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For the one year anniversary of the Forest Guardian program, Hotlin Ompusunggu, DDS, co-founder of ASRI, talks about its inception. Based on the core values and philosophy of HIH and ASRI – that community be at the center, involved in and own the solutions of change – Forest Guardians have inspired a 45% increase in villages that have totally stopped logging. Livelihoods and the fate of the Gunung Palung National Park, home to 2500 orangutans, are at stake. You can help by supporting a Forest Guardian for only $50 per month!
How did you get the idea to start the Forest Guardians Program?
“From the beginning, we placed a high value on receiving the community’s input. If they start getting the idea, it belongs to them and they make it happen. We always believe in the people’s aspiration. They are the ones that live by the forest and they are the ones that know how to find solutions for themselves.
When we started the clinic we asked how we could promote the partnership of the community and link with the ASRI program. In August of 2010, we had a big meeting and invited people from many villages including the leader of each community. We discussed why there is still illegal logging going on and what is the solution. The villagers wanted to be more involved in the red/green incentive system (that is based on whether a village is illegally logging).
They said, ‘we know better what happens in the forest next to us,’ and asked ASRI to involve the community in monitoring the park. What we didn’t want to do was blame or name people but find solutions. I think this is also a learning process for the community and ASRI so we work all these things up together.”
What is one of your favorite Forest Guardian stories?
“About a month after the program started, one of the Forest Guardians invited all the loggers in his village to come. It was known as a village with a lot of illegal logging. He called us and said, ‘I only convinced them to come for the meeting, you should come.'” Hotlin said that upon arrival, there were about thirty loggers. “It was intense in the first ten minutes because we started writing notes and asking names and they were afraid we’d report them to the police, ‘why do you want to know my name’ they asked. So we put everything in our bags: pen, paper, camera, phones. There are a lot of acts of faith and trust in this work. Then we started a good dialogue. Finally, the Forest Guardian stood up and said ‘they’ve just come here to help us, don’t you see, the trees if we keep cutting them they’ll be gone, what else will there be for us then?’ They agreed that it was important to start finding solutions together like doing organic farming better.”
What would you say is the biggest achievement of the Forest Guardian Program?
“Ideas and trust,” Hotlin said. We can spread “more seed in the community and more initiative. We have fourteen farming groups now…and they are forming youth forest guardian clubs because they know we must involve the children in change.”
How would you sum up the first year of the Forest Guardian Program?
“We planted seeds in the community four or five years ago. Today, they know that we are sincere in our motive, we did what we say, and we make happen what we promised would happen so they start now to get more involved. And this is still the beginning. We may not see any big things happen immediately, it sometimes takes 10 years to see the change. We’re half way there.”