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The Orangutan Health Project

Project Assistant at Orangutan Reserve

North Sumatra, Indonesia show on map

The Project Assistant will work under the supervision of the Project Coordinator/Director and assist in all aspects of the project’s work.

The Orangutan Health Project (OHP) is the first and only on-going orangutan research project to investigate the special behaviors and ecological conditions necessary to maintain health in wild orangutans. This is partly due to the complexity of self-medicating behaviors and the astonishing variety of flora in the rainforest, which vary geographically and seasonally. Understanding preventative and curative methods used by wild orangutans is critical to the monitoring and protection of health in wild orangutan populations, which are universally threatened with extinction. This research may also help to shed light on the human-primate relationship – most importantly, the health risks associated with co-existence.

By volunteering as a long-term project assistant with the Orangutan Health Project, you will be contributing to the research and conservation goals of the project. It is hoped that these efforts will lead to an improved understanding of how best to promote the long-term survival of the orangutan and its unique ecosystem by improving our understanding of both. Our research has major implications and benefits for both scientific and practical application in orangutan conservation, and continues to improve understanding of primate evolution, human & non-human primate relationships, and the health risks orangutans’ face in a rapidly changing world. OHP has been published widely in international journals and academic volumes. We are continually in need of Project Assistants to work a six-month (negotiable) voluntary contract with us in Sumatra.

The general procedure of this long-term program is to come as a paying volunteer for the first 3 weeks. This initial period gives you a chance to see how you feel about the project and your responsibilities, and equally important, it allows you and the Project Director/Coordinator to assess your working relationship. If you and they decide that you should stay on, there will be no extra charge for the rest of your six-month stay.

Possible Responsibilities:

  • Organising and supervising short-term volunteers 
  • E-mail correspondence for project 
  • Correspondence with local staff
  • Shopping for the project
  • Coordinating with referral organisations 
  • Data entry 
  • Specimen collection, preparation, and weighing; other related research tasks as needed 
  • Assistance with grant writing as needed 
  • Assisting Project Coordinator or Director with any requested tasks 
  • Forest trekking and observation of wild orangutans in the jungle with staff and volunteers, including overnight camping for several days.
  • Care and upkeep of the medicinal garden 

Note: the opportunity for trekking and orangutan observation is not guaranteed; it is totally dependent on the needs of the project at the time (i.e. the number of staff required, weather, the physical fitness of the assistant, etc.). Also note: there is no physical contact with orangutans.

Typical day

A day in the life of a Project Assistant varies greatly. It depends on the needs of the project at the time and if there are volunteers present at the Project. Daily tasks will often consist of a mixture of the responsibilities mentioned above.  

Free-time activities

The program schedule includes some free time to enjoy the nature and cultures of Sumatra.

We are a short bus ride away from a fast running river where swimming, rafting, and tubing are available. There are a number of other rivers, waterfalls, hot springs, and a bat cave to be discovered around the Bukit Lawang area. White water rafting or kayaking can be arranged in town.

Cooking lessons are available in Bukit Lawang, including a trip to the local market to buy ingredients. Many places in Bukit Lawang also offer excellent massages.

It is also possible to organize a day trip with some OHP affiliated guides to see a local school, visit an oil palm plantation, try out traditional bamboo rafting, and explore the area on motorbikes. 

Water Sports

Program Requirements

In order to join the program you need to be at least 18 years old on the program start date. There might be exemptions if you can provide the permission of your legal guardian(s) or if your are accompanied by your parents.
Language Skills
You need to speak English (fluently)
Health Declaration
Education Requirements
at University Graduate level
Required Documents
CV/resume and Cover Letter Medical form
Nationality Restrictions
No restrictions. Helping hands from all over the world are welcome.
Other Skills
· Good problem-solving skills and ability to take the initiative
· Outgoing personality, patience, flexibility and a sense of humour!
· Ability to live under basic conditions with limited amenities
· Openness to, and acceptance of, non-Western ideas and cultures
· Basic computer skills (Outlook, Word, Excel)
Time Commitment
Your helping hand will be required on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 09:00 - 17:00

Suitable for


Included Services

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Change your reservation at no extra costs
Refund Guarantee
We refund your fees if The Orangutan Health Project cancels your trip
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We cover your back no matter what happens
Our services are free of charge!
All program fees are charged directly by The Orangutan Health Project.

Before your journey

Profound consulting and ongoing support (free)
The Orangutan Health Project (your host organization) provides consulting and is keen to answer all your questions. Once you reserved your spot, you will receive the contact details of your volunteer project.
Online preparation course (optional, from $49)
Prepare yourself and become a confident and well informed traveler. Global Travel Academy takes you on a journey before you leave home, helping you to become one of the world's greatest travelers. Our trusted partner for online learning offers courses in "International Volunteering", "Travel Health & Safety" and "Travel Safety Abroad".

