As you might have noticed on my social media I spent whole February in Sumatra where I was volunteering for Czech NGO Prales detem[Justice for Nature. As a passionate traveller I wanted to escape the cold European winter, explore another part of the world and do something good at the same time. It brought me much more than I aimed for. Even though some of the experience is indescribable let me try to put some of it in writing.
About the NGO Prales dětem/Justice for Nature
The founders and members of the organization are Czech people who have been protecting wild animals and nature for years. There're many programs they set up and one of them is Green life which takes place in Sumatran rainforest, around the Gunung Leuser National Park.
You can certainly find more info about their activities on the official website.
One of the biggest problems over there are poachers who ruthlessly go after the wild animals. That's why the NGO purchases land of the rainforest and builds a reservation, i.e. a protected zone between the NP and human civilization. Setting the land free (by actually declaring it as a private property) is the best way how to fight against the poachers, illegal logging and other unwanted activities.
During the program we had a chance to meet local people who work for the NGO as rangers. These guys do amazing job off road spending a lots of days and nights inside of the jungle, in the tough conditions of the rainforest.
Remember the association doesn't take any grants or contributions from the government thus this is where the money goes when you decide to support it. You cover not only the rangers' salary but also the equipment for monitoring wild animals, education programs of local people, waste bins, garbage transport and much more. It was a great experience to meet these guys. I have to say I felt touched realizing that people from such different surroundings - Czech and Indonesian - teamed up and work on the same goal - protect the primary rainforest. .
Another powerful experience was attending a local English class also handled by the NGO. Education is a big part of their effort. I was impressed by the lesson's structure. Even though the conditions aren't ideal regarding our European standards and the study materials are limited the discussed topic of the day was water pollution, local government regulations and particular solution of the situation. The teacher really did the trick here.
It was pleasing to see that the children came voluntarily from different villages to join the class and refreshing to feel such humbleness. No matter there were other curious children shouting and laughing around and chickens everywhere. Also, I'm not sure who was the one feeling more bashful. Was it me or the kids?
The Jambo fruit harvested from a tree right in front of the class room was a perfect snack.
Such a beaut :)
Some of the children (especially the guys) were so shy they weren't even able to talk to me during the class. They were suppose to make a simple conversation to practice their English but they couldn't for some reason. The teacher promptly asked a guy from our team to join the lesson and hold the conversation with them instead of myself. I was focusing on a group of girls then. They courageously shook my hand when saying good bye in the end. It was so nice to see the little triumph in their eyes.
Except this short visit of the village you spend most of the time literally inside of the jungle (the Green voluntary program lasts about two weeks and the Blue program follows right after - I'll be talking about it in the next post).
There are a few little cabins in the camp for volunteers, no electricity, no wifi..that was one of the reasons why I applied for such a program. I wanted to remind myself how the life without the Net feels like. Turns out I didn't really miss it..how could I when surrounded by this pure nature..?
Enjoying the river as a bathroom was surprisingly a joy for me. I thought I'll be missing hot water for example but it didn't happen. The only thing bothering me were the leeches but you'll get used to it. At the end of the day it's quite fun to compete with the others about who had found more of them. There's probably no way how to avoid these little buddies. Luckily they're harmless.
Good news for vegans
It might seem obvious but let me assure you you'll not be consuming any animal products during your stay. It wouldn't make sense regarding the ecological character of the program. The conditions for preparing food in the jungle are of course limited, you shouldn't expect fancy dining. However it doesn't mean you'll be suffering from hunger.
I was surprised what you can do in such a provisional kitchenette. Also, we were lucky enough to have professional cooks in our group which helped a lot. You could find a marble cake, pancakes, goulash or coconut curry on our table.
The actual activity during the program varies a lot. It depends on the weather, it depends on what's needed each day as the conditions can change in a minute. The best start of the day is to wake up earlier, go for a walk and hope to see wild animals.
You can certainly hear many of them, spotting them isn't that common but fortunately our group had a chance to see orangutans, macaques, hulman monkeys, flying squirrel and countless number of insect. Other activity regarding the animals is their monitoring. That means you move from place to place around the reservation (which is hard enough to be honest) and install the camera equipments to different places plus collect the shot material. We were looking at the footage and saw there were elephants crossing the rainforest or tigers playing and wandering around.
The trails of the rainforest need to be well-kept so the borders with national park are obvious and it's easy (easier) to move around. Be prepared to get dirty, to get scraped, to get wet.
Also, you have to take care about the camp itself. Last but not least there's time for exploring the nature as caves and rivers.
Highlight of my stay
What I wasn't really expecting was trying new skills as arboristics. For installing the photo equipment on the top of the (fruit) trees to have a chance to record the animals you need a professional guy who is able to climb up. Jenda, the professional, was kind enough to let us try.
It was one of the best experience of my life, looking at the wild nature from approximately 40 meters height. To be honest I was surprised I had the energy to scramble up..it was difficult as hell.
I got into slight panic when I realized I'm the one who is in charge of my life and that I'm not sure how to work with the buckle..fortunately I managed and survived..and next day tried again :
How to support
In conclusion, it was a great way how to spend time and invest money. It wasn't easy, as you can imagine walking around the jungle with 15kg on your shoulders can be exhausting. If you're physically fit I would absolutely recommend you to join the program though. The price is low and the payment gets into good hands. Checking how the NGO works from inside as a volunteer, meeting the owners and see locals who get paid from their supporters (us) was what I was aiming for as well.
Let me remind you how to support the NGO and its activities:
Become a volunteer - the payment for the program is used for NGO's activities (besides food, transportation and accommodation during your stay)
Donate - money is everything these days, perhaps it has always been.
Spread the information, organize an event..get in touch.
Have your own camera trail or sponsor cards, batteries, locks,..
Buy your own piece of rainforest - you can buy a meter, an acr or a hectare of rainforest, set it free and make sure no one will be using it inappropriately.
My goal - Set free 1 hectare of the rainforest
When I saw the wild nature with my own eyes I knew this voluntary program will not be the end of my support. I can't stop carrying about it just because it's so far from my homeland, the world isn't that big. Buying the land and set it free is the best way how to protect it in my opinion. Once it's in good hands, the wild animal can spread out and act naturally again. I've seen proof when we were checking the footage from the camera traps. For instance, there're elephants coming back to the area together with another species.
In the year 2019 the reservation Green Life reached 121 ha of redeemed land. It's still not enough though. The price for 1 ha is between CZK 65.000 - 90.000 (EUR 2.400 - 3.300), it depends on particular seller and number of hectares acquiring at the same time. I've decided to encourage people around me and buy 1 hectare of this landscape. That's the least I can do and that's what I promised to the orangutans' family when I was looking at them.
Here are the ways how to contribute:
Send a contribution to my transparent account 2701783211/2010 (IBAN: CZ31 2010 0000 0027 0178 3211, SWIFT/BIC FIOBCZPPXXX)
Buy a poster or a (signed) picture - we have created a few pictures during our stay for those who would like to get something in return. Check them here and email me to arrange it for you.
Share, that's always helpful, social media are our friends :)
You can of course always buy the land by yourself (all details on the official website). You'll get a great looking certificate with your name on it which you can hang on your wall to remind you you're the good Patron. Which is important, let's be proud we are investing into nature, hopefully it will gets us something in return :)
Most of the photos by Jan Bílý (@honzawayc)