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Raw Angel

Maxine Siemering

2013 was when I stepped foot into North Sumatra, as a member of the very first group of E4O fundraising tours, I still smile at the thought of the swarming traffic, clusters of vehicles going in all directions and the friendly group that greeted me at the airport, Ika’s big smile was a warm welcome, that smile was a daily greeting, an adventure that empowered me had begun.

What an adventure of fun, education, and experiences it was, listening to passionate people share their knowledge, ideals, understanding and experiences of this enthralling and confronting country, listening and learning from our incredible guides about their lives, an understanding of this country started to take affect.

Now, over 18 months later, during times of stress and frustration, I often reflect back on that experience and visualise the beauty of the rainforests, the quiet, tubing down rivers, soaking in the tranquillity of the raw beauty, that first moment of seeing an orang-utan in the rainforest took my breath away, observing gibbons, bathing elephants and experiencing their strength and agility climbing into the rainforest on narrow paths and steep inclines, the majestic sounds and silence of the rainforest and out of seemingly nowhere  observe another amazing creature then just as rapidly it disappears back to the camouflage of its rainforest home.

Listening and learning all while having fun, this is how we teach children, it works!!!!

Notably from that time, I reflect daily on how I can inform, educate and develop a level of respect, responsibility, awareness and care in others of the sad, dangerous fight for survival Indonesia’s rainforests, orang-utans and so many other beautiful species face at this very moment, and what I can do to help. This drives me each day, especially days of feeling complete & absolute frustration on observing peoples choices in shopping trolleys, reading more horrid news of rainforest disappearing and yet more injured orang-utans being rescued.

To be honest I never thought I would go to Indonesia, I always thought anger would consume me and I would be locked away or deported as a mad woman, instead a change occurred, I returned with greater direction & purpose.

I discovered an incredible company and organisation made up of inspiring people and encountered others that share my values, ideals, who without knowing, helped restructure my philosophy and create a belief in what I could do for change.

Sumatran Orang-utan Conservation Program, Earth 4 Orang-utans, Raw Wildlife Eco Adventures and the people I had the pleasure of spending time with.

For many years, too many to count, I have been aware of the horrific affects deforestation for palm oil and illegal logging has and is having on entire eco systems, and of the environmental disaster happening in Indonesia, so many species on the brink of extinction due to deforestation.

Donating, adopting and raising the issue of deforestation, orang-utans, elephants to anyone who listened were all I thought possible for me, to help, “save the orang-utan”.

What changed that I ended up in Indonesia?  A place I cannot wait to return to, especially Tangkahan.

My sister confronted and challenged me to go, enhance your knowledge, and see for yourself learn more about Indonesia. Perhaps find a group where I could volunteer for weeks or months, I have 3 dogs!!!! that could not happen. This chat, sent the wheel of reflection in motion and a search of how, when, and where.

Raw Wildlife Eco Tours was my choice after a Google search. Reading Jess McKelson's story of what inspired her to start a tour company and dedicating her life for change got to admire that. A company creating employment for local people, engaging local communities all appealed to my values. I noted a special tour, Earth 4 Orang-utans Fundraising Adventure, build an island haven by purchasing rainforest to release orang-utans, educate, and employ locals, it all connected and I booked.

Part of the tour was a visit and tour of SOCP – here I observed Ian Singleton with Leuser, I crept as close as allowable, observed this beautiful, enormous orang-utan, that moment solidified my desire to do more than donations, donations are incredibly important, it is a need within me to do more. Be a voice, be an advocate for what I believe. Listening to Ian and observing this facility was confronting & inspiring, amazing work, amazing people.

Have “we” saved the orang-utans yet, are their trees safe?

I do not want to be part of the generation that is responsible for the extinction and eradication of the world natural environments, home to so many other species. And to answer a child when asked how it all disappeared or why didn’t anyone do something, I have already experienced the gut wrenching feeling of a child taking my hand and asking, “have “we” saved the orang-utans yet, are their trees safe”?  I want to help because we are responsible for their plight; we have the power to change.  We are responsible to protect and preserve, it is their right to exist. It frustrates me that we have discovered little about our natural world, our shared planet, yet we are decimating it at a rapid rate.

Face book opened a new realm of information, I became aware of the extensive list of names palm oil is labelled under, I will always be grateful to the people who encouraged me to join for this reason, and still I discover more today and read the half truths from the companies that profit from the use of palm oil.

The more I discovered and discussed with others the devastating affects deforestation for palm oil is having on so many species and namely the orang-utans, the more aware I became of how little people know and still know today. Sadly, the words of one friend, during a chat,  “I am going to Borneo to see the orang-utans before they all disappear”. (My thoughts on that statement, will remain mine!!!), there appears to be an acceptance or apathy towards the extinction of species, in this case Orang-utans.

