A Day in The Life of...Albertus Tjiu
Orangutan researcher and project leader for Kapuas Hulu in WWF-Indonesia in West Kalimantan
For those of you who have heard the touching story about the baby orangutan Baim who was led back into the lush Heart of Borneo he now calls home, this story is about what goes on behind the scenes.
Meet Albertus Tjiu.
Albertus, aged 39, is a man who has been dedicated to Orang-utan conservation since he joined WWF in 1996. After 15 years, his passion as an environmental activist continues.
When Albertus first joined WWF, he was based in the field in Kapuas Hulu, a place around 700km from Pontianak, the capital city of West Kalimantan. He lived deep in the forest while helping a botanist and ecologist from LIPI (The Indonesian Institute of Sciences) to collect data from within Betung Kerihun National Park.
According to Albertus, it was during his three years there that he fully grasped the importance of conservation as he was exposed to intact and dense forests and the incredible array of wildlife secure in their thriving habitat. He also got to know more about local communities who practice wise protection of the forest and all the forms of life within it.
Albertus admits that in the beginning, he engaged in environmental activities as a hobby. He loved to spend time in the wild. Other than that, the work fit his academic background, which is in forest management with a focus on botanical science. As time passed, however, he realised that his work had become more than a mere job for him - the most rewarding part of his job was seeing how communities benefited from conservation work.
Despite the bumpy roads and hours of travel on both land and river, Albertus claims the most difficult part of his job is not reaching his destinations, but ensuring the work being done benefits the people. This, he said, is really difficult, especially when dealing with stakeholders with different expectations. Rejection is part of the job, an inherent part of carrying out each task, especially since WWF’s presence is often perceived to limit them.
But, according to Albertus, the benefits outweigh the costs. One recent activity involved assisting a community to set up a microhydro power station in the Lung River area. Having a source of power dramatically improved the lives of community members. Before that, they were dependent on fossil-based fuel which, due to its high costs, was unaffordable for many. By gaining access to power, the Dayak Iban people living in longhouses near the Lung River have been able to do more, which has helped increase their income.
As an example, the women used to weave only during the day. They could not do this everyday, since their main activity is paddy farming. However, since electricity was made available in the evening, the women could continue to work on weaving after returning from the paddy fields, resulting in the creation of more handicrafts to sell. The villagers realized that they needed to protect the forest in the upper stream area which provides a source for the microhydro power. This is a concrete contribution to the conservation effort. The use of fire wood decreased significantly as electricity replaced this traditional energy source for domestic use, such as cooking rice and boiling water.
There was a period when the project had to stop for a while due to a lack of funding. Albertus recalls that this was indeed a challenging time, as commitments to work for WWF were tested. Instead of leaving, he took on a side job in multilevel marketing and achieved fairly good success. This created a dilemma when, in 2002, the second phase of the WWF project was approved. Albertus had to decide whether to choose his business, which would allow him to stay in the city near his family, or continue with WWF and stay hundreds of kilometres away in Putussibau. He chose WWF.
Time passed by. The project Albertus worked on shifted its focus to Orang-utans. In January 2011, Albertus was promoted to a new position as Project Leader in Putussibau. This new position was challenging; it meant a shift from working on technical issues to engaging in meetings and policy work. In this position, he hopes to have a greater chance to influence policy and demonstrate that conservation work is part of civil society’s responsibility.
Albertus speaks strongly of trust. He says that it is one of the essential elements of his work with the community. It is not easy to convince the community without any evidence of success. Knowing this, he worked hard at building trust, providing examples and working on tasks until communities were able to see success themselves and feel the benefits on the palm of their hands.
Working in conservation and getting close to nature is something that Albertus desires. When he does not go to the field for a month, he feels a bit lost. He has a strong belief that the work he does with WWF creates change for the better, and this is what drives him. He is a true WWF fighter.