22 year old Indonesian student, Rahmi Carolina has spent her entire life living with the haze. Each year, as the fires rage and grow more intense, so does she. So she’s using social media and doing something about it.
Elementary students under a heavy haze in Central Kalimantan province, Borneo Island
When I was young my friends and I would visit our local river, just a short walk from our small town in Pangkalan Kerinci, upstream of Riau’s peatland coast in Sumatra. On days when we needed to cool down from the heat, we would spend hours swimming and getting lost in the shade of the trees, chasing birds and sleeping.
My parents instilled in me the importance of the environment. Growing up, forests fascinated me – how trees nurture and protect us, the beauty of bark, the way in which roots weave like tangled hair knots. But deep down, I’ve always had a foreboding feeling about forest fires. For the past 18 years during the dry season, ever since the palm oil plantations began, the haze has always been lurking.
Rahmi Carolina holding up a sign that says “Fight!!”
Every day all I would hear were complaints – from the media, from my friends, from my family. Even though I’m just one individual I knew I had to do something. But when fires are burning through the forests you can’t chain yourself to a tree.
Instead I’ve taken my voice to the streets, to social media, posted on my blog, and even appeared on TV. In August, myself and three other friends started a petition addressed to Mrs. Siti Nurbaya Bakar, the Minister of Environment and Forestry to demand the right for clean air from the government. At first, getting signatures was slow – initially it was just our friends who signed. But eventually the word spread via Twitter and the momentum started to build. At last count it stood at more than 22,000 supporters!
In late September I received a response from the Minister. She wrote that they are investigating 139 companies, with 26 under criminal investigation. But if this is the case then why has the government not yet named and shamed the companies involved, and why has it taken so long?
The haze, taken from Pekanbaru city in Riau
Recently, President Jokowi said that there would be “no new concessions on peatlands”. Decades of forest and peatland destruction from palm oil and pulp companies have caused today’s fires. Now, it is vital for the government to hold on to that promise and enforce the law.
Over the years, young people in Indonesia have become so accustomed to the haze that we don’t even wear masks. But this year, we’re turning our complaints into action. We’re using social media, we’re posting what we’re seeing and we’re telling the world!
People washing and bathing in the bank of Kapuas River under the haze from forest fires
In Indonesia there is a saying: “Bagai pungguk merindukan bulan.” Like an owl pining for the moon. It means: “to wish for something impossible.” I know that if we restore peatlands and forests and stop the fires, we can turn things around. If we had acted earlier and gotten serious about protecting forests and peatlands, maybe today Riau and other provinces wouldn’t be smothered in smoke. We need time to make things right, but this is not impossible. We will not be silenced. We will keep on fighting.
Rahmi Carolina is a 22 year old Indonesian university student, writer, activist and poet. She is currently studying English Education at the Universitas Islam Riau. She loves nature.
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