When my husband, Tony, asked me what I wanted to do for my 50th birthday I knew that I wanted to ‘do’ something, something that mattered. I’d always loved orangutans and had been following their struggle to survive closely. After a bit of research, we booked our trip to Borneo with ‘The Great Projects’ to work at Samboja Lestari orangutan sanctuary in June 2019. The sanctuary is in an area of restored rainforest in East Kalimantan and is run by the Borneo orangutan survival foundation
Although we had done our research, nothing could prepare us for the reality of our experience, both physically and mentally. I faced so many of my fears; insects, heights and water, and pushed myself beyond boundaries that I now realise I’d put up myself. We dug out rivers, up to our necks in water, filling sandbags with the sand we dug out to reinforce banks and divert currents, we pulled out weeds from another river, fully dressed and sometimes unable to touch the bottom, literally just a couple of yards from a very curious male orangutan. I’ve never worked so hard, been so tired or smelt so bad in all my life, and I absolutely loved it!
We weren’t allowed to touch the orangutans both for our safety and theirs, but we made connections with them in other ways; playing tug of war with them using a branch, spraying them with hosepipes while they washed their faces and tried to drink it. One afternoon, I sat on the riverbank opposite my favourite orangutan, Romeo. For a while he pretended I wasn’t there, then started sneaking a look at me. Eventually he started to put on a display for me, ripping up a tree and calling out. Then he plonked himself down and we just watched each other, that was one of my most special moments.
On trips out into the countryside we could see the devastation that palm oil plantations were causing the rainforest and so the orangutan’s habitat. After 2 very short weeks it was time to return home. We were both very sad to be leaving and felt that we had found somewhere we had connected with.
Getting back to ‘normal’ life was strange. I was very restless and felt that I couldn’t just move on from it. I decided to look at our lifestyle and started making products to remove palm oil and single-use-plastic from our lives. I decided to make the products to sell, and now give 5% of profits to Borneo Orangutan Survival UK.