One of the most critical elements in developing lasting conservation is community involvement. We can’t strive to save orangutans and the forests of Borneo without the participation and committment of local people. Most of the OFI staff are residents of the village of Pasir Panjang, where the Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine (OCCQ) is situated. Pasir Panjang is a Dayak village, whose residents are people native to the island of Borneo. OFI is proud to employ local native families, and there is a proud tradition in these families of serving as the core staff of OFI. In fact, there is barely an indigenous family in Pasir Panjang that does not have at least one family member who works or has worked for OFI!
Because it is a small community, all the native people in Pasir Panjang seem to be related in some way. However, it can often be quite confusing to work out even the most obvious family relations. Volunteers who stay for many months will find themselves consistently surprised at the seemingly never-ending reveals of sibling connections, marital ties, and other links along the OFI family tree! Yet one network that stands out is a local family that has three generations currently working for OFI. In a way, this family beautifully represents the past, present, and future of OFI, highlighting just how interwoven this organization is into the fabric of Pasir Panjang.
Ibu Rais, Ibu Lupi, and Pak Kris are three family members who represent three generations of dedication to OFI and the orangutans. This family’s employment history signifies an inter-generational network of community development, so crucial in the continuance of OFI’s work with orangutans and forests. There is something special in a multi-generational household working together for the same cause.
At OFI, every staff member is an integral part of our work. No matter how small the task, every person makes daily contributions that keep our operations running. From the cleaning staff, the daily release staff, the caregivers, the staff who feed the orangutans, the medical staff, and management, everyone is working towards helping OFI make a difference. This family, in particular, has dedicated themselves to raising and protecting orphaned orangutans and the rainforest through their work with OFI.
Ibu Rais, matriach of the family, is mother to Ibu Lupi and grandmother to Pak Kris. Ibu Rais has worked for OFI for many years and is proud to see her children and grandchildren now working for OFI as well. Rais is an energetic cheerful woman, always waving and smiling. Many of the former construction volunteers need no introduction to Ibu Rais as she is often the cook for the construction teams. All of the volunteers return from their field sites with stories of her delicious food and witty humor. When not assisting with the volunteer construction teams, Ibu Rais is one of the cooks at the OCCQ and assists with feeding the juvenile orangutans at a facility called Pondok Medang. Ibu Rais also loves to visit the infant orangutans on occasion and reminisces about the days when she used to work with the infants. The joy she has for the infants is plain to see on Ibu Rais’ face as she interacts with them. Humans and orangutans alike love Ibu Rais’ easy, joyful demeanor.
Ibu Rais lights up when she shares her stories about working with orangutans. She talks of the orangutans who are taken to the forest for their daily playtime and decide to return back to the Care Center facilities early. Ibu Rais will be cooking over the fire and turn to find an orangutan sitting in the kitchen observing her preparing a meal. She says, she always gets startled to see an orangutan just sitting and watching her, but is glad that he/she is not tearing the kitchen apart!
Ibu Rais’ daughter, Ibu Lupi, is another shining light at the Care Center. Each morning when you arrive at the OCCQ, Ibu Lupi is always already there, ready to greet you with a big smile. Ibu Lupi started working for OFI in the late 1990s when she was a young woman. Like most working women in the village, she took periods of leave to have her children. Currently, Ibu Lupi is a member of the cleaning service and also assists with food inventory. Yet many years ago, Ibu Lupi worked with the infant and juvenile orangutans. She remembers those days fondly. Geoffrey, an orangutan whom she remembers as being naughty and playful, returned to the wild many years ago and Ibu Lupi remembers how happy she felt on the day that Geoffery was able to be free once more to swing unhindered through the trees. Though she misses caring for OFI’s youngest orangutans, Ibu Lupi enjoys her current job on the cleaning service where she gets to interact with many other members of OFI’s operations.
Ibu Lupi’s eldest son, Pak Kris, is the youngest member of his family to work for OFI. He started his tenure just after he finished high school and at twenty-two years old, he is one of the youngest staff members employed by OFI. Kris is part of the small team of three who work with OFI’s Malayan Sun Bears. Many of the staff are scared of the bears and it can sometimes be challenging to find people who are willing to work with them. But Kris scoffs at this notion. He can’t see how anyone could be scared of the bears. When a new sun bear cub arrived at the OCCQ after being confiscated last year, Kris became this cub’s surrogate mother. The love and affection he showed for the cub melted everyone’s heart. It is clear that Kris truly cares about all animals, great and small. If there is ever a need for someone to help with the orangutan daily releases, he is the first to offer his services. Kris doesn’t help release the infant orangutans, but instead joins in releasing the older juveniles, some of whom are really big and strong for their age. Kris isn’t scared though, and just simply loves being in the forest as much as he can with either sun bears or orangutans.
Kris and his peers are the future of OFI. Like most of the staff, he is Dayak and very connected to his village and the forest. He has a thirst for knowledge and desire to learn as much as he can about all aspects of OFI’s work. Often you find Kris helping with a delivery of fruit, going to collect branches from the forest for the orangutans to make a night nest, or even offering to make cups of tea for other staff members in the kitchen. Kris is so eager to learn that he has recently began to take driving lessons from Pak Hendri, who delivers some of OFI’s fruit each day. For Kris, this is an opportunity to not only learn a new skill, but also to be more useful to OFI and the orangutans.
It is not often that you see the family’s three generations all together in the same place, as each member of this local family works in different areas of the OCCQ. Yet they always seem to know where each other family member is. This is a family who genuinely love their jobs and the work they do for orangutans and OFI. This family has collectively contributed towards orangutan protection and rehabilitation in the past and present. Moving forward, they will continue to do so in the future with the youngest generation eager to learn and take on more responsibility. One gets the impression that this family truly loves orangutans and sun bears and is utterly devoted to the survival and well-being of these animals.