A Visit to the Indonesian Rainforest

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Seacology Program Manager Karen Peterson recently returned from a trip to Indonesia, where she traveled with our Indonesia Field Representative Arnaz Mehta and visited Seacology projects.  One of their site visits was on the island of Java, where Seacology has funded a multi-purpose community building in support of the replanting of 72 acres and protecting a total of 267 acres of no-take rainforest. Below is Karen's account of her visit.

On October 24, Arnaz and I flew to Bandung, Java, overnighted, then were met at the hotel by Mandalemekar project coordinator Irman Meilandi.  We then drove four hours to the village.  Though the road approaching the village was not of the same level of ruggedness as what we had experienced on Flores Island a few days earlier, rain has made access into and out of Mandalamekar challenging.  Fortunately, the roads were in decent shape for our arrival.  

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Right, Karen, Arnaz, and Mandalamekar villagers at their local waterfall. 

Though Mandalamekar is a relatively large village, with around 3,200 residents, the separate "neighborhoods" are somewhat spread out, so it does not feel like a large village.  We first met with members of the village government as well as the community group, Mitra Alam Muggaran, that has formed to conduct patrols and otherwise manage their forest areas.  After being warmly greeted and being offered much-needed coffee and snacks, we were told that there were some people waiting for us at the community center.

Once we got to the newly-constructed community hall we were surprised to be greeted by a large crowd, with the center completely set up for a celebration.  Numerous groups from the village schools, as well as the local women's group, entertained us with singing, dancing and skits.  Irman, Arnaz and I each spoke to the crowd, and had a Q&A session with audience members.  One of the school teachers speaks English, and a few of the kids do as well.  Questions included: "How do I let other people know about how important conservation is?" and "Are kids in the US interested in conservation?  What are the differences between kids here and in America?"  I was the first American to visit the village, so we had many questions for each other.

Below, the new community center in Mandalamekar

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The building itself is quite large, with a very high roof, stage, and a badminton court painted on the floor, with a scorekeeper's seat on the side.  I didn't realize that badminton is incredibly popular in Indonesia, and is a borderline obsession in Mandalamekar!

After the ceremony and presentation, many photos were taken, and members of the village came up to shake our hands.  We then drove through the rain to the edge of the conservation area and planted tree seedlings.  We toured the protected area as well as land where trees were planted to harvest, and hiked a short distance to a guard post to have a snack and some water.  We talked with the volunteer forest guards about how they closely monitor activities in the forest, and their plans for future conservation of the watershed.

Right, Karen  and Mandalamekar villagers planting trees in the local rainforest

After dinner that evening, a women's group sang for us, then people asked more questions about Seacology and living in America (and Canada, since Arnaz is Canadian!).  Just when we thought things were winding down, and Arnaz and I were trying to stifle yawns from the long day, someone suggested some evening badminton!  We walked through the drizzle to the community center, where a spirited game of doubles was taking place - apparently men from a neighboring village - and several others were spectators.  I made excuses, not being talented at racket sports even in the best of circumstances, but Arnaz, a tennis player, jumped right in and played.  I was told that these matches are a nightly occurrence.

In the morning, we hiked through the protected forest to a magnificent waterfall, one of three in the village.  We walked past the village's series of ponds in which they raise freshwater fish; they also grow a wide array of vegetables as well as rice, coffee and other crops.  The village has 5, 10, and 15 year plans to include more improvement projects, the extension of their forest area, more sustainable forestry and eco-tourism as an income-generating scheme, etc. 

Overall, I was highly impressed by the level of organization in the village, by their strong commitment to protecting their spectacular natural resources, and by their commitment to plan for the community's future. Moreover, I will never forget the warm greeting I was given at the surprise ceremony inside the impressive new Seacology-funded community center.

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 Above, Karen, Arnaz, and the Mandalamekar villagers in their new community center. 

If you want to keep up with what's happening in Mandalamekar, check out their blog:  http://mandalamekar.wordpress.com/, which can be translated with Google Toolbar.

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This page contains a single entry by Carynne McIver published on November 11, 2010 2:57 PM.

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