3 July 2012

Reflections on Borneo in Jogja

A short video clip from footage I've taken in Borneo over the past 3 years.

It's a call to Action...  and I hope the message echos far and wide, because the next decade is absolutely critical to not only the survival of Orangutan and the forests of Borneo, but to the balance of life on our planet as we know it.

Our generation has an historic opportunity, a window in time, to change course and avert unprecedented loss of biodiversity, secure climate stabilizing carbon-rich forests and protect the ancestral lands of Borneos indigenous peoples (and the wisdom contained within their earth-connected culture).

It's a challenge of epic proportions, and yet we must try every possibility in saving the remaining forest on our planet because the opportunity we have today will not be as fertile in a decade if the business-as-usual trajectory continues.

Personally, I would rather not focus too much on what will happen if we continue on the current path of economic growth, rampant consumerism and industrial expansion.

Rather, I choose to focus on giving energy to those systems and living models that will lead us back towards a thriving and sustained human presence in harmony with this beautiful planet.

It's a challenging time to be alive, on a lot of levels, yet it's also an exciting and opportunistic moment to be enrolled in the school of life 101 planetary transformation.

I believe that systems and culture can shift in an instant, tipping points can be reached and the whole game plan changes... if we live our life from this edge, then all we can do is follow our hearts and be open to real and lasting change.

The Community Conservation Forest in the village of Tem'bak


The filming of  the documentary following our 100 days in the jungles of Borneo is officially over but the DeforestAction project is only just getting started.

This week Dr Willie Smits and a couple of fellow Eco-Warriors, Liza Heavener and Chris Gauthier, gave ketnote speaches at one of the largest educational conferences in the world (ITSE).

What DeforestAction brings to the classrooms has become a revolution in education. School students now have the opportunity to be involved in real life conservation projects. This mean we are educating a whole new generation of conscious global citizens who are passionate about creating a better world, for all people and all life on our planet.

Check out below what some of the eductors thought about this radical new concept in education..

Meanwhile.. Back in Borneo....

Our Dayak family playing in the thriving community vegie garden. Perlo, Kimson and Iren.

It's been such an epic journey and I really don't know where to start in summarizing my Borneo experience.

Ben Dessens account of the '100 days in the jungle' sums up the over-all project beautifully in his blog.

After spending 3 months in the heart of West Borneo with the Dayak people, I feel we've all had a small but  potent taste of how the majority of people on our planet actually live. This experience will stay with us for the rest of our life.

Subsistence farming, Community living and Earth-connection...

Cultural Perspectives

Although, from a western perspective, some may say that most Dayak people live in the 'third world' or 'developing' conditions, in reality these people experience a very abundant lifestyle and it's the 'development' and modern industrial expansion that ultimately threatens the health and culture of the Dayak people. As palm oil companies continue to encroach on their ancestral lands, they lose the very eco-system abundance that has sustained them for countless generations.

Who are we to say these people are 'poor' when they have lived in harmony with forest systems that have survived for millions of years, where they source the majority of their food and building supplies from their own land and are surrounded by a supportive and loving family network, regularly sharing meals with up to four generations in the same house.

The sad irony is that the indigenous people of Borneo do become poor when, mostly out of financial desperation or blatant  cheating by the big companies, they loose their land to palm oil companies, one of the main driving forces of 'economic development' in Indonesia. Because they loose sovereignty over their land.

As far as I have witnessed, the Dayak people of Tem'bak live a life of abundance.

I'm not talking about an abundance of iPhones or wide-screen televisions. I'm talking about natural abundance, the abundace that is actually alive and growing and continues to give, season after season.

In my eyes, the Dayak people of Tem'bak live a life that is rich beyond our western comprehension. Especially considering they have said NO to palm oil and have retained rainforest on their ancestral lands, providing abundant clean water and thriving eco-system function . They have fought for their sustainability.

On top of this, they have micro-hydro power so don't pay any electricity bills.

Tem'bak is powered by sustainalbe micro-hydro electricity. This village was the first in Kalimantan to get electricity in the interior. There are now half a dozen micro-hydro systems in the region.

Life in Tem'bak is all about community, there is no stress to get to work on time and the children are masters of play. The kids never fight and playtime generally consists of swimming in the rivers, building little cubby houses or playing soccer with each other. There is a massive emphasis on sharing and therefore squabbles over who owns what just doesn't happen.

I know it sounds like I am romanticizing the living conditions of the Dayak people, and of course, to a degree, I am.

Three months isn't long enough to truly understand the complexities of Dayak society and the inevitable inner struggles that all people on our planet experience. Of course they want to develop and want to give their children a better education and access to healthcare. Of course some of them long for a 'better life' and have wants and desires.

Perhaps they even romanticize our existence in the west, maybe due to the exposure of mainstream media, the ultimate tool for influencing a population that is geared towards individualistic consumerism

It's difficult to explain to them that, although we have a lot more abundance in the material and technological realms, we simply do not have the same sense of community that is the foundation of Dayak village life. The Western world is materially rich but in many ways we have lost our sense of community as these people experience it.

How to explain to the Dayak people that it may look like we have it all, but in reality there is more depression, loneliness and isolation in our world then they could ever comprehend. It's a complex topic, I am super grateful for being born in Australia with the opportunity to travel and explore our planet, I just feel our society has lost the plot on many levels and we've sacrificed a lot for comfort and convenience.

It's interesting to look at these issues from altnernative viewpoints.

This kind of sums up my little rant....

The Reforestation Team

The reforestation spent the bulk of our time partnering with a dutch reforestation volunteer, Bram, and assisting a local Dayak man, 'Pak Niat' who has been planting trees for over 4 decades. Some of the 'Tankawan' trees he has planted are massive canopy giants and produce a traditional, healthy alternative to palm oil.

