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Monday, September 5, 2011

Lucky to Be Here!

The following is a submission from a volunteer from the UK, Tara Mills, who has been sharing her international scouting and other experiences with Yayasan Palung.  We accept a limited number of volunteers at Yayasan Palung each year, for more information please contact us (yayasanpalung 'at' gmail 'dot' com).


I am lucky to be here.  Not just because I have been able to save to pay for the flight.  Not just because I have so far survived Indonesia’s roads.  And not just because Bon Jovi was playing when I arrived at Yayasan Palung’s education centre!  Aside from all that, I am lucky to be here because this is my dream.  My dream since I was 4 years old.  How many 4 year old popstar wannabees or aspiring astronauts realise their dreams?!  And yet, here I am.  For more than 20 years, if somebody asked me the question “If you could do one thing in life, what would it be?”, my reply, without skipping a beat would be “go to Borneo and help to save orangutans”.  And though the helping I may manage will be extraordinarily minute, I am so happy to be doing something!

My main job here is to develop the education trail that Yayasan Palung has set up to teach kids about the forest when they are still a little too young to be taken on a hike through the actual forest.  This trail runs through approximately 100 metres of secondary forest and has a wide variety of flora and fauna living along and around it.  At present, there are large notice boards through the trail, filled with information about various aspects of the forest.

You might suppose that kids here are so fascinated with the forest around them, or are so thrilled to be out of the classroom, that you could run this trail in any way and they would still just absorb information.  But I have worked with enough different kids that I can’t believe this could be possible!  They will still need to be constantly engaged, and there are very few children that can pay attention through being persistently talked at, no matter what it’s about.

Since I arrived in Indonesia, I have tried fruits that we don’t even have English names for, blood-crazed mosquitoes sporting flecks of blue tried to eat me alive during a short walk in the forest, and I was serenaded by what seemed like hundreds of frogs in Bali, as soon as it went dark.  But despite the striking differences between here and the ancient streets of Oxford, people here still pay far too much attention to their mobile phones, still smile when they don’t know what to say, and kids still love to sing heads, shoulders, knees and toes!  And since people are still people, no matter where they live, I am confident that my experience, and the ideas I can pass on here can still make an impression on the kids here and hopefully help to impress the conservation ideals of Yayasan Palung on the up and coming generation.

While I’ve been here, I’ve given English lessons, been to school lectures, seen photos from education trail field trips (I haven’t been able to join one because the schools haven’t allowed them during Ramadan), attempted to teach kids about orangutans and deforestation in semi-translated English (!), taught kids songs in English and Indonesian, given a presentation about scouts, and even attempted to teach a group of volunteers about genetics while on a beach!  All of these things have shown me that kids respond better when variety, excitement, independent thought and interactive teaching are incorporated in their learning, just as the kids do back home.

To save the orangutan, we need to save the rainforest.  And to save the forest…well…there are so many things to do.  What makes Yayasan Palung most special to me is that they are working to save the forest and the orangutan in so many ways, and so many sustainable ways.  This is not the organisation of quick fixes, although those can be important too.  This is the organisation working for long-term, self sustaining change; which is why education is such an important part of their program.

I hope that by working to make the valuable education links set up by Yayasan Palung more impactful and engaging for the children, I can put something towards the future conservation of West Kalimantan’s rainforest.  By learning about the forest when they are young, children gain an understanding of, appreciation for and hopefully some drive to conserve their rainforest.  With any luck, this should stay with them as they grow up and enter the community as influential and important ambassadors for conservation.  In addition, if Yayasan Palung is able to effectively pass on the importance of the environment and the protection the forest requires, these young people will be able to pass on these ideas to their peers, and then ultimately their own children, creating a self-perpetuating transfer of knowledge between people.

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