Volunteering in Belantikan - The Morning Commute

Its 6:30 on the 3rd December and we’re on our morning commute to work. Our boat is cutting its way through the rapids of the river and we’re on the look out for crocodiles lurking on the banks. morning commute - belantikan

Morning commute - the rapid at Nanga Matu the starting point for the morning commute to work!

On the river - Belantikan

On the river - mist over the Belantikan river on the early morning journey to work.

On this early morning a mist still hangs over the top of the forest-covered hills on either side of the river. All around us the forest still thrives, providing sufficient sustenance for both the huge range of wildlife and the small village communities that have made this beautiful corner of Kalimantan their home. We are on the way to teach in one of these villages, Kahingai, and it’s the most incredible commute to work I could ever imagine, but sad too to think what this might be like in five years time if the fate of the forest here follows much of the rest of Kalimantan.

Our journey up to Belantikan from Pangkalan Bun, one month ago, showed us what the future might hold for the forest here. Passing us on the road heading back to town were the biggest trees I’ve ever seen, all stacked up two by two on the trucks that filed past in a long procession. Further piles of enormous dead trunks, neatly stripped of all unnecessary leaves and branches, lay by the side of the road awaiting transportation.

Logging concession - destruction of the forest on the road to Belantikan

Logging concession - destruction of the forest on the road to Belantikan

Rampant logging was only part of the problem; most of the journey out was through oil palm plantations, with the neat ranks of oil palm advancing into the former territory of the wild forest. The new plantation is a parody of the original forest, providing no home to the orangutan or other animals, and when the planters have finished they leave a land degraded that can never become forest again. If Borneo was once a Garden of Eden then what has been done to the trees here makes stealing a bit of fruit look very innocent indeed.

oil palm plantations en route to Belantikan

Oil Palm Plantations on the way to Belantikan (Photo: Orangutan Foundation)

We were fortunate enough on our journey up to Belantikan to have an unscheduled overnight stop off in a richer part of the jungle when our van, swerving to avoid a fallen tree, got stuck in the mud.

Van stuck in ditch

Our accomodation for a night in the jungle, a van stuck in a ditch.

The accommodation, on the back seat of a van sunken on one side into a deep muddy ditch, wasn’t the most comfortable, but it was amazing to wake up with the dawn to a chorus of gibbons in the trees overhead. We were also lucky enough to see a deer flash across our path to disappear into the trees on the other side of the road. We were still in the territory of the logging concession that envelops Belantikan, but in a relatively untouched part of the forest. A well-policed logging concession can actually be considered the lesser of three evils, and there are fears of what might happen to Belantikan when the concession expires in 2012 if the twin terrors of illegal logging and palm oil move in en masse. It raises the question, what will be left when the children we are teaching today have grown up?

Volunteering in Belantikan

The Belantikan Hulu ecosystem in Central Kalimantan is a priority conservation area for Orangutan Foundation and their partner Yayorin. The still surviving dense forest there is home to an incredible diversity of species, including the largest population of wild orangutans outside of a protected area. Belantikan Conservation Programme focuses on both researching and cataloguing the wildlife of the area and working with the local communities to develop ways to maintain their traditional lifestyles without having a detrimental impact on the forest ecosystem. As part of Yayorin’s capacity building educational programme Catherine Burns and myself, former Orangutan Foundation volunteers, travelled to Belantikan to work with Yayorin as English teachers in the schools of the villages of Nanga Matu, Kahingai and Bintang Mengalih. Orangutan Foundation invited me to blog about our time there and the ongoing struggle to save this precious part of the Borneo forest. You can read my account of our experience over the next week.


David Hagan

Thank you and Happy New Year!

Thank you Mike T. and Matthew K. for your donations in support of our work - a good start to 2009. We are delighted to begin this year by bringing you a really interesting blog from David Hagan, a committed volunteer of Orangutan Foundation and our partners, Yayorin. David and his fellow volunteer Catherine Burns spent a month teaching English in remote village schools of the Belantikan Hulu forests, Central Kalimantan (Borneo). We hope you will enjoy reading David's blog, which will be posted throughout this week.

