March 24, 2017 Seamus Pettigrew

The Kalimantan Project

Hey FriendsI just returned from a three week trip to Central Kalimantan teaching swimming and water safety to a small Muslim riverside community.  It was our first project where we would be teaching exclusively Muslim children.  America Is at a crossroads right now, and there is a lot of fear and finger pointing.  I have never traveled in a safer place, and I am here to tell you now that islamophobia is wrong. Three weeks ago if you asked me to describe to you what I imagine Kalimantan was like, I would have likely described a place with impossibly dense rainforest and ethnic people that are most well-known for the practice of removing and shrinking their enemies heads by sword. Research about the place yielded us very little information about what to expect upon arrival.  So we showed up to this foreign land with no idea about the challenges and surprises that would confront us.The Swimdo project was taking place in the village of Katimpun, but the team lived nearby in the city of Palangkaraya.  This is by far the nicest city that I have ever visited in Indonesia.  Prior to 1960 Palankaraya was a tiny river side village.  A boom in the palm oil industry turned this largely uninhabited region into a huge sprawling city within just a few years.  Aspirations fell greatly short for Palangkaraya and what was left behind was a small population with a huge infrastructure.  Everywhere you look are public parks, empty save for a few college students.  At night when you’re out for food you can walk right down the middle of the street and rarely have to move for a car or motor bike.  It was an incredibly refreshing feeling.  Bali is an unbelievably dense urban sprawl where you seemingly never have privacy or space.  Here you have all the space in the world even in the heart of the city.  When big business failed and left here, young opportunists came in.  This led to Palangkaraya having a hipster renaissance.  Everyone is young, there are tons of hip cafes and skateboarders ride the streets in hoards.  At times I had to remind myself I wasn’t in Brooklyn.The first day we arrived in Katimpun the whole team was a bit intimidated.  The river was chocolate brow, rumored to have crocodiles and the board walks were made for people 50 pounds lighter than me.  We were greeted by the most enthusiastic group of kids that we have seen yet.  Growing up in a river side fishing village in Kalimantan most children suffer from chronic boredom.  School hours are very inconsistent and students often show up to school to find that classrooms are locked and teachers are at home.  The villages are over the river, so there is no safe place for children to play and socialize and since these kids have no other options, many of them turn to drugs. Katimpun village is lucky to have an amazing non-profit organization called Ransel Buku, that is giving these children a real education and providing a safe place to grow and be a kid.  Our partnership with Ransel Buku made the transition to Kalimantan easy and seamless.  In Bali it took us months to gain the trust of locals to get enough students to fill our programs.  Here we were day one walking down the board walk with 60 kids chasing us screaming so excited to put their name on our Swimdo sign-up sheet.  We crossed our fingers and waded slowly and cautiously into the water.  Occasionally we stepped on an old abandoned fish trap.  Sometimes something would wriggle out underneath our footstep.  The kids ran in full speed and despite the sewage, rusty nails, dead fish, and everything else that made me immense discomfort, class was on!Every time I think or write or look at photos from this trip I get overwhelmed with emotions.  The things that I saw, the people I met and the activities that I participated in made this the most incredible trip of my life.  I am happy that I got to experience wild and beautiful Kalimantan.  I am also overwhelmed with sadness that if people continue to buy products and support unsustainable industries, that my children will see none of this beauty.  It is all too easy to not think about how your shopping habits at home can affect the lives of those living half way around the world.  The palm oil industry is the absolute worst.  The number of orangutans that have died horrific deaths in jungle clearing fires is staggering.  In 2015 Kalimantan lost half of its rain forests.  Vote with your dollar and be informed.  American companies will try to trick you into thinking their products don’t use palm oil and murder orangutans.  Brands you probably use, Old Spice, Burts bees, Nivea and just about every fast food restaurant all profit off the destruction of the rain forest.  Kalimantan is an incredible place with such friendly welcoming people.  We are on our own now no one will take care of our world except for us as individuals.  Vote with your dollar.  Protect Kalimantan.