Sumarni Laman

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Sumarni Laman

The Steward

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Laman saw her first forest fire when she was six years old. It was 2002, and the highly-flammable landscape of decayed natural debris known as peat was burning around her home in Indigenous Dayak village of Kampuri in Kalimantan, Indonesian. Her grandfather dug ditches around their house to keep the fires – which can stay burning in peat deep underground – at bay, while her mom and siblings used their small buckets to throw water on the flames. In this rural part of Indonesian Borneo, help was far away.

Kalimantan has grown somewhat infamous in years since for its fire season, which has grown longer and more deadly as the tropical forest landscape, naturally home to wild orangutans and exquisite rare birds, has been increasingly cleared for commodity crop plantations, namely oil palm. The Kahayan River, which flows black from its peat content past Laman village on its banks, is increasingly and deleteriously dredged for gold.

“I still remember I frequently went to the forest with my sisters and friends to source fruits or catch fish by hand. We called it Malutu,” she recalls of her youth. “The sound of the forest was very alive. We could hear the song of the birth, or the chant of Uwa-Uwa.

Watching her native landscape lose its lush forests moved Laman to become a community coordinator for Youth Act Indonesia, a movement of Kalimantan’s Indigenous youth to take action against the region’s forest fires. She leads its subprogram The Heartland Project, which raises awareness about deforestation across the archipelago and counters its effects through tree planting. Since the Project was initiated in 2019, it has helped more than 3,500 young people plant more than 8,000 trees across the islands of Mentawai, Bali, Lombok and Papua, as well as in previously burned areas of Kalimantan. Recently chosen as one of the Global Landscapes Forum’s Restoration Stewards, Laman now receives mentorship, training and funding to support the growth of her forest restoration work.

“We have this saying ‘Penyang Hinje Simpei,’” she says of her motivation for her work. “It is from the Sangiang language, a language that is usually used when carrying out rituals of communicating with ancestral spirits and means ‘unity and oneness.’ I think in the context of restoration, this saying encourages every one of us to always work hand-in-hand together to protect our Mother Earth and walk in the same direction.”

Sahana Ghosh

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Sumarni Laman

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