apartments was rather basic. In most rooms, there was only a thin mattress on the floor, or at the most, a bedside table. But this is exactly what makes this place so special. Here one can really relax, be away from all the problems and their busy lifestyle. These 10 days were a great experience, I left with lots of great memories. As soon as I get the chance, I would like to be a volunteer again because the main point of WorkAway is to have a holiday and help others at the same time.