A Letter from our Executive Director

June, 2018

Dear Friends of The Borneo Project,

To a Western audience, the word “Borneo” has historically conjured images of misty rainforest, densely packed with bird calls, buzzing insects, and maybe a primate or two swinging in the trees. Sadly, these days it more often summons images of palm oil plantations, orphaned orangutans, and scorched earth. Luckily, the former reality does still exist in Sarawak. Like in the village of Long Kerong, a Penan longhouse The Borneo Project has been working with for decades.   

A few months ago – after four plane rides, a few hours in a truck, a couple more in a motorized canoe and a short trek – I had the opportunity to see and feel what the people of Long Kerong are protecting. This small village has been organizing against oil palm and logging encroachment for decades, fighting off the companies that would have them abandon their land. The surrounding forests are healthy, vibrant and mostly intact. The water is clean and food is abundant. The community is welcoming, proud and strong.

This is who we are fighting alongside.

The Borneo Project is currently fundraising for our next project that will train dozens of people from indigenous communities on data collection, reconnect them to their land, and equip them with information and skills to fight for their forests. If the project is approved by the government, it will be our largest initiative ever. We’re mobilizing the next generation of indigenous rights and environmental activists.

This is what we are fighting for, and we need your help to do it.

The forests around Long Kerong are one reality of Borneo. Another reality is logging: when travelling by road we pass truck after truck of harvested timber and numerous logging camps with towering piles of felled trees. In this reality, the companies first clear the forest, then they plant oil palms: endless fields of monoculture trees that are strikingly unnatural in their geometric patterns.

In the 1990s and 2000s Sarawak – a single Malaysian state – regularly exported more tropical logs than all Latin American and African countries combined. And still, these companies are logging, clearing and planting palm oil.

This is what we are fighting against.

At Sungai Keluan, our sister city village, there is a wooden map hanging in the longhouse with a bridge connecting Sarawak and California. It might not be the most accurate map, but it reveals a few truths about our situation. First, it demonstrates that the same monster tearing up the rainforest and planting oil palms is the same monster that we’re dealing with here in the US and around the world.

The forces that took down the redwoods, that push for continued extraction of fossil fuels, and that remove protections from sacred sites like Bears Ears, are the same forces that have resulted in massive deforestation in Borneo.  It’s the same global monster that we’re all fighting.

Another truth the map reveals is that our wellbeing in the US is directly connected to the wellbeing of the forests and the people of Sarawak. We care about these places, not just because they are complex and rich, diverse, beautiful, and valuable in themselves, but because they also play a crucial role in regulating global climate. Deforestation is the largest global source of carbon dioxide emissions after fossil fuel burning. And reforestation, or simply letting forests recover and grow, is a powerful way to combat climate change.

We have witnessed incredible victories led by indigenous communities in Sarawak. We know that supporting indigenous land rights issues is a powerful way to protect forests, and that’s what we’re all about at The Borneo Project.

We rely on you to help us do this work. Indigenous communities of Sarawak ­are fighting and winning, but they are up against a lot. They’re slowly changing the paradigm of development to be truly life-centered, and we need to support them today.

We need to act now, and we need your support to do this.

In solidarity,

Jettie Word

Director, The Borneo Project

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