09.18.2017

Saving Borneo

For 25 years, The Borneo Project has been supporting local communities in Malaysian Borneo in the fight to defend human rights and the environment, and raising awareness on the destruction of one of the world’s largest rainforests

  • Saving Borneo
  • Saving Borneo
  • Saving Borneo
  • Saving Borneo
  • Saving Borneo

Divided among Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei and surrounded by the South China Sea, Borneo is the third largest island in the world and the largest in Asia, and above all home to a 140 million years old rainforest ranking among the most species-rich places on the planet.
 
Yet, although everything suggests that this unique and amazing place is an inestimable resource for the whole planet, the destruction of the Borneo forests has gone largely unnoticed and remains off the radar of most people. 
 
But of course not for the people of Malaysian Borneo, who have been fighting for years to defend forests, sustainable livelihoods, and human rights. Indigenous communities in Sarawak have been struggling ever since the logging companies started rolling in and taking people’s land out from under them. Since then, palm oil proliferation, mega-dams, mining and wildlife poaching have caused devastation to this land.
 
In the late 1980s, the people of Sarawak made world headlines when they staged a series of blockades in resistance to logging companies who were illegally encroaching on their lands. International observers came to bear witness to the gassing and mass arrest of protestors.
 
Among them was Joe Lamb, a Berkeley-based writer, activist, and arborist who travelled up-river to the village of Uma Bawang to propose that Berkeley and Uma Bawang become sister cities. That was the very first step toward the foundation of The Borneo Project, an organization created with the aim of bringing international attention and support to community-led efforts, and out of the belief that preserving the rainforest is a moral duty and a necessary act for the future of humanity itself.
 
Since its founding, the project has trained dozens of indigenous activists in community mapping, enabling communities to map areas of ancestral land claims and win legal cases and negotiations, supporting paralegal education and mobile legal aid clinics that have helped over 200 longhouse communities hold off destructive logging and industrial plantations.
 
“Apart from the devastation of biodiversity”, says Fiona McAlpine, Communications and Media Manager of The Borneo Project, “the loss of land comes hand in hand with a loss of culture for the people who have been living in, relying on and protecting these forests for millennia. Sadly, the human story is often forgotten in these debates, which is why we strive to amplify indigenous voices”.  
 
To put together the resources needed to launch an international campaign from the village level, the organization mobilizes support in the Bay Area with the aim of strengthening existing campaigns on the ground, relying on a surprising number of people in the Bay Area who are super engaged with the issues (academics at Berkeley, ex-Peace Corps who were stationed in Sarawak, climate justice gurus, etc.).
 
“On a practical level”, says Fiona, “we listen carefully to the needs on the ground by keeping communications channels open and elevating voices from the grassroots, rather than ever speaking on someone’s behalf. We create opportunities for indigenous leaders to attend international meetings and forge alliances with other indigenous struggles around the world”. 
 
One of the most successful campaigns that The Borneo Project supported so far was defeating the Baram Dam in 2016, which was the result of an enormous grassroots campaign that went on for many years. With two dams already built, communities displaced and dramatic environmental and social consequence, things truly reached breaking-point. Through picket resistance and strategically placed blockades that would pop up whenever they were removed, people resisted until the dam plans were shelved and land rights were restored.
 

Author : The Slowear Journal

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Borneo  | rainforest  | Joe Lamb  | The Borneo Project  | NGO  |

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