Thank you for your continued support and interest,

Cathy - Orangutan Foundation

School Visit to Kampung Konservasi

"By listening I know; By seeing I understand; By doing I make a difference.” The children enthusiastically approached the two cows in their stable. In their hands were the newly-cut, fresh, green leaves. They waited impatiently for their turns, and their face lit up when the cows ate the leaves.

Feeding Kampung Konservasi’s cows

Feeding the cows is probably a simple and common thing for those who live in small villages and have cows. For these children from Islam Terpadu Elementary School, however, this simple thing became an extraordinary experience. It was probably the first time they ever saw a cow in their life. The participants on this visit were 1st grade students, 55 of them, and 5 of their teachers.

Feeding the cows was one of education activities we conducted during this school visit at Yayorin's Kampung Konservasi. This outdoor learning focuses to integrate knowledge the children learn from school with some field experiences. This way, students not only understand the theories and facts, but most importantly, understand and respect the knowledge they receive.

School Visit to Kampung Konservasi

Another activity that the children found very exciting was when they were asked to plant vegetable seeds. This time, they planted pokchai ( a type of vegetable similar to chinese spinach) in black polybags. With enthusiasm they grabbed handfuls of soil that was already mixed with organic compost and put it in the polybags. Each of them made a little hole on the soil with a finger, put one seed in it, and covered it with soil. Finally, they carefully watered the planted seeds. The children really loved it!

Sowing Seeds

Other than feeding the cows and planting vegetable seeds, the children also watched an environmental movie in our little theatre and listened to story-telling in the library. The morning passed by very quickly, and everybody was sad when we had to say goodbye.

Kampung Konservasi tries to use nature as a learning ”canvas”...where simplicity and friendship with the environment are keys to understanding and respect. By giving opportunities for young people to express themselves and learn by doing, we are actually influencing their behaviors and future choices. In the long run, we hope that they can then influence others around them, including the adults. When that happens, the world will definitely be a better place!

Thank you,

Riyandoko (Education Facilitator) & Sally (Yayorin)

Kampung Konservasi (November blog) - Sustainable Agriculture

An exciting development just happened at Kampung Konservasi this week that we would like to share. We finally published the first book on cabbage cultivation using the alternative agriculture method that we develop at Kampung Konservasi. Why is this exciting? The book is the result of long, hard work of our agriculture facilitator, Mr. Suwardi, who is now famous as “the cabbage man”. Pak Wardi “cabbage man”

Pak Suwardi - photo by Yayorin

I remember the first time Pak Suwardi joined the Kampung Konservasi team. He came all the way from Magelang, Central Java, where he was a successful farmer and an experienced community facilitator. He seemed to me as a “typical” Javanese farmer: calm, quiet, simple and hardworking. Kampung Konservasi was nothing like it is now. The area was practically empty, just high grass and a few young trees. The first thing Pak Suwardi noticed was, of course, the sandy soil. He told me that he had no idea what to do with it because he had never seen anything like it before. We then agreed that the only thing that he could do was to do as many trials as possible and learn from them.

Barren land

Barren/sandy soil - photo by Yayorin

cabbage plot

Cabbage Demonstration Plot - photo by Yayorin

Pak Suwardi has been working so hard since day one. He wakes us as early as five o’clock in the morning and works on the demonstration plots right away before the sun gets too hot. He has tried so many different things, planted so many seedlings, spoke with so many people and made many “mistakes”. The amount of physical work that this man can do is incredible! He has changed the face of Kampung Konservasi, almost all by himself. Before we knew it, we had wonderful harvests of tomatoes, chilies, string beans and cabbage! The cabbage was a major thing because nobody has ever grown cabbage in Borneo before. Just like most vegetables available in this area, cabbages come from Java, shipped across the sea.

Book cover

The book to be distributed to local farmers.

Now, all of his experiences and findings, especially on cabbage cultivation, are written in a simple book that will be distributed to the local farmers. This book will be the first of many. Yayorin plans to publish a series of books on alternative agriculture, based on real experiences and field trials. These books are powerful tools that we can use to further our education efforts.

Terima kasih,

Sally (Yayorin)

Orangutan Awareness: A Personal View

After my last my about the day at Camp Leakey I received a short email from the Office reminding me that I was supposed to be writing about Orangutan Awareness Week! Whoops. Sally and the Yayorin team will be able to tell you of all the activities. I thought I would offer a simple, personnel view on why I have always supported the week.

orangutan in tree

we all need trees!

