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Construction with Compassion – volunteering with IAR

Construction with Compassion – volunteering with IAR
“Bule” (foreigner) the kids scream excitedly as they come running out of their homes to wave at us. This ritual occurred every day, as soon as they would hear our bus, Agnes, slowly bumping down the dirt road that lead to the international animal rescue (IAR) centre, in Ketapang, Borneo.

I don’t know who looked forward to this enthusiastic greeting more – us or them. I have never felt so welcomed on my way to work before.

Caption Here. 

Photo: JulesduncPhotos

The welcoming faces continued as you entered the centre, from the staff to the director, vet Dr Karmele Llano Sanchez

The most supportive had to be our facilitators who, despite our lack of DIY skills, always had a smile and an encouraging word. Even when I had to hammer a nail into a plank five times before I got it right!

With their guidance during our month of volunteering, we accomplished building a climbing platform for the babies in jungle school, some seating for the volunteers and repaired the boardwalk so the babysitters could safely wheel the babies to school in their little red wheelbarrow. That is certainly a sight to melt your heart!

Caption Here.

Photo: JulesduncPhotos

I remember the day I decided I wanted to come to help as a construction volunteer. I had seen the story of baby Budi. He was rescued after spending the first year of his life as an illegal pet. Kept in a tiny chicken cage and being fed only condensed milk, his poor little body was malnourished and swollen. The dedicated rescue team journeyed for 10 hours by boat and road to bring him back to the centre for care.

The video of him crying in pain as the vets gently tried to move his fragile body was heartbreaking and I knew I wanted to help this incredible team continue their efforts in any way I could.

You can imagine my excitement when one day walking down the boardwalk through the jungle on our way to work, there swinging in the trees was Budi. Looking so healthy and having the time of his life with his fellow orangutans in jungle school.  It was heart-warming to see how much progress he had made and how much better his life is thanks to the team at IAR. With his babysitter by his side he was slowly learning the skills required to survive in the jungle and working towards one day eventually being released.


“I can’t wait to return again this year and be part of a centre that really makes a difference.”

Juli Duncan, Photographer and Volunteer

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Photo: JulesduncPhotos

Although very rewarding, the work can be hard and the climate humid. I don’t think I have ever sweated so much in my life! Yet at the end of a long day we always knew Ibu (our Indonesian mother) would have some of the best food you have tasted ready for us hungry volunteers to demolish. The pisang goreng (fried banana) a particular favourite.

Not only will you walk away from this volunteer experience feeling like you have contributed to an amazing cause, but you will also gain life-long friendships with like-minded people. I can’t wait to return again this year and be part of a centre that really makes a difference.

POI has officially partnered with IAR Indonesia and RAW Wildlife Encounters to offer an amazing programme at the IAR centre in Ketapang, Borneo. If you’re keen to make a difference in the lives of rescued orangutans, contact for more information and to secure your spot.

About The Author

Julie Duncan

Julie Duncan is passionate about conservation and animal rights. She’s a keen traveller and photographer and has volunteered at many animal rescue centres across the world, including five times in Borneo. She hopes to spread awareness of the issues facing our planet and the animals in it. Julie is a trained nurse and lives in Melbourne. Follow her stories on Instagram @JulesduncPhotos.

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