Tue, 10 Jun 2003

Woman greens E. Java mountains

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Titik Tarwati will never forget the moment she was officially told she had won this year's Kalpataru Award for conservation.

The news was even more meaningful because she was the only woman to receive the prestigious environmental award from the central government.

"I felt honored and convinced that my (conservation) efforts were recognized. I thought the other nominees had better chances," said Titik, who has worked at the Bondowoso, East Java, regional forestry office since 1989.

Titik received the award on June 5, 2003, in conjunction with World Environment Day. Her outstanding service involves greening or "rehabilitating" land in mountains in Bondowoso.

The award was presented by President Megawati Soekarnoputri at Jakarta's National Monument (Monas) compound.

The modest woman said the award had also allowed her to tour Jakarta and stay in a luxury hotel for the first time.

"Jakarta is very big and I'm happy to be here on such an important occasion. I admire the tall and glittering buildings. Before then I only saw them on TV."

Titik was nominated in the same category last year but did not win.

Titik is the third Kalpataru recipient from Bondowoso.

She vowed to continue her work.

"I love my job and I will keep going with or without the award."

Titik's initial duty in 1989 was to rehabilitate land in Cerme subdistrict, where she invited men to plant trees on their land plots as part of a pilot reforestation project.

Unfortunately, the plan failed when the men's wives became jealous.

"It was not easy to encourage people to plant trees although our intentions were noble: to save the lives of people from natural disasters like floods and landslides and to revive dead water springs," she said.

The failure made her realize she had to employ other tactics to make villagers plant trees on their land.

In 1992, she provided the villagers with seedlings she had bought with her own money.

However, people were reluctant to collect the seedlings from Titik for a number of reasons. They did not believe the trees would give them any economic benefit and others feared that planting trees on their land would invoke mythical giant snakes.

Titik then approached community leaders and wife associations, including the Family Welfare Movement (PKK), to seek support in promoting her work.

More and more community leaders became interested in her campaign, gaining acceptance among the wider public.

She recalled planting trees on a dangerous slope near a house with the aim of preventing potentially fatal landslides in the rainy season.

The home owner initially destroyed the trees that Titik planted, but with advice from his wife and local leaders, the man eventually accepted Titik's idea.

"Between 1989 and 1994 was my hardest time as I lacked experience to do my job. But I kept going, believing that what I did would benefit the public," she said.

After working on contract from 1989 Titik became a full-time civil servant in 1994 at the Bondowoso forestry office in charge of forestry in Tlogosari, Kembang, Pakisan, Sulek, Trotosari and Jebonglor villages.

Her dedication has been acknowledged as having helped improve the welfare of local people.

The improved condition of the land, income from the sales of bamboo and other plants, the return of springs, and decreased land erosion are among the benefits that locals attribute to Titik's work.

Titik wants to follow in the steps of her idol, artist Ully Sigar Rusady, in her conservation campaign.

"Of course I can't do all the things Ully does but I will do it my way," she said.