Pak Niat preperaing poly-bags for the arrival of 6000 sugar palm seedilngs

Pak Niat sings beautiful traditional 'Iban' songs whilst filling up poly-bags in the nursery and when asked why he is so passionate about reforestation his reply was 'I like to breath the fresh green air'. He has a forestry background and is also working to ensure timber security as well as income from alternative forest products.

After working on numerous nursery's around Tem'bak, we were eventually able to build a community nursery in the village of Tem'bak that will serve to nurse thousands of sugar palm and native plants for future reforestation. 

Reforestation team returning to Tem'bak to see the nursery filled with poly-bags, thanks to the hard work of Bram, Pak Niat and the local people.... success!

Tree planting with the team using 'Sungai' hard-wood cuttings we prepared a month earlier.

One of half a dozen reforestation and ecology workshops I held in the local highschool

The Inner Journey

On a personal level, this was most certaintly the most challenging 3 months of my life and yet the richest and most rewarding.  From the highest highs to the lowest lows.

After just 3 months, I feel like I've been away from Australia for over a year, it's a very strange feeling.

Ultimately I'm learning a great deal about acceptance, attitude, perspective and expectations.

The ultimate challenge was finding the balance between accepting things you can't change (about yourself and the project) and working out what it is that you can and need to change (about yourself AND the project).

It was a big learning curve in what energy not to take on from other people, and what energy and issues needed to reconciled within yourself.

 At times it was an emotional melting pot and my greatest difficulties came directly from not creating enough time to myself, to keep grounded and centered in the turbulence of group dynamics and the ever-changing project conditions.

Tom and I working in neighbouring village helping with their micro-hydro dam wall.
Photo by Deny Sofian.

I learnt a lot about myself, both positive and negative, and came out the other end feeling a strange and unexpected sense of calm and clarity with this crazy journey, despite having been deep in the woods of uncertainty, doubt and fear.

The antidote to the confusing times was a healthy dose of self-love and acceptance, which I am learning that no one else can give you as powerful a dose as yourself.

I found it interesting how we often seek from others what we actually need to first give to ourselves, such as forgiveness and compassion.

Sometimes we have to really experience the darkness to appreciate and know the light...

Reflections on the Lakes in Danau Sentarum National Park

 Towards the end of the project we traveled up to a remote national park close the border with Malaysia, for a much needed time of reflection and envisioning.

This place is incrediby beautiful, and teaming with biodiversity. They still have wild orangutans in the forest near the Iban longhouse that we visited, and over 80% of the fish in West Borneo originate in these pristine lakes. It was a reminder of why we are doing the work we do, and that there still exists huge swathes of pristine ecological communities that are protected.

The Eco-Warriors; my friends from around the world

We spent a week up in the Lakes doing a lot of project visioning and some guided meditation with various elders from our budding little community.

This was a time of integration. A time to reflect, make sense of the journey and let go of all the expectations, projections and pre-conceptions that many of us were perhaps still holding onto.

It was incredibly healing for the group as a whole and for myself personally I was able to release a lot of 'stuff' and reconnect with my higher self, my vision and my purpose. After watching the stars from a longboat on a massive lake in interior Borneo, everything suddenly makes perfect sense once again. 

Expanded Perspective = Clarity

We finished the 100 days in Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan, with a photographic exhibition showcasing our experience in Borneo, followed by a rather splendid night of drumming and reggae music.

 The next day everyone, except Tom and myself, travelled to Singapore to take part in a campaign focused on conscious consumerism. (for Visa reasons we stayed in Indonesia).

Fabrice, Kodi and myself on a photo shoot in Singapore. planting the seeds of 'conscious consumerism'

After saying some emotional goodbyes to the team back in Borneo, myself and Tom Smith travelled to Bali where I had the great blessing of connecting with my parents (whom I love beyond any possible description).

I was also able to catch up with a really good friend I had not seen in a very long time and had many a nights of reminiscing on the times of old. Bali was super fun and it was an interesting experience seeing so many Australians in one place again. Tom and myself ripped up the dancefloor on multiple occasions


I'm now based in the student capital of Indoneisa, Yogjakarta, in central Java. It's a hub for students, artists, musicians and social change activists.

This place is quite simply, amazing.

Sure, it's a big smelly city with motor bikes and people everywhere. But there is a sense of calm amongst the chaos.

Junowan - from the moluccas islands in east indonesia

I am experiencing continous waves of positivey from the Indonesian people and the few travelers that make it to Jogja are consistently awesome human beings. We've made friends with people from every major island in Indonesia; from Sumatra and Borneo to Sulewesi, Timor to the Moluccas. People come from all over Indonesia and the world to study in Jogja and this creates a very open, tolerant and creative community.

My Australian friend, Tony Allison, who was the project manager for the film about DeforestAction, has also traveled here to explore the thriving music and arts culture, and pick up a bit of Bahasa Indonesian.

We are staying in an arts and cultural center close to the saltans palace. On our first night out on the town the streets were alive with festivities, smiley happy people everywhere... I'm thinking it must be some celebration or festival?, but discovered that this happens every night of the year in Jogja.

 I really love Indonesian people. They are super friendly and down-to-earth. I speak only a basic survival level of Bahasa Indonesian, but still the universal language of smiles and laughter is shared abundantly by all. This place is really growing on me and I can see the relationship with Indonesian becoming long-term.

I am currently exploring the possibility of finding a volunteer position for 6-12months next year so I can continue deepening the connection with these lands and its people, working on forest restoration and conservation.

Myself, Tony, Tom (and his girlfriend Nina) will return to West Kalimantan in 2 weeks to continue working on ground projects and exploring new opportunities for future long-term volunteer engagement. I will  spend another month on the ground, partnering with local NGO's, before returning to Australia in August.