by Anny Andaryati
North Mollo’s Mutis Mountain is the source of four major Timorese rivers, with diverse ecosystems like bonsai forests, eucalyptus woodlands and horse-grazed meadows. Ecotourism is supporting the knowledge of Timorese traditions, indigenous spirituality, guardianship of natural resources, Timorese cuisine, and tenun (handwoven textiles).
In 2013, Aleta Baun won the Goldman Environment Prize which recognizes her work protecting the land, water, and livelihood on Mutis Mountain on the island of Timor in Indonesia. She invested the award’s prize money to continue working and creating opportunities to achieve their sustainable long-term goals.
The Samdhana Institute, a South East Asian non-profit organization, has been working and supporting Aleta Baun long before her work was recognized globally. In 2014, Aleta Baun asked Samdhana to manage her award’s prize to invest in second generation leaders—especially for women from the community who are fighting mining and agriculture invasion, leading the cause, and championing sustainable solutions for their community.
The concept of ‘going on holiday’ is not common in this region, so tourism became a new industry for the community. Discussions on how to host visitors, make their products interesting, develop trails, how to serve local cuisine, such as maize porridge and broad beans stew in attractive ways for visitors, i.e. serving it in banana leaves or palm leaf trays happened at all levels.
In 2017, the Mama Aleta Fund (MAF) was launched to support women leaders in Eastern Indonesia working for their community and conservation. Two women were granted support from the MAF in 2017. The first is Maria Sanam of Fatumnasi who leads the Sinar Fenma group, which is working on sustainable farming and weaving. The second is Mery Lim of Bon’leu, a leader of 200 members of agricultural and livestock for food security and child nutrition.
MAF and Samdhana have explored sustainable ecotourism initiatives, such as promoting Mollo as a tourism destination. In collaboration with university students, they’ve explored the path to climb the karst mountain in the villages and they advertise festivals, including the harvest festival, Ningkam Haumeni in Mollo. They’ve also developed a cooperative to market their weaving products, looking for market nationally and globally, while encouraging people to go back to use natural dye harvested from the forests.
Further promotional efforts are being done in collaboration with the local government, universities, and other stakeholders. The community, for example, showed and promoted their woven products and their place as a destination at events in the capital city and in events hosted by expatriates. The local community actively engages in executing food security, community leadership in protecting natural resources, animal husbandry, gender empowerment, the advocacy of justice, and co-operative. Ecotourism is one of the efforts to support the above.
There is still a lot to be done, but Samdhana is privileged to be able to assist the development of second-generation leaders.