I work within the Early Childhood Education and Care profession and we teach how actions or inactions have consequences, something that much of society appears not to apply to themselves. We appear blind to how our daily lifestyle choices have an incredible impact on the natural world and all its inhabitants, unseen, unknown consequences of our lifestyle choices, education is at the core, we educate to ask questions and gain knowledge, not to readily accept what we are told.

I have been “told” many times “it does not contain palm oil”, oh how easy life would be if I accepted this, only to discover yes it does.!!!!!.

I am privileged to be working with and for children, young children, it’s an environment where daily I am challenged and learn something further about myself. We forget how much information children consume and when you think they are not listening they are; I have been astounded at our preschooler’s response and care towards orang-utans & palm oil. We are co learning with the children what we can do for change.

Why is that one in jail?

It started on my return from North Sumatra, a group of Preschool children requested I tell them about where I had been, why I had not been at Gum Nut. I shared photos; spoke about what I saw, the fun I had and how I want to help. They noted the differences in photos, “why is that one in jail?”  the difference of the mother orangutan and baby in the rainforest. A new educational curriculum was implemented; it has grown, now embraced and embedded in our service.

The centre philosophy has always been for children to learn about and engage in natural environments to discover, play, respect and have fun whilst developing their natural curiosity. In 2013 this was extended to learn about orang-utans, tigers, elephants and deforestation in an honest, positive curriculum.

Since that time, we were already removing many items that contained palm oil from use within the centre, and limiting the use of chemicals as part of our sustainable program, now we are, to the best of our knowledge a palm oil free centre.

Our children remind parents of good oil and bad oil, I am reliably informed also help with shopping telling parents what they cannot buy. Many of our families are trying to eliminate palm oil from their shopping trolleys; I hear many stories of shared frustration.

Last year a group of preschoolers wrote and performed a play based on deforestation, orangutans and all the wild animals, it was a wonderful mix they put together, giraffes, elephants, tigers a cultural diversity of animals. Watching the children’s performance I realised they had become more aware than our curriculum was teaching, “coaching”!!, poaching of baby orangutans had a major scene, where did they learn this?, from a child watching documentaries with family. That group is now sharing with new school friends and teachers.

Our centre now engages with local schools and preschools we share our conservation program and invite them to join us in fundraising events, community of support is being developed they advertise our events with their families.  Very recently we learnt another preschool with a connection to one of our families, is implementing similar practice of creating awareness on the plight of orangutans: that just brings a smile.

What more can we do, lunchtime chats and meetings in 2013 turned into a fundraising committee, where many events have been organised to raise funds for Earth 4 Orangutans. Two “Walk 4 Orangutans”, Art auctions, Raffles, Photos, Carols in the park to name a few and recently an “In Your Hands” Family Fun Day.

I am very fortunate to work with an amazing team, who support, readily give of their time, to organise events and want to do more, none of our educational and fundraising achievements would be possible without them.

Our families are unbelievably supportive and involved, our centre parent group has been actively involved, and embraced our teaching about the natural world, raising awareness, care and respect, Ex Gum Nut families attend in support of our events. One child emptied his piggy bank, money he was saving to purchase footy cards, it went to the orang-utans.

The greatest gift is the gift of giving and care.

In the seventies the chant was “Save the Whales”, this required a worldwide campaign, Today “Save the Orang-utan” and sadly so many other species, it is a fight against deforestation, greed and global warming. I want for our children to live and grow in a healthy world full of its natural beauty, as I want our children of the rainforest to grow and live without fear or threat of extinction.

“A better world for children and better children for the world.”

With organisations like SOCP, E4O, Raw & TOP there is hope, people like Ian Singleton & Jess McKelson and all they do, there is hope. Our children became very excited recently when Ian, Jess and Melbourne Zoo reps visited our service, that visit will have long lasting effects. One child commented, “I hope Ian ate, he needs to be strong to help the orangutans”. It had an enormous impact on our families, many believe they have future lil’ conservationists on their hands. It’s in Your Hands.

The ripple grows, a supplier (we previously purchased soap and cleaning products from and still use for office supplies) is in the final stages of developing detergents, soaps, cleaning products that are environmentally friendly with no palm oil. How cool is that? Be a voice you never know who is listening and wanting to hear what you have to say.

Forever indebted to that amazing week in North Sumatra and the wonderful people I encountered, it has created so much change.

I will return, I would love to take many of the Gum Nutters, big and small with me.

Thank you Jess, Ian and your amazing teams.

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