We all need trees.

We know how to save orangutans – you just stop chopping down the forest and hunting them. Leave them alone and they will be just fine. But that isn’t happening. The situation here in Borneo and in Sumatra is very bad. Just yesterday, we were told of a proposal to convert another 10,000ha (100km2) into an oil-palm plantation. Not all of that land is forest, but a lot of it is and I guarantee there are still orangutans, monkeys, hornbills and a host of other birds and smaller mammals living there.

Spot the difference

Spot the difference.

What lay behind the local government’s decision to give up more forest? There are a host of reasons but perhaps the ultimate explanation is simply that the return from logging and palm oil translates to cash whereas the returns from standing forest are often intangible. That is a balance that has to be rectified. Which is exactly why Orangutan Awareness Week is so important:

- The loss of orangutans and their habitat is irreversible.

- Consumers need to be aware of the true cost of the products they buy. The driving force behind the move towards sustainable palm oil is consumer pressure.

- National governments need to be aware of the impact of the trade decisions they make. The US is to be applauded for its recent amendment to the Lacy Act which will go a long way to stopping the import of illegally felled timber.

- Here, the local Government needs to be aware that floods which plague the riverside communities are linked to deforestation upstream.

- Farmers need to know that there are alternatives to slash and burn agriculture, that their household income can improve by better use of the land.

- There are huge ethical issues involved in the loss of orangutans as a species let alone the abhorrent killing of individuals. I feel this keenly and am sure many of you do too. However, climate change has now made the loss of their habitat an ethical issue too: tropical forests can play a significant role in mitigating against climate change. Truly, saving orangutans can now help humankind.

slash & burn

Without Orangutan Awareness Week how many people will know of the link between this smoke from forests and the rise in sea level? Without the work of groups like Yayorin how many people will learn it doesn't have to be this way?

We all have to be involved in this and that’s why Orangutan Awareness Week is international. The bottom line is whether to destroy forests or to save them will remain a choice that many people will have a hand in making. Only with complete awareness will we all make the best choice and orangutans are the perfect flagship or ambassadors for the forest.



What we all need - forests "lungs of the planet"

There are half-a-dozen or so places, Tanjung Puting National Park and the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve among them, that are safer today than they probably have been at any time for the past thirty odd years. Saving them has been a battle and we are now working on securing the peace. We can be proud of those successes but they are not enough. Certainly, we can not be drawn into trading off a few parcels of safe forest for devastation elsewhere. As the 10,000ha mentioned above shows, the battle lines are still being drawn. That has to stop.

The battle lines

The battle lines

Male Bornean Orangutan

I was touched to see the blog by Art for Gorillas on the Wildlife Direct. ). If children in Rwanda can be galvanised to care for orangutans what can’t be done?

As always, thank you for your support,


Sustainable Agriculture Can Help Protect Orangutan Habitat.

Other than Kampung Konservasi's simple facilities such as the library, theatre, etc., we also use most of the area as sustainable agriculture demonstration plots. We grow and successfully harvest tomatoes, chilies, cabbages, string beans…all organic! We also keep fish and cows. We believe that if sustainable agriculture is done correctly, it can actually improve the degraded environment, protect native species, as well as eliminating current destructive agricultural practices, such as slash-and-burn. Agricultural Demonstration Plot

Agricultural Demonstration Plot

Sustainable Agriculture Plots at Kampung Konservasi

Natural Fly Trap

Natural Fruit Fly Trap

Almost half of Kampung Konservasi’s ground used to be peat swamp; a few areas of this swamp were even as deep as grown man’s chest. Many local people believed that nothing can be done in peat swamp areas, and we already proved that we can farm fish very successfully there, using very simple materials to make the ponds such as bamboos and sand bags. We also bought a couple of cows because they are the best compost producers, and we can also sell them at the end when they grow bigger.

Below Organic Compost - the secret to our success!

Organic compost

Aquaponic Demonstration Plot

Aquaponic Plots - Fish pond around the island where vegetables are growing.

