GreenPrints: Belai, Indonesian Environmental Activist

We had the opportunity to interview Laetania Belai Djandam, a 19-year-old Indonesian Environmental Activist. She volunteered at Alam Sehat Lestari at the beginning of this year.

Read on to learn more about Belai and her journey!

Tell us a bit about your story.

My name is Laetania Belai Djandam, and I am 19 years old. I am a Health and Human Sciences student at the University of Sheffield in the UK and an Indonesian youth environmental activist.

I was lucky to be raised in a family that values the integrity of nature and is environmentally conscious and active. Because of this, I have been exposed to and involved in climate action from quite a young age. Growing up in that space has inspired me to do as much as I can for the Earth and its people.

Descending from the Dayak people of Borneo, I am also passionate in supporting the development of local and customary communities in Kalimantan, Indonesia. I am especially interested in helping to build their adaptive capacity in facing both health and environmental crises.

How did you first get interested in environmental causes?

My parents have always been involved in working with communities in Indonesia and their environment, so I grew up with an understanding that these are two important things to protect and support.

I was only seven years old when I first volunteered in a community project to clean the Cliliwung River in Bogor with a respected climate activist, Hapsoro. Nine years old when I felt proud to go on a field trip with my classmates and teacher to visit my mom’s office and learn about her work in forestry. Twelve when I was one of the chosen students in my elementary school to feature in a television series about recycling waste.

My interest in environmental causes sparked from a very young age, but I relied more on taking opportunities that came my way, rather than creating them myself.

I consider myself lucky for being able to share my parents’ on the ground experience with climate action.

While visiting their project sites in many rural areas in Indonesia showed me how rich our environment and biodiversity is, it also taught me of what is at stake if we do not act upon the climate crisis: the people.

This realization is what shifted me from waiting for an opportunity into creating one now.

Why is taking care of the planet important to you?

To put it simply: Protecting the planet means protecting the people.

I believe everybody deserves to live a healthy, happy life. As a health student, I want to give people the opportunity to make healthy choices and have healthy lives. And as a young environmentalist, I want to ensure that people have equal access to a clean and sustainable home.

As a Planetary Health learner, I understand that it should not be a choice between the two.

There is an underlying connection between human and environmental health, where if one is not healthy then neither can be. We need to be illuminating these connections between health and the environment because the solution lies in the heart of where the two meet.

This is evident in the work that Health In Harmony and Alam Sehat Lestari is doing because it shows that solutions don’t always come in the same box as the issue.

We can solve deforestation through the health of the people, and we can protect the environment people live in to ensure that people will be able to live a healthy and happy life.

Where do you see and feel the interconnection of people and the planet?

When I started to learn more about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) created by the UN, I began to see this web of interconnections between current world issues, areas of learning, and between people and the planet.

We need to more forward from this understanding that the climate crisis is only an environmental issue because, beyond that, it is also a social issue. There are many examples of how we can draw a line between critical global issues such as poverty, food insecurity, and even the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with the environmental crisis. However, the one thing that stands out to me is simply the fact that we all depend on the environment.

In 2018, I had the opportunity to meet the Dayak Iban people of Sungai Utik. They are a customary community living in Sungai Utik, Putussibau, West Kalimantan. The Sungai Utik people are special, and it’s because their culture is still very much alive. They still live in a traditional longhouse and are surrounded by 10,000 hectares of customary forest. The people have lived by the rule of protecting the forest and living in Dayak Iban culture for more than 100 years.

Under the guidance of Apay Janggut, the strong leader and forest guardian of the Sungai Utik, the community have been protecting their customary forest from illegal logging, palm oil, corporate interests, and managing it sustainably for generations.

They live by the phrase,

“The forest is our father, the land is our mother, and the water is our blood.”

There was so much power and truth in their ethos that it changed the way I saw the environment. Can you imagine how much value they see in the environment that they would call it their father, mother, and blood?

Meeting this community taught me that they are a group of people whose survival depends on the integrity of the nature surrounding them. They need their forests to stay healthy and alive in order to continue the way they live, and so that their culture. Their relationship with nature is so close that they acknowledge they are nothing without it.

While the Sungai Utik people live in a way that directly relies on the ecological integrity of their surroundings, their ethos and way of life that respects and revolves around the environment made me realize that, at its core, we all share the same reliance on nature.

We are all dependent on nature. No matter who we are, where we stand, what we do, or how we live – we all need the Earth to survive.

Though our experiences and circumstances shape the way that dependency looks and differs for everyone, it is inevitable that if the climate crisis continues to worsen, we will all be impacted.

I think this is a simple yet important relationship to realize because it can bring about change by uniting people through the simple truth that we are all humans that depend on the Earth. It is our home, and it is everyone’s responsibility to protect and fight for it.

Anything else you wish to add?

The climate crisis is not an easy problem to solve. It’s interdisciplinary, international, and intergenerational impact makes it a complex issue with no single correct solution. Mitigating and adapting to this crisis is a responsibility that everyone needs to realize and understand.

2019 was a powerful year for climate action that successfully spread the awareness of the climate crisis globally. However, I think that at the end of the day, many of us are able to forget about the changing climate because we have the privilege of doing so.

But what about others who don’t even have a choice? Those who have to wake up every day fighting for their survival against these extended droughts, worsening heatwaves, and extreme weather events. What about those who, in the midst of facing the COVID-19 pandemic, have to find a way to also survive forest fires or earthquakes?

I think in the midst of everything going on in the world right now, it’s important that we recognize and confront our privilege and understand how we can use that to benefit others.

We need to use our resources to support those who are struggling to survive. Use our abilities to help those who are in need. Use our voice to amplify those who are not heard.

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