Volunteering in Kiribati

Kiribati (pronounced Kiribass) is made up of 33 extremely low-lying atolls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, at the intersection of the Equator and the International Date Line.

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Australian volunteer, Patrick Chan with his colleague at the Betio Town Council, Ioanne Teruruai. Photo: Darren James
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Boboro Tamiera, a member of the Te Toa Matoa (TTM) advocacy group - an association of people with disabilities. Photo: Darren James
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Australian volunteer Julie Lamb, at KSCCSN - Kiribati School and Centre for children with special needs. Photo: Darren James
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Aerial view off the coast of Kiribati. Photo: Darren James
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Australian volunteer, Michelle Sheehan, (R) at the Kiribati Ministry of Education with her colleague Teitibwebwe (Izzy). Photo: Darren James
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Man fishing in Kiribati. Photo: Darren James

Volunteering opportunities in Kiribati

The remote island nation of Kiribati is made up of 33 coral island groups known as atolls, which are ring-shaped islands with central lagoons. 

Located south of Hawaii, in the Pacific, Kiribati is the only country in the world situated over all four hemispheres.

A small nation of 100,000 people, Kiribati is exceptionally vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Most of the country’s atolls rise less than two metres above sea level, and the country’s government has acknowledged that it risks losing much of its land area, the destruction of its crops, and ultimately the displacement of its people.

The country's remote location presents other challenges, such as  its limited economic opportunities, and the rising urban migration to South Tarawa, are impacting health and education outcomes. The country’s limiting geography and poor soils mean that large-scale agriculture in Kiribati is often too difficult. Islanders have therefore turned to fishing or copra plantations to maintain their livelihoods.

Kiribati is a haven for adventurous spirits with a range of outdoor activities on offer including fishing, snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming and other water sports.

In Kiribati communities, respect for your neighbour is taught to children from a young age. Politeness is expected when interacting with community members, family and visitors. Certain levels of respect are required and need to be considered when in a maneaba (gathering hall) during village events, at home with family and interactions with strangers. 

Australian volunteers have supported a wide range of Kiribati partner organisations achieve their development goals since 2014.   

Volunteering opportunities in Kiribati support communities across a range of development priorities, including: 

  • health
  • education and special education,
  • law, justice and governance
  • disability
  • gender
  • environmental resilience
  • sport 

Read more about our impact in Kiribati in this country fact sheet.

Life as a volunteer in Kiribati

Culture 

Elders are highly respected in the communities as well as church leaders. They are the key decision makers in the society and are expected to be shown respect by both locals and visitors. 

Following the arrival of missionaries in the 19th century, Christianity became the main religion in Kiribati, with 57% now practicing Catholicism. Religion plays a big part in everyday life with many people living in church compounds and attending church on Sundays. 

Casual outfits are considered appropriate. However, its important to dress modestly and cover your knees when visiting the maneaba, church compound or other formal events. 

Alcohol can be consumed at bars and night clubs. Keep in mind that some communities do not allow alcohol and drinking in public places should be avoided. 

Language 

Kiribati is the official language followed by English as the second most commonly spoken.

Volunteers are encouraged to learn basic phrases as this will show a sign of respect to community members and colleagues. Language training is offer through the program and can be organised by the local in-country team. 

Climate 

Kiribati experiences a hot, humid, tropical climate with an average air temperature of 28.3°C.

While temperatures remain consistent throughout the year, there are two seasons 'te Au Maiaki' - the dry season and 'te Au Meang' - the wet season. 

Food 

As an island nation, Kiribati has an abundance of fresh fish available to buy or catch.

Fresh vegetables can be in short supply, so Kiribati relies heavily on imported produce. 

Supermarkets are available on Tarawa and offer typical goods such as meat, vegetables and canned food. Options may be limited for vegetarians and vegans, so it is recommended to bring specialty items from home.

Accommodation 

Finding suitable housing can prove challenging as rentals are in short supply.

Typically houses consist of 3 bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and a living room. Due to the short supply, volunteers are typically placed together in a share houses, which saves money on rent.

In-country teams are best suited to help you find an appropriate place that will fit your living allowance. 

Transport 

Minivans are the main form of public transport in Kiribati. A very economical option which can take you around the island. The longest route from Bonriki to Betio cost less than $USD3.00

Cars can be rented or if you intend to use a car more frequently, purchasing a used car is recommended. 

Security 

Kiribati is considered fairly safe, but volunteers should take sensible precautions.

It is imperative that respect is shown to community leaders, community members, and colleagues. Disrespect will not tolerated as you may find yourself excluded from community events and treated as an outsider. 

Before applying for a volunteering assignment in Kiribati, please do some further research on living in Kiribati and the organisation you are hoping to volunteer with. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to discuss expected living and working arrangements with their recruitment officer.