Kampung Konservasi used to be a barren land it is now a thriving and lush place. We have encouraged the return of insect, bird, reptile and amphibian species. Through our agricultural practices soil and water quality has increased. In addition to growing vegetables we have also planted more than 100 tree species, ranging from fruit trees (mango, durian, rambutan, guava, papaya and pineapple) to Bornean endemic hardwood trees (ulin, gaharu, agates, and rattan, especially the local species). All plants have been labelled with signs showing the local, Indonesian, English and Latin names and information about the importance of the plant or its useful properties.



Nursery and seedlings

Kampung Konservasi Sign

Kampung Konservasi Entrance Sign

Everything is to demonstrate to the local people and farmers that sustainable agriculture is a very promising income-generating activity for them to do. We are proud to report that individuals and groups have already adopted our agriculture methods in their own gardens and areas.

Terima Kasih,

Sally (Yayorin)

Kampung Konservasi - Every Place Is A School. Every Person Is A Teacher.

Stephen only got back last night from being in the field and today left for Singapore to renew his visa - sorry no posts from him. So for this week over to Sally, from Yayorin..... Kampung Konservasi (Indonesian for Conservation Village) is an integrated environmental learning facility ran by Yayorin (Yayasan Orangutan Indonesia) at the city of Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. What started as a dream, now has become a dynamic place where people come to learn more about how to live “in harmony with nature”, a concept barely heard of in the area before.

Forest Classroom

The idea of Kampung Konservasi is quite simple really. Because Yayorin believes that there will be no real conservation without education, we felt (and still do) that people, especially those who live surrounding the orangutan habitats, must be introduced to the idea of “nature conservation” in more direct, simple, personal ways. We need an education center; a place where people can actually go to. We cannot just preach and say “Do not cut the trees!” or “Do not kill the orangutans!” because most of those who did illegal logging practices or illegal wildlife trade in this area only did that out of necessity. They needed the money to survive. If we really want conservation to happen, if we really want people to take conservation seriously, we need to work with these people and offer them alternative ways to make a living.

Children reading at Kampung Konservasi

As I mentioned before, Yayorin believes that education empowers people. We believe that we must educate the young, and that is why in Kampung Konservasi we arguably have the biggest environmental library in the whole Kalimantan, regularly play environmental movies in our little theatre, offer small, informal “classes” for children to take part in and work together with local schools in many other environmentally-related activities. In addition to that, Kampung Konservasi receives visits from school teachers, student groups, youth groups, farmer groups, church groups, government groups and individuals almost every month.

Kampung Konservasi’s educational activities

Since its first opening for public in March 2006, Kampung Konservasi has grown so much. Through the Orangutan Foundation UK we have received operational funding from The Rufford Maurice Laing Foundation for three consecutive years; and some generous groups of people also donated funds for us to purchase more lands to enlarge our sustainable agriculture demonstration plots (more on this next time). There are still so many things to be done and so many people to be reached, but the future certainly looks promising for this exciting program. We hope that we can continue to bring you updates on Kampung Konservasi on a regular basis in this blog.

Visit us using this Virtual Tour

Terima kasih,

Sally (Yayorin)

Meet our partner, Yayorin (Yayasan Orangutan Indonesia)

We would like to introduce Yayorin (Yayasan Orangutan Indonesia) a grass roots conservation NGO. Stephen has mentioned their work in this blog because Yayorin are our partners on various programmes including the Belantikan Conservation Programme (see sidebar categories). Yayorin are an inspiring and committed organisation and we have learnt a great deal from their work. Because of this we want you to hear more about what they do. Once a month they will post an update here and hopefully, if time and resources enable them, they can increase the frequency.

We value our partnership with Yayorin, which stems from our shared vision that nature conservation benefits local communities and that the promotion of this idea is reliant on an educational infrastructure at a local level. We fully support Yayorin’s education and awareness programme REASON (Raise Education and Awareness to Save Orangutan and Nature).

Kampung Konservais is a major component of REASON. Indonesian for Conservation Village, Kampung Konservasi is an intergrated environmental learning arena. Its purpose is to encourage learning about environmental conservation issues and to demonstrate sustainable, alternative income-generating activities for people who live close to the forests.

I haven’t been to Kampung Konservasi but those who have visited are captivated by the place. Here is a sneak preview (link to virtual tour). Sally Tirtadihardja, from Yayorin will blog about the goings on at Kampung Konservasi and I hope you will enjoy reading them, as much I will.

Many thanks,


Orangutan Foundation (UK)