On-site services

Services by The Orangutan Health Project

This covers all basic living expenses at the project (food, water and accommodation) and helps to offset research expenses. Volunteers are responsible for their own transportation to/from Sumatra, visa renewal fees, and personal health/travel insurance

Airport Pickup at Kuala Namu International Airport

Project accommodations, amongst the rice-fields of Timbang Lawan are basic with limited amenities and no running water.

Water for bathing and washing clothes is drawn from our well, though weather permitting (as it normally is) we also collect rainwater for these purposes. Like almost all of Indonesia, we purchase bottled drinking water in large drums, which we also use for cooking.

There are two small bathrooms, one with a squat-style toilet, and one with a western style- sitting toilet. Both are non-automated, meaning water must be poured down with a scoop after each use to flush. Neither toilet accepts toilet paper, if you choose to use toilet paper you will need to dispose of it in the bin provided. More instruction is given during orientation presentations.

There are no showers, and bathing is done either in a river (while in the jungle) or with a supply of cold water that you scoop over yourself, both of which are extremely enjoyable after a hot day of work or trekking.

While staying at our base, you will probably share a small bamboo room with another volunteer, depending on the number of volunteers in your team. Privacy may be in short supply. Each volunteer is given a mattress and a mosquito net.

We do have electricity, though we experience power cuts known as “mati lampu”—meaning “dead lights”—on a near daily basis. We also have WiFi internet available for volunteers.

There are a variety of insects and small animals around for you to get acquainted with: cats, geckos, mice, cockroaches, leeches, chickens (be prepared for a chorus of roosters very early every morning), spiders, ants and frogs. Mosquitoes are around at night, but not usually in large numbers (they are much worse in the secondary forests). 

Bedroom (Double) Camping
Food & Beverages

We eat three times per day with all meals prepared by our project cook or by project staff. Food is provided Monday - Friday. The food will always be Indonesian cuisine consisting mainly of rice, noodles, vegetables, tofu, tempeh and fruit. It is very different from western food but also very tasty, and is similar to much Southeast Asian fare in general.While Indonesian food is traditionally extremely spicy, utilising varying amounts of chilli(but rarely without), our meals are usually less hot and we do our best to accommodate those with lower spice tolerances.

Meat is served only on special occasions, and vegetarians can easily be catered for. Vegans may struggle as locals often do not understand the concept and may not know what exactly is in the food.

While we try to accommodate specific dietary needs, we only have access to food available locally. Again, if you have a very precise dietary regimen, please ensure that you bring any necessary food items along.

Bottled drinking water is provided by the project at all times, but alcohol and soft drinks are not, and can be purchased at the volunteers own expense. These can be found at local shops just around the corner from our project base. 

Internet Access
Good access at the project site
What's NOT included?
Visa, flights, travel insurance or vaccinations are NOT included in the program fees.
Flight Tickets
The nearest airport is Kuala Namu International Airport (KNO) in Kuala Namu. We assist you to find cheap flights to Indonesia.
Travel Insurance
Going abroad is an adventure and it is always best to be prepared. Sudden illness or injury, cancellation or theft - a travel insurance for Indonesia provides security and is a plus to have.
If you are intending to volunteer in Indonesia you should seek medical advice before starting your social journey. Check your required vaccinations for Indonesia.
Costs (Prices in USD)
24 weeks (min. stay)
24 weeks (max. stay)
Average fees

You can volunteer at the project site in North Sumatra/Indonesia between 24 weeks and 24 weeks. Please note that the above shown program fees are estimated and subject to exchange rate fluctuations. The Orangutan Health Project will let you know about the final price during your application process.
Crowdfunding Service
Generally, volunteering abroad involves certain costs. In case you need financial support, we will assist you to fundraise your volunteer program in Indonesia.
Deposit (15%)
The deposit is simply to reserve your volunteer placement. Payments are handled by PayPal, our trusted global payment provider. If you don't have a PayPal account, you can also pay using a credit card.
Final Payment (85%)
Your final payment will be agreed with The Orangutan Health Project during the application process. Common solutions are either via bank transfer or a cash payment at the project site.
  Asia South-Eastern Asia Indonesia  North Sumatra, Timbang Lawan

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Orangutan Research & Conservation North Sumatra, Indonesia The Orangutan Health Project NGO | The Orangutan Health Project
You will be contributing to the orangutan research and conservation goals of the project.
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