OURF Volunteer Profile- Liz Varnhagen

As a former Peace Corps volunteer who taught in secondary school in Malaysia in the 1980s, Liz Varnhagen was already primed to become a volunteer for the Orang Utan Republik Foundation. She has experienced the extensive logging roads and oil palm plantations, as well as the struggling indigenous communities in the compromised forest and coastal fishing villages in Borneo. She has also traveled and observed village life and seen rehabilitated wild orangutans in the Gunung Leuser National Park in North Sumatra. During her professional career, Liz worked as an Environmental Protection Specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Park Service, where she conducted environmental impact assessments.

Liz joined the Governing Board Member of OURF in 2015. In 2022 she became an OURF officer (Secretary), but she isn’t content being just an executive and a donor. Liz puts her knowledge, experience, and thought leadership as one of the CECP Advisory Group to provide critical thinking and feedback to the young conservation educators being supported with OURF funding. She has traveled to Sumatra to conduct oversight of the previously supported organization and looks forward to returning to the field later this year. 

Liz plants tree in Bukit Lawang area

Liz planting a tree in the Bukit Lawang region of N. Sumatra


When asked about why she has been involved with the Orang Utan Republik Foundation, she said,  “I volunteer with OURF because it sustains a connection with me and Indonesia and Indonesians.  It offers me an excuse to travel there with a purpose and introduces me to get to know some of its wonderful people. Small organizations often offer individuals more opportunities.  I also cherish my friendship with Gary and Inggriani, and enjoy working with them.  I appreciate Gary’s depth of knowledge in the field of conservation and his drive to motivate others to help in the campaign to save a flagship species of the Indonesian rainforests.” 

Liz and Gary in village education setting

Liz and Gary Shapiro visit a village education program to meet with local children.


Liz lives in Berkeley, California and is engaged in local politics, music, and serves on other nonprofit boards, including the Borneo Project. She is an accomplished cellist who performs locally with other musicians. She and her husband, Steve, live in a solar-powered home and practice an environmental lifestyle that includes bike riding, driving electric cars, and backyard organic farming. She does her best to balance her life so she can support OURF as much as she can.

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OURF Volunteers