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Supporting our students to have global experiences: My time volunteering in Bali, Indonesia

Fiona Mehta_Bali Sports Foundation (2)

Brunel understands the importance of global opportunities and champions access to international experiences for our students, providing financial support and resources to experience different cultures, take on new challenges, and develop new skills.

One such experience is the chance for our students to spend the summer volunteering in Bali, and for Fiona Mehta - now a class of 2022 Law graduate - this meant an unforgettable time with Yayasan Cahaya Mutiara Ubud, which translates as the ‘Shiny Pearl Foundation’; a Bali Foundation established in 2014 by people with disabilities, for people with disabilities.

Here, Fiona shares her experience of volunteering for a month with the Foundation in Bali, sponsored by Brunel.

Becoming a volunteer in Bali

During my time as a student at Brunel, I actively took part in volunteering opportunities and providing for the community. Brunel recognises every student who shows dedication to volunteering, due to which I received a Brunel Volunteers Gold Award and was nominated for the Outstanding Contribution to Volunteering Award in the academic year 2019-2020. This is when I was originally screened and selected to volunteer during the summer for two months with the Bali Sports Foundation; an opportunity sponsored by Brunel.

I was elated with this opportunity and was excited to take part - however, the Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible to do so. Fortunately, I stayed in contact with the programme supervisor and fellow Brunel graduate, Chris Pardey, and he was happy to provide me with an alternative opportunity after the Covid-19 pandemic to volunteer with the ‘Shiny Pearl Foundation’. Chris is passionate about working closely with Brunel to take on student volunteers each year, and my time volunteering in Bali was absolutely unforgettable in more ways than one.

“My time volunteering in Bali was absolutely unforgettable in more ways than one.”

Immersing myself in the culture

First, let me start with the amazing culture I was immersed in, as well as the beautiful people I came to know and love. The programme started with a cultural introduction week, in which I participated in cultural activities each morning and afternoon, led by the locals of the Foundation. This week was the most incredible way to learn about Balinese culture as it was the festival of Gulangan at that time. Gulangan is a national Balinese holiday which celebrates the victory of dharma over adharma (the triumph of good over evil) and is celebrated once every six months. The activities included learning about the Balinese culture, wearing their traditional outfits, flower-offering lessons (made each morning and evening as part of their religious offering to the gods), and a tour of the holy water temple.

Fiona Mehta_Bali Sports Foundation (1)

Becoming part of the community

The Foundation I was volunteering at - Yayasan Cahaya Mutiara Ubud (‘Shiny Pearl Foundation’) - is founded by the disabled and for those with disabilities. The projects I chose to teach were English, computers, and helping the Foundation with their overall social media presence. I was assigned people of all ages. Teaching on your own with so little structure taught me patience, the value of effort, and how important it is to work with what you have. It was incredible to see everyone grow in their knowledge after just a few short weeks.

The Balinese are really kind people, which makes you feel at home straight away. In my Foundation, everyone was talented. Being disabled did not stop anyone from showing their talent to the world. They actively take part in activities such as fire dancing, vocal classes, Balinese dance, singing, various performances, and more. I was offered breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I hadn’t had the chance to get some food elsewhere.

My volunteer house was located right opposite the Foundation, which was very convenient. I couldn’t have been more pleased with it. It had just been built as a traditional Balinese house, so was equipped with a great open shower, working facilities, and a jungle. The volunteer house also had a gardener and a helper who would come in every morning to make sure you were well accommodated. Eilat Tovi, the owner of the villa, was always readily available too, and she was also a volunteer at the Foundation. One of my favourite parts of the trip was living around so many incredible people. Every night felt like a huge slumber party with friends!

“Teaching on your own with so little structure taught me patience, the value of effort, and how important it is to work with what you have.”

The highlights of my experience

A notable moment during my volunteering experience was when we all had Indian food together that I made for them and sang Bollywood songs for the night. At the end of my volunteering, they were kind enough to organise a ceremony for me and rewarded me with a certificate and a t-shirt from the foundation.

The people do not have much. Most of them are from really poor backgrounds and away from their homes, but it doesn’t stop them from having fun and being happy. I have never seen so much joy in one place, especially when the place is far away from their homes. In my programme, I had the opportunity to travel around Bali and explore other islands as well.

Overall, my experience was unforgettable, and I would not hesitate to go back! Between teaching and having the weekends to explore the island on your own, there was a perfect balance between fun and hard work. I would definitely recommend it to everyone who would like to have an experience of a lifetime.

Volunteering is a great chance to learn a lot about yourself and push your boundaries. Before I went to Bali, I couldn’t imagine living in a local village, but it has to be the most memorable experience of my life. In the end, I didn’t only get new experiences but also have a second family in Bali now.

“I would definitely recommend it to everyone who would like to have an experience of a lifetime. Volunteering is a great chance to learn a lot about yourself and push your boundaries.”

Fiona Mehta_Bali Sports Foundation (3) (cropped)

Reflecting on my experience

To sum it all up, volunteering in Bali was an eye-opening experience, which I think made me a better person. I realised how lucky and grateful I am for all the opportunities I have. I would like to thank Brunel University London for always recognising my talent and sponsoring me. I would also like to thank Chris Pardey, Mohammed Rahman, Eilat Tovi, and everyone at Yayasan Cahaya Mutiara Ubud Foundation. I hope I can visit them again someday in the future.

Find out more about student volunteering and opportunities for working and studying abroad.