Malaysia is almost two different nations, separated by the South China Sea. On one end is the multicultural, moderately developed mainland, and the other is Borneo, essentially a wild jungle. Parts of the nation are extremely developed, in particular, the capital city Kuala Lumpur, which was once home to the tallest buildings in the world.
However, for travelers who want to experience Malay culture in more depth and contribute to its overall development, volunteer projects in Malaysia offer the opportunity to do so. From volunteering with orangutans on Borneo to working with rural villages outside of Kuala Lumpur to provide safe drinking water, experiencing Malaysia through the eyes of a volunteer can be more meaningful than a tourist.
Although Malaysia has the third-largest economy in Asia, there are areas that are impoverished and have a need for quality education. There is thus a tremendous need for English teachers to teach English along with other subjects to Malaysian children and youth in schools. While as a teacher in a language or public school you will need a bachelor's degree and a TEFL teaching qualification, volunteer teaching in Malaysia has less strict requirements.
Once outside of Kuala Lampur, some rural areas of Malaysia are underdeveloped and have a need for building volunteers. There are many opportunities for you to help the Malay, whether it be with volunteer construction projects or projects that help villages get running water.
Other community development volunteer work in Malaysia might entail working with youth in an urban setting, working at a soup kitchen, or in a healthcare setting.
The island of Borneo (which Malaysia shares with Indonesia and Brunei) has abundant wildlife. The island has rich rainforests and there is a need for volunteers to help with conservation work. As a volunteer in Malaysia, you will work with the local community and work on protecting the rainforest and its wildlife. Borneo is home to many unique animal species, particularly among animals and amphibians. Conservation volunteer work in Malaysia is varied from education local communities about environmental issues with Fuze Ecoteer Outdoor Adventures to planting coral along the coast with tracc Borneo.
As a volunteer in Malaysia, you are recommended to be vaccinated for Hepatitis A & B and Typhoid. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, get vaccinated for Rabies and Japanese Encephalitis. For more information on traveler health visit the Malaysia CDC page.
Generally, the eastern area of Sabah State is a part of Malaysia that you may reconsider traveling to due to kidnapping threats. However, if you're volunteering in Malaysia with a local organization or program, they will be more aware of what areas to avoid. Bag snatching is the most common crime that tourists experience so stay vigilant in crowded areas.
Where are the best places to volunteer in Malaysia? Well, that depends on what you want to do. Kuala Lumpur is best for volunteer English teachers and working with urban communities. It's also a beautiful city to enjoy outside of volunteering hours, with shopping and restaurants galore.
Another popular place to volunteer is Malaysian Borneo, which holds the bulk of the environmental and conservation projects. It's also an incredibly beautiful place to visit and stay for several weeks or months while volunteering. You'll have the opportunity to explore the rainforest, dive in the crystal-clear waters, and see the varied wildlife.
Johor Bahru is another large city in Southern Malaysia, and one of the biggest industrial centers in the nation.
By and large, it's likely you'll be volunteering in a smaller village outside of a major city -- which will also give you a different experience than what you would have gotten in Kuala Lumpur or Johor Bahru.
Volunteer Programs in Malaysia
How can I volunteer in Malaysia?
There are many volunteer options in Malaysia, with a few popular options being teaching English, working in community development, and doing conservation work.
Where can I volunteer in Malaysia?
There are a few different options and it comes down to preference for volunteer work type and location--if you prefer to be in a city, village, or a beach destination. Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru are both popular cities to volunteer in Malaysia. You can also work outside either of these cities, or head to Malaysian Borneo for beaches, rainforests, and conservation work.