Testimony of a family ecovolunteering experience in Sumatra

Matthieu and his family tried their hand at a committed family trip for the planet. They spent a week immersed in the heart of a small community, on a mission to engage with the people of Sumatra for biodiversity, in November 2022. Join the mission for biodiversity with the people of Sumatra.

What inspired you to take part in an environmentally-aware family vacation?

We left on a four-month parental leave with my wife and our two children, aged 9 and 12. We wanted to experience an unusual adventure, far from the beaten track. During those four months, we wanted to take a break with an association that shared our values. As we're both teachers, we wanted to take action in ways other than education. What's more, I trained as a nature guide and we're very sensitive to environmental issues, particularly those linked to the monoculture of palm oil in Indonesia.

How did you find the association?

We first heard about Generation-Co on our travels, through word of mouth. We met someone who had just come from the area, and who spoke very highly of the project. Generation-Co is an association working in Indonesia, in northern Sumatra, to preserve tropical forests and biodiversity. Its aim is to work with local communities to find alternatives to palm oil cultivation. We were looking for an association that would enable us to do just that, so we jumped at the chance!

What was your day like? What did you do?

We lived in a small isolated community, far from everything. We were very well received by the people. In the mornings, we helped with the cultivation and clearing. We removed invasive plants to make more room for the vegetable garden. The aim was to grow as many endemic plants as possible, so that the community could support itself and earn a small income from selling them at the markets. We also helped cultivate blue flowers to make herbal teas. In the afternoons, we took part in the community's daily chores. My son would go fishing for the evening meal, we'd help in the kitchen, build a hut... They'd show us how it was possible to support ourselves.

Was the work intense?

The work wasn't very intense and I was ready to plant a lot more seedlings. But Virginie (the association's co-founder), who was very attentive to us, didn't want to tire us out too much, especially with the children. In the end, we didn't plant many seedlings, but Virginie taught us a lot about the problems associated with palm oil cultivation. She showed us the harmful effects of this monoculture, such as deforestation, pollution and the destruction of the habitat of many species.

What conditions did you live in, was it Spartan?

We lived away from it all with a small community who made us very welcome. We stayed in a bungalow, a little high up, and slept in the same room with the children, who had their two mattresses on the floor. Living conditions were indeed rather spartan, but it was very nice! We had a cold-water shower and toilet nearby. In the evening, we relaxed in natural hot-water basins dug along the river. We particularly enjoyed relaxing in these basins!

Would you recommend this experience to others, especially families?

Yes, I would advise other families to get involved with this association. This experience was the highlight of our trip. We took the time to sit down, talk to the people and understand their problems, particularly with regard to palm oil cultivation. We were in the heart of nature on the edge of Gunung Leuser National Park. Virginie even suggested we take a two-day hike to observe primates. We were lucky enough to see several! During these two days, we slept in a cave, built a fire and cooked food, all the while knowing that there were tigers around!

An experience in a magical place!

The trip was rich in exchanges. Virginie shared her knowledge of plants with us, and showed us the devastation caused by palm oil cultivation. Unfortunately, this is a very profitable crop. I recommend this mission, as it's an experience in a magical place, well placed to meet orangutans. This experience made us want to go back, as a family, on environmental protection projects. Our children have excellent memories of this active and committed vacation!

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