How drastically can your life change in one year! When I look back I get a big smile on my face. If you want something in life, then just go for it, anything is possible! As long as you have dreams, faith and the strength to hold on, nothing is impossible! For me, the pieces have fallen into place perfectly and I am so thankful!
I remember one year ago the first time I met Willie Smits in the Apenheul, a Zoo for primates in Holland. He held a lecture there about orangutans and their habitat. I knew that the orangutans were struggling badly. Their habitat has been greatly reduced and at this very moment, now they only live in the wild on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. The stories that I heard that day and the pictures I got to see, changed my life forever! Willie touched me deeply with his story, what a power, what a special man! After this day, I decided no longer to watch, but take action myself. My mission to do something for the orangutans and their habitat was born!
After a long night of brainstorming about how I could contribute, I got the idea to create my own website. I want to tell other people about the problems the orangutans and the local Dayak people have to deal with in Borneo. Besides the website, I have launched a number of actions to raise money for the Orangutan Outreach Netherlands (OONL). This is a wonderful foundation that supports the projects from Willie in Indonesia.
Because I wanted to do more, I also begun to work as a volunteer for OONL in the Zoo. Here I tell the people all about the foundation, Willies projects in Indonesia, illegal logging and animal trade and about the palm oil and sugar palms. I love to do this a lot!
What happened shortly after that, I could never hope for, this would make my dream come true and change my life forever. What began with a plan to do something good for the orangutans, now turns into a real dream!
I still remember the day that I read the message on Facebook about DeforestACTION: “Youth in the Netherlands, sign up! This is an opportunity that you only get once in your life. “Immediately I was excited and I watched the movie and everything around me began to feel dizzy, my heart began to beat faster, my mouth dropped open and tears ran down my cheeks. I could not believe my ears and eyes, 100 days to Borneo, to take action against deforestation! I wanted to do this, that was my dream!
The rainforests of the world are disappearing alarmingly fast. If we do not do something soon, they will all be destroyed.
Borneo has the oldest and one of the most bio-diverse rainforests in the world. I’ve seen it all with my own eyes and it is so beautiful. But unfortunately, over the last 20 years these forests had a hard time to survive. Large areas of rainforest in Borneo are being cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. Many wonderful animal and plant species are threatened by destruction, including my beloved orangutan. Not only the animals, but also the local Dayak people are hit hard by the destruction.
The clocks ticking, there is not much time left. We need to step up and take some action before it’s too late! DeforestACTION is our chance to finally really make a difference. The difference for a better future for our future generations!
DeforestACTION is a global movement of youth and schools to tackle deforestation. With this we want to maintain a permanent habitat for orangutans and other animals that depend on the rainforest and its ecosystem. I love to see how these children from all around the world work for the project and how they are involved in deforestation, but also how strongly they believe in a better future. This gives me hope!
It was so nice to finally, after all these months of preparation, meet all the 14 participants from all over the world in Indonesia. We are all selected by our passion, commitment and quality and I must say that they have done a wonderful job on this. What a great team!
We are all so different, but it clicked right away very well. From the first day we had a connection and every day it just got stronger! We had some amazing first 20 days! We have cried and laughed together, we shared our frustrations and joys and dragged each other through difficult times. 15 young people, until recently total strangers, thanks to our shared mission, now friends for life!
What an amazing and unique man! For years he fights with all his heart and passion for the preservation of orangutans and their habitat. He works and lives in Indonesia for about 32 years now. Willie studied forest and nature at the University of Wageningen in The Netherlands. In 1989 he accidentally comes in contact with an orangutan. At a market in Indonesia he found a half dead orangutan, left alone, almost death at a dump. Willie took the orangutan back home with him. From that moment he decides that things needed to change drastically. This orangutan named “Uce” was the start of a big sanctuary that trains displaced orangutans for returning back to nature. Willie’s goal is to preserve as much nature as possible for future generations, along with the local people!
Really, what this man has to tell and what he has achieved the past 32 year, despite all the setbacks, is really incredible. Yet he continues, I have so much respect for him! Without Willie the lives of the orangutans and the local Dayak people would look very different now.
Willie is the most extraordinary person I have met in my life so far. What an inspiration! In Borneo I have learned so much from him! Every day he continued to surprise me with his vast knowledge, on everything you ask him, he has an answer. He is so very passionate and he keeps helping the local Dayak people and animals in Indonesia with the passion he has, as long as he can! If he sleeps three hours a night, is that a lot. I am so grateful to have him as our mentor during this special trip and I am so glad that he share his knowledge with us.
Now that I’ve been in Borneo, I know how important it is that the rest of the world will hear and see how bad the situation there is with the deforestation. I am so glad that they are going to make a amazing 3D movie out of everything we see and experience in Borneo. Great respect for the fantastic crew (Virgo Productions from Australia) who closely monitored us every day to capture everything we experienced. These wonderful people will again go back to Borneo with us in March. They are just like us, so determined to tell the story and share it with the rest of the world.
