Volunteering in Temanggung, Central Java



To volunteer around South East Asia, we are using a platform called workaway. There, people set up a profile and match according to the needs and skills available. While we were in Yogyakarta we found an opportunity to teach English in Temanggung, a rural area located two hours away from Jogja. So off we went.


Hardi’s Project

Hardi is a young father of 35 years old. His body reflects a difficult past and a strong sense of identity: messy hairstyle, patriotic tattoos, a missing tooth and a noticeable scar on his leg only add to his natural charm and charisma.


He lives together with his wife and children, age 14 and 11, in a tiny house that they built from scratch two years ago. Indeed, after surviving a terrible motorcycle accident in 2009, they were forced to sell their previous property to pay for high medical bills.


Hardi soon understood that English was his key to access the outside world. When he was a child he’d skip school to head to Borobudur instead. With a dictionary under his armpit, he used to climb up the walls of the temple, and wait for tourists to finish their tour before he could ask them: “Would you mind giving me a few minutes to practice my English?”.


Today Hardi teaches the language to other villagers and hosts dozens of bule (foreigners) in his home, now known as “the bule camp”. In exchange for English conversation with his students, family members and community, Hardi takes people around Temanggung – a region of virgin landscapes and natural gems.


Bule are still a rare thing in Temanggung and it’s hard to go unnoticed. As soon as people saw us they’d giggle, point the finger at us or ask us for selfies as if we were famous stars. Hardi once said: “It’s as if you were going to the zoo to see the monkeys, yet the monkeys were the ones taking pictures of you”.


Considering the hard work he put into learning English without a cent or the internet, every selfie with a foreigner – obtained so effortlessly – is like a slap in the face. For this, he’d often walk with us around the village and when people asked for a selfie, he’d answer: “Ask in English or high Javanese”. Since most of them don’t speak one or the other and are often too embarrassed to even try, we had to let many of our fans down.

Our Experience

We spent 12 days at Hardi’s. As Westerners – so used to constantly being told what to do when – it took us a while to adjust to the rhythm and understand that what Hardi seeks for is an exchange more than work. According to him, every moment with a local is an opportunity for them to practice their English and open their minds.

As soon as we got this, we went all in:

Every time we bought things at the pasar (market), we made them giggle with our limited Javanese and taught them the equivalent words in English.


Whenever his lovely wife, Diah, was back from work, we’d give a hand in the kitchen and that was always a good moment to have her practice her English. We also talked a lot about our cultural differences and surprising similarities with the friends who’d often drop by.


When we saw that there were many kids in the neighboring houses intrigued by our presence and eager to talk to us, we improvised afternoon English classes. Once class was over, their desire wasn’t. Hence we took them jogging along the rice fields, played badminton, volleyball and soccer with them until sunset.


Matur nuwun Hardi and Diah for this original experience.