Indonesia Expat
Faces of Indonesia History/Culture

Rut Dini: the River Guardian

Rut Dini
Rut Dini
Rut Dini
Rut Dini – photo by David Metcalf

Dini is a passionate defender of the rivers of Borneo, which is not surprising, as her memories of growing up in a small village on the Kahayan River in Central Kalimantan are very happy ones. She remembers with fondness, days out fishing with her father in his small canoe on the pristine rivers with dense forested areas coming down to the riverbank, not far from what is now the bustling city of Palangkaraya.

Dini explained to me, “We often used to see orangutans in the trees and were very wary of them as they were staunch defenders of their territory, but we managed to respect each other and back then there was plenty of pristine forest for the people of my village and the wild primates of the forest to share.”

Dini was born in 1988 in a small village in Muara Teweh district and both her parents are Dayaks; her father is Dayak Ma’anyan and mother is from the Dayak Lamandau tribe. Dini now lives in Palangkaraya but misses those days in the village surrounded by family, community and the daily traditional activities and ways of the Dayak people of the area.

Her parents sacrificed everything to ensure Dini had a good education and her mother instilled in Dini a good attitude to learning. She always had a desire to work on humanitarian and environmental issues but ended up going to university to earn a degree in agriculture science. During this time she taught herself English by learning 70 words a day and interacting with foreigners as much as she could to become competent in the language.

After graduating with her agricultural science degree in 2013, she started working for a local NGO called Yayasan Tambuhak Sinta, concentrating on the issue of mercury pollution in the area of artisanal and small-scale gold mining in Central Kalimantan and West Nusa Tenggara. She is working on providing the alternative technologies and increasing public awareness to eliminate and/or to reduce the usage of mercury as a source of environmental pollution. Mercury is highly polluting and damaging to human health through bioaccumulation in the food chain.

Rut Dini is very passionate about saving the rivers and forests of her homeland. “I can’t believe how quickly the rivers have become polluted and the forests have disappeared in the area in which I grew up. Back then there were no palm oil plantations and the rivers were clean and there were many species of fish. Now the rivers are polluted from the run-off of pesticides and chemical fertilisers from palm oil plantations. Also, mercury poisoning is going to be a big problem in the future. It is so important that young Dayak people become educated and join in the fight to save our forests and rivers or our children will inherit a wasteland. But we cannot do this alone, we need help from the outside and a collaboration of expertise is required. I have learnt there are many alternatives to these destructive methods and I am determined to devote my life to this cause.”

This strong-minded 25-year-old plans to earn a scholarship, travel to Australia and gain a Master of Environment degree to help her in her quest to work with NGOs and local governments to provide viable solutions to the current destructive practises. I have no doubt she will be successful, as this softly spoken young Dayak woman presents a steely determination and will to succeed and the rivers of Central Kalimantan have an ally.

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