We flew in early September to Pontianak, Borneo and finally after a bus ride of 13 hours we arrived in Sintang, the area where we were going to stay. Sintang located in West Kalimantan, also called the Heart of Borneo. Many protected species in the rainforest around Sintang are threatened with extinction. During the long ride in the bus I hoped to see some wonderful nature. That beautiful tropical birds would fly over and that children from traditional villages would cheerfully run behind our bus. But soon I got a big shock to processing.
In the bus from Pontianak to Sintang, hours and hours, left and right, I only saw palm oil plantations! Of course, I knew I went to Borneo to see this, but still it was a huge slap in the face. I found it very intense, to see the destruction with my own eyes. The palm oil plantations are currently the biggest problem for the orangutans and the local people. They lose both their environment and thus their future.
Worldwide, approximately 90% of palm oil comes from plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. Major users of palm oil are China and India and within the European Union, the Netherlands is the largest importer of palm oil.
What most people do not know is that there is palm oil in less than one in two products that we buy in the supermarket. Think of chocolate, ice cream, biscuits, butter, soap, detergent, cosmetics, etc. Unfortunately the packaging doesn’t shows this. As a customer the choice is hard to made to chose for the write project without palm oil in it. For example, I would not like to buy products with palm oil in it, but where to start? A good step would be if the Netherlands would make it mandatory for companies to label their products, so that we can see clearly whether palm oil is incorporated into a product yes or no.
We went on an expedition and it was so impressive! 11 speedboats took us for four days over the Kapuas river. We were on the water for hours to get to the villages deep in the jungle to meet the local Dayak people there! We could see for ourselves what deforestation means for local people and animals.
The ride in the boat was very double. On one hand, I enjoyed the ride in the speedboat, the feeling of freedom, the cool wind in my hair, the view of the banks where people happily stood waving and the indescribable feeling that I was finally in Borneo, this felt so good
On the other hand it was so confrontational …
It’s incredible to see for ourselves that this beautiful forest is felled illegally on a large scale. Here in central Borneo, you will find one of the last untouched forests of the world, but these forests are disappearing fast . Thick trees are transported by boats over the river and massive yellow bulldozers go over the river deeper into the jungle, to also destroy all the beauty over there too. Giants trees that are hundreds of years old and are cut down without any hesitation.
There’s so much money they can make on tropical hardwood. The West, including the Netherlands, imports illegally logged tropical timber on a large scale. For a few bucks you can buy all our teak furniture at stores and garden centers.
Illegal gold mining
Another major problem we saw during our trip on the river is illegal gold mining. Once it goes bad with the economy the price of gold shooting up. You can see it immediately back in places like Borneo. The big machines that make a lot of noise and produce a lot of smoke, are situated in large rows down the river. Every time I hoped that the machinery behind us would be the last. But unfortunately, this image was also persist for hours. This beastly machine gets the sand out of the river, and loosen the gold from the stones. Unfortunately, this happens by using chemicals, that means the river is poisoned badly. The people who do this work and the people that are living in that area along the river, are very sick! The river has now been poisoned so bad that there’s no fish anymore!
We have spoken with a man who worked in the gold mining. He was almost totally deaf since he was close to the roaring machinery every day and he was also sick. Willie told us that he had probably 2 years to live. The man told us that the Palm Oil campanies had taken over his village and working in the gold mining was his only way to maintain to provide for his family. He was literally killing himself so he could take care of his family.
Illegal animal trade
Because of the illegal logging, the animals of Borneo have a very difficult time. Their habitat is getting smaller and smaller. And not only the wood is worth a lot of money, the exotic animals are unfortunately worth a lot of money too. The orangutans and all those other beautiful animals are traded illegally on a massive scale, to transport over to Malaysia.
Also, these magnificent animals are often kept as pets. In Sintang alone there are an estimated 60 orangutans, 50 sun bears, 120 gibbons and many other tropical animals keeping as pets in people’s homes.
How people get the little baby orangutans? Well what you hear a lot is that the mothers have been killed for meat, because of the protein. The local farmers are often very poor and have a family that they need to take care of. The traumatized baby orangutans have seen how their mother was brutally slaughtered and are then sold. Often these babies miss a few fingers, because these people have cut off the babies from their mother because the baby does not wanted to let go of her. So sad.
The Kapuas river is the longest wildlife trade route in Indonesia. In the forest along the river they hunt for these animals and then the animals are imprisoned in cages along the river. Here they wait until the illegal animal traders come and take them there and smuggle the animals down the river towards the border of Malaysia. From there the animals are going to be sold to many places all around the world.
