Testimony from Chaus Uslaini
My name is Uslaini, my nickname is Chaus and I’m the Director of WALHI Sumatera Barat in Indonesia. My passion in life is helping rural communities to have a better life, and this is WALHI’s passion too, so I really love my job.
I come from a farming family, I’m the sixth of seven children, and we all had to help in our home and in the fields to earn enough to cover our school fees. I want to help other families so that their children can go to school and they can have better lives. We campaign and advocate for community development in rural and forest villages, and we run projects that help to transform people’s lives in really practical ways in harmony with the forest.
My daily routine is always very busy! At the office I manage a team of 25 dedicated people, and I’m responsible for a variety of tasks—developing strategies, building relationships, writing reports. But I’m involved in the practical work too. Every two weeks I go to the field and the communities, to meet with village leaders, and take part in village meetings about practical matters and what we need to advocate for.
We’re working for gender justice too. Our non-timber forest products project is a good example. We’re helping women in four local communities to set up production units so that they can sell products made from cacao and pala fruit. Pala is used to make nutmeg Syrup. We’re in the middle of buying the machines they need, it involves a tendering process and we have to get offers from at least three vendors.
I’m also happy that we’re working with young people, to inspire and encourage them, so that they get involved in preparing village development plans. We’re helping them to understand both the problems and the potentials in their villages. A good example is an expedition we ran with youth groups a while ago, we went to look for water resources with them, so that they could know our why their families’ rice fields were suffering from drought.
We’re also assisting people in two villages who have been relocated because of the construction of a hydroelectric dam. We’re working on a participatory mapping process with them, helping them to work out what kind of nature is around them in their new location, so that they can create sustainable livelihoods for themselves.
In the last few months we’ve also been looking into the legal side of things too, to ensure that the communities can continue to access their forest areas, the source of life and the source of their livelihoods. Some of the villages are now in the process of being licensed by the government. This will give them long-term security and protection from land grabbing, it’s really important.
Corruption is a constant challenge, and makes everything else we do harder. It’s rife in the natural resources sector here, the government and the private sector are as bad as each other. For example, some time ago there was an explosion in a coalmine shaft that killed two miners. Our fieldwork indicated that the company concerned had violated the law, but they weren’t held to account. We heard that businessmen from the company had paid bribes to law enforcers but it’s hard to prove this.
But we take a firm stand on corruption, we’ve made several reports to Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission, and we’ll do whatever is necessary to help stamp it out, for the sake of the people and environment in West Sumatra.
Photo credit: Chaus Uslaini