Connecting local responses around the world
I publish this story in the behalf of Kees Lafeber. It is also avaiable here: https://www.facebook.com/457271687691239/posts/1876640895754304/
“In the last four years, I’ve spent a lot of time in Maluku, Indonesia, where my wife’s parents are from. I’m retired and a photographer, so I spend a lot of time clicking pictures in the community. Through this, I noticed the massive waste problem in the area. Waste is a difficult and complex problem, it requires the government to act. But I started wondering, what can I do?
I learnt how to use social media and shared my photos of the waste. The local community took notice, and the Malukan community in the Netherlands, where I’m from, also started talking about it. I made some connections within the local government, but they didn’t do anything about it.
Then, I connected with the local church. They were very concerned about the problem, and they have a great ability to mobilise people. They invited me to make presentations and tell the story of waste to their congregation. I shared with them the laws and the global situation surrounding waste, and most importantly, what is the threat to the local community in Maluku.
They realised how their food chain is affected by waste. Previously, all their waste was organic, so throwing it into the sea made sense, but with plastics, the fish which they love and is their staple food, is affected. The church folks came together and brainstormed what they could do.
The church organised clean-ups and contests for making beautiful items with plastic waste. They also translated the “Green Bible”, created by an American team that looked at what the Bible says about nature and conservation, and preached to their people.
The local universities also got involved. 100 university students made presentations at schools around Maluku to educate younger students.
All this was happening, and I got excited. I was looking for practical solutions and started a crowdfunding site to buy an extruder - a machine that recycles plastic. People in the Netherlands and around the world donated, and we raised enough money to buy the extruder. I thought it was great.
But then, something unexpected happened. The local people started becoming suspicious of me. They thought I was earning money from this, when they saw the big sum on the crowdfunding site. Their local response died down because I was coming in with solutions. I realised my mistake. The decision to buy an extruder, and the ownership of raising funds for it should have belonged to the people, not me.
I learnt that I shouldn’t focus on “practical solutions”, at least not at the cost of alienating the local people. I also learnt the importance of transparency - I should have talked to them about where the money is coming from and where it is going.
Now, when I return, my focus will be on repairing relationships, building understanding and giving the power back to the community.”