One of the successes during our trip was our meeting with the chief of police in Sintang, Colonel Firley. The Sintang district is the area where two major trafficking routes are to Malaysia and Colonel Firley promised us that he will arrange two new permanent police posts at the border station to stop the illegal animal traders. He also promised that all the animals now held by his own police officers, will be brought to the shelter. When he finds out that corrupt people work for him and engaged in illegal animals, he will immediately dismiss them. His promises and his help was a major step forward in tearing down the illegal animal trade. It is very important that people like him offer their help and support our project!
Meeting the first orangutans
My first meeting with orangutans in Borneo I will never forget. Willie Smits wanted to show us something. We had no idea where Willie was going to bring us. When we arrived at the spot, I got a huge lump in my throat and I felt the ground beneath my feet slowly slipping away from me. I was totally unprepared for what I saw. I was suddenly face to face with two orangutans trapped in a horrible small and dirty cage.
This place where we were was a zoo, I could not believe my eyes. I could not imagine that there were people who came here for pleasure to see these orangutans. They were in a much too small rusty cage, without any access to food or water. They were obviously stressed out, stood up to their ankles in their own feces and they held each other so tightly and looked at us with a blank scared look in their eyes .
I was so shocked, I got the lump in my throat, I felt warm tears as two streams of water on my cheeks and I could not stop crying. It was so painful to watch, my heart was broken. As I stood there crying, I saw in a faint haze through my tears that the camera was on me. Of course they wanted to capture my emotions for the movie. I fought for my feelings and had to try to give this terrible moment a place, so having the camera on me was hard. But these images are so important to capture and therefore we were there and they needed to film everything!
Tembak, in the wonderful village where we stayed for two days, we meet Jojo. Jojo is a 3 year old female orangutan. She was kept in a small wooden box. Fortunately for her she could get out of the cage and play into the forest behind the house. The people who kept Jojo as a pets, were very fond of her. After Willie had spoken to the people, they wanted Willie to took Jojo to the shelter in Sintang so she could get proper care. Jojo did not get proper food. Often the people gave her coffee, chocolate and rice. She also suffered from parasites. In Sintang she would be in good hands. Here she gets proper medical care and good nutrition so she can strengthen. Also in the shelter Jojo will learn how to survive in the jungle.
Jojo is a very sweet and inquisitive orangutan. Once she was in Sintang she became a happy and healthy young orangutan. She loves to be in the tire swing, she cannot get enough of all the delicious fruits, she loves all the attention she receives from the caregivers, and she every night she makes a sleeping nest. This means that she has learned this from her mother when she still lived in the forest with her. This makes me very sad. The little Jojo, still so young and already experienced so much.
I remember that I’m alone in front of her cage. Jojo sat honorably on the floor for me to enjoy some juicy fruits. She looked at me a little bit sleepy with her big brown eyes, surrounded by beautiful dark long lashes. I pretended I ate ginger leaves and her attention was aroused. She looked at me intently. I put a leaf in my mouth, pretended I enjoyed the delicious taste and pushed my lip like a drawer out and Jojo ate the ginger. Mothers always do this too, her young will then see what is edible and how you they should eat it.
It the meantime it started to get a little bit dark and Jojo gets tired. She started to yawn and she reached to the thumb of her foot and puts it in her mouth. She puts her strong, hairy arms through the cage and puts an arm around my neck and with her hand she touched my hair. With her other hand she held my hand. This was such a special moment for me. With her long slender fingers, with small black nails she touched my skin. I looked at her into her beautiful dark eyes as she looked at me. I couldn’t help it but I started crying and Jojo followed my tears that slid down my cheeks. Jojo comforted me in her way and so we sat for a few minutes. Then she decided that it was enough for today. She climbed into her basket, put the branches well and good and then fell asleep. This wonderful moment with her I would never forget!
My heart aches when I see Jojo alone in the cage.
Even though this is now the best solution for her, I wish she had much more than this. I could picture her hopping with her mother through the beautiful jungle, learning all her knowledge and enjoy all the attention she gets from her. Normal baby orangutans remain to stay about 7 years with their mother. I wish Jojo could have experienced this with her mother too.
But fortunately she has a hopeful future. When Jojo is ready to go, she will return back to Tembak, the village where the people love her so much, but did not know how to take care of her. The village is a great example for many other villages. They have a great love for nature and animals. They have design their own wastewater treatment system and the large water wheel, provides clean drinking water and electricity for the whole village. So far this village could push away the palm oil companies that want their land. No way they want to give away their land to the palm oil companies because they know this is not good for their future. The people in the village are strong and confident and are completely self-sufficient.
