ASRI Kids 2013 Meet Primatology Legend Dr. Birute Galdikas

Guest blog by Ana Sofia Wang

Just a month ago, a project that started as a small idea experienced its second year of success when a group of 17 students traveled all the way from their remote villages to surrounding the Gunung Palung National Park to Tanjung Puting National Park. The students were chosen from 4 schools to take their first trip away from home and first ever plane flight to experience firsthand the beauty of protected rain forest. One of the most amazing things the kids learn on the trip is that people from all over the world want to come and see where organgutans live. This realization gives them a sense of pride in where they come from and in their rain forest. Watching these discoveries and being involved in those small magical moments was, for me, the most valuable thing in the world. For my sister and I, coming back to work with ASRI Kids’ amazing teacher and coordinator Etty, has been monumental. These past two years visiting the classrooms, meeting the kids, going on the field trips, I have realized it is not only us who are teaching the kids, but the kids have a lot to teach us too. Their eagerness to learn and constant curiosity gives me hope for their future.

ASRI Kids about to board their first plane

ASRI Kids about to board their first plane

Since two of the villages were too far away for the kids to arrive early in the morning, we had some of the kids come a day early and spend the night in ASRI housing. I was fortunate enough to accompany the driver and Dewi, one of the former ASRI Kids to go pick them up. When we arrived at the school I was shocked to see so many people and wondered if there was a wedding or celebration nearby, but we soon realized that the community had come to see the kids off on their trip. Grandmothers, grandfathers, young kids, cousins, and neighbors; everyone was there. The   kids leaving: Yuni, Prasini, and Tata, were looking somewhat overwhelmed with the whole town wishing them a great trip. After saying goodbye to their families, the kids got in the car, and, as we waved goodbye out the window, the grandmothers were all standing together smiling, crying and waving. When we had planned ASRI Kids, we expected worry or even a little bit of resistance from the parents and families but were happily surprised by their reactions. When Etty met the parents of the chosen students for the first time, Agulia’s father said that he was “thankful for the trip because it was teaching their children valuable lessons that they should learn at a young age in order to create good habits.”

The night before the trip none of the kids slept; they said they were so excited they took a shower at three in the morning. Even at seven, when we had arrived at the airport, they were all still asking questions and laughing. When we got out of the busses, we were shocked to see the family of one of the boys who lived farthest away. They had come all the way from their hometown almost five hours by motorcycle in the rain, because they were so proud of their son and wanted to see him off. None of the kids had ever been in an airport or walked through security, so we explained to them about the metal detector and screening the luggage. When we were finished, one little girl walked over to me and, looking very concerned, asked me if they would take away her candy bar that she brought as a snack. After every kid had gone through, they would stand and watch the luggage go by behind the security guard’s monitor.

After the short plane ride, we drove for about thirty minutes to the boat dock. As we got ready to get on the boats one of our guides motioned us over to a woman who wanted to talk to us. We were surprised and somewhat confused, but we were even more shocked when she introduced herself as Dr. Birute Galdikas. Dr. Galdikas founded Tanjung Puting National Park and was one of three of Louis Leakey’s students alongside Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. We explained to Dr. Galdikas who we were and what we were doing, and she was kind enough to speak to the kids about her work. The kids were fascinated to hear about the rehabilitation site and how locals climb up trees and build nests to teach the orangutans how to live in the wild. On the second day of our trip a speedboat caught up to our boat with a package for ASRI Kids containing the printed newsletter for all of the students and a note from Dr. Galidkas.

Etty Rahmawati, ASRI Kids Program Manager, with some of her excited students

Etty Rahmawati, ASRI Kids Program Manager, with some of her excited students

At the first orangutan viewing sight, the kids crowded in the front, and we had to ask them to be quiet, because they were so excited and would shout at their friend (who was often next to them) that they were watching an orangutan.

orangutan2Over the course of the week, not only did they see orangutans, but our three amazing guides pointed out gibbons, various insects, proboscis monkeys, and pitcher plants. One of the activities on the boats was to have the kids print pictures for their notebooks. We brought a small portable printer and had the kids choose photos directly from my camera that they wanted to show their families. One of the quietest boys watched while I loaded the ink cartridge and added paper to the printer. I asked him if he wanted to help me print, and soon Aripin was in charge of the printer.

At the last station, Camp Leakey, the kids were fortunate enough to see Tom, the largest dominant male orangutan. We also stopped in the small museum where the kids were fascinated by the family tree with all the orangutans at Tanjung Puting. Every day, when we would get back on the boat after visiting a viewing site, the kids would take out their journals and, without being asked to, would write pages about what they had seen. Seeing the kids enthusiasm and dedication to writing things down to share with their families reminds me why ASRI Kids is so important. These kids are the future generation, they can and will make a difference, and, just like Agulia’s father said, with a little bit of exposure when they are young I believe they can save the rainforest. Every day on the news here at home, I hear devastating stories about palm oil and logging and begin to lose hope, but when I see these kids with their determination to share what they learn and their love of learning, that hope is regained.


About Ana Sofia Wang

Ana Sofia is currently a university student and volunteered with ASRI Kids for several summers while in high school. She and her sister founded the ASRI Kids program and helped make the program a reality in 2012.


About Trina Noonan | View all posts by Trina Noonan

Trina is the Managing Director at Health In Harmony, based in Portland, OR.