We can’t wait to go back to Tembak, the village we love. Upon arrival we all felt right at home and after two days the people and children were so sad when we were again left their village. The people from the village gave us a great deal. They give away their jungle of 65 acres here so we can soon build a shelter there for the animals we will rescue and set them free into the protected forest there.
The local Dayak people have stolen my heart. We have been in tribes deep in the jungle where no white people have ever been, imagine such a big group like us. For most young children from the villages we were the first white people they had ever seen. Everywhere we went we were welcomed so warmly. People were waving for hours on the side of the shore waiting for us. Once on the way we were brought to the village and there were impressive ceremonies take place each time. It was so special to experience these ceremonies. The local Dayaks looked stunning in their traditional dress, there was music, they were singing and dancing, there always was the tradition of killing a pig or chicken in honor of our arrival and the Arak (which we could definitely use after this) flowed freely. These are so very kind and hospitable people! Everywhere we went, they received us with open arms.
After the ceremony we walked into the village to meet with all the people. Although the people have little, there was always a lot of delicious food for us to eat. After eating and drinking together it was time to talk with the people. The stories we heard, hit me so deep into my soul. These people don’t have a future. The land of the local Dayaks are brutally and ruthlessly taken from them by the Palm Oil companies.
Each Dayak tribe has its own land, they can identify exactly what is theirs.
They cannot demonstrate through papers what is their property, because there are simply no clear evidence of ownership. There are rules and laws to protect these people, but they are simply not observed.
We heard that the palm oil companies often bribe people. They send spies into the villages and then they pick out the weakest people that they can bribe. They will become ‘friends’ with the people, give them money, fine watches and send them on nice trips. And of course at some point they want something back in return, namely their land. The people who are bribed feel ashamed. The Palm oil companies have what they want. There is unrest in the family and they have another piece of land.
Also very common is that the people from the palm oil companies also come up with beautiful stories and promise the people of the tribe golden mountains. If the tribe agrees to sell their land (for a little bit of money), then they promise the people that they can work on the palm oil plantation and that they will have a lot of work and income. But these people finally will not work at the plantation, because they are too expensive. That’s why they get people from Java, they are much cheaper for the company. So the people have a big problem, they lost their land and don’t have any income.
When these people are against palm oil, they are beaten up and murdered.
We have spoken with a man who was against palm oil and he told his tribe that palm oil would not be a lasting solution for them. The palm oil companies have hired people to beat him up. He received so many hits and was beaten so badly that he at one point fell down on the floor and he was bleeding so badly. Then they decided to ride over him, 5 times, with a motor. They thought he was dead and left him behind.
Palm oil companies are literally do anything for their money, that’s the only thing they care about. They commit human rights violation, and they are busy with mafia practices, they are just doing a lot of illegal things in many ways working in Borneo. The Dayak people are now so desperate, they see their future literally go up in smoke. I’m afraid that it will not take long before the war there in the Heart of Borneo will break out.
After hearing yet another terrible story, I broke and I could not stop crying. I felt so helpless. These people were so happy that we were there. Finally someone listens to their stories. They called us angels sent by God. We are passionate young people who came from all over the world. We would go and tell their story through the rest of the world. They had hope, thanks to us. This pressure felt like a heavy burden on our shoulders.
For the Dayaks, the jungle is a large supermarket and pharmacy. All they need when they go into the jungle, is a knife and some salt, the rest they find in the forest. Such as fruits, honey, fresh fish and meat, spices and wood to help build their and repair their houses. These Dayaks, who live in the forest for generations long, see their forests disappear and they are desperate.
We need to do something now, before it’s too late. Time is ticking ..
For a week we lived in a longhouse with a traditional Dayak tribe. That was a fantastic experience. The house was less than 112 meters long and 30 families lived here together in harmony. I enjoyed every minute of the day there. I played with the kids, went swimming with them in the river, sing songs with them and hugged them a lot. I helped the women grinding the flour and then we baked delicious cookies together. The chief took us into the jungle and we learned a lot about the trees and plants there in their forest. I also teaches the people and children English, that was a lot of fun. Now I’m back home, I miss them every day.
These special Dayak people have wonderful traditions and a tremendous knowledge of animals and nature. They are so sweet, honest and hospitable. I have never felt so at home. To hear their stories, to see the empty look in their eyes to see and feel the pain and grief, have touched me so deeply!
I am back home now, back in the Netherlands. Again very nice of course, but I find it difficult to adjust again. I suddenly can become very emotional. The images from Borneo are burned into my brain and the stories of these amazing people have broken my heart in two. This trip has changed me. I have even more willpower than before and I’m ready to take action. So I can give these people and animals finally a voice they deserve.
Of course I cannot do this alone and I need all the help I can get.
So if you want to work for this worthy cause, just let me know!
Together we can definitely make a change : )
In March, we will all go back to Borneo. We will take some action, before it’s too late!
If we will not do it, then who will?