Teen Eco-Hero Sparks Change Among Fellow Youth

#WeCanBeBiodiversityHeroes Story No. 3: Adeline Tiffanie Suwana

Like many teens her age, 20-year-old Adeline Tiffanie Suwana used to love hearing news of flooding in her native country, Indonesia. For most kids, a flood means they can skip classes and play in flood waters with their friends. But when flood ravaged Adeline’s home, things changed.

“At first, flood waters reached only our front fence. Succeeding floods reached our house and occupied almost a quarter of our home’s first floor, causing difficulties for me and my family. We had to move our refrigerator, tables and other furniture to the second floor. Eventually, we had to move out of our house because there was no electricity and clean water,” Adeline recounts.

The experience moved her to question why catastrophes happen. After surfing the Internet, she learned about the relationship between global warming and floods – as the world is heating up, the water level is rising.

In her research, Adeline found that Southeast Asia already is experiencing the impacts of climate change. As Adeline learned more about climate change, she started asking herself, “What can I do to help my own community?”


Founding Sahabat Alam

Curiosity and the passion to help led the then 12-year-old Adeline to continue researching about ways she can support her community. After learning about the importance of mangroves in preventing floods and other natural disasters, she invited 150 friends and classmates to plant 200 mangrove samplings at Wisata Angke Kapuk during a long school holiday.

She briefed her fellow teenagers about the role that mangroves play in protecting low coastal areas from floods. With massive root systems, mangrove forests serve as buffer zones. These ecosystems regulate the impact of strong storm surges to coastal communities by absorbing the energy of strong waves and wind. Mangroves also serve as carbon sinks that mitigate pollution. The roots attract marine species that might be harvested, sold or consumed by local inhabitants.

Adeline learned that mangrove forests are one of the world’s most threatened tropical ecosystems. Despite the direct and indirect provisioning and regulating services from mangrove ecosystems, their degradation and conversion to less ecologically sound uses continue on a widespread scale. There is an urgent need to take action to ensure that mangrove ecosystems will be better protected. Taking action is exactly what Adeline and her friends are doing.

Apart from planting mangroves, Adeline and her group visited Suaka Margasatwa Muara Angke, a conservation area located in North Jakarta. There, they saw important species such as the long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascucularis), gold-ringed cat snake (Boiga dendrophilia), and water monitor. They also learned about 91 species of birds found in Suaka Margasatwa. For them, it was a fun activity that turned into a memorable learning experience.

That day, July 6, 2008, Adeline formed Sahabat Alam or Friends of Nature with her 150 friends and classmates as initial members.
Today, Sahabat Alam is a well-known environmental education program with thousands of members – an extraordinary feat for a young organization. Adeline uses the program as a tool to generate awareness of biodiversity conservation through school seminars, events, talk shows, films and various activities to encourage young people to do something for the environment.

“Indonesia is a mega-diverse country. We are rich in mammals, reptiles, birds and plants, but people do not know what biodiversity or Keanekaragaman Hayati is. We don’t have any formal classes or school activities about the environment or biodiversity. Most of my friends and teachers have not heard the word biodiversity. This is how my interest in biodiversity conservation began,” Adeline shares.



Initiating conservation activities

Apart from planting mangroves, Adeline and Sahabat Alam conduct activities that provide young people the opportunity to experience conservation first-hand. In October 2008, the group visited a conservation area for hawksbill turtles (known as penyu sisik in Indonesia) in Balai Taman Nasional Kepulauan Seribu. They helped free the turtles into their natural habitat.

“In the conservation area, turtle eggs are incubated. After reaching 36 months, the turtles are released into the ocean. By freeing the turtles, we hope that their population will increase,” Adeline said. Apart from freeing penyu sisik, Adeline also reminds members of Sahabat Alam not to pollute the ocean as a dirty environment will affect the turtles and many other species.

In celebrating World Environment Day on June 5, 2009 and the World Sea Day on June 8, 2009, Sahabat Alam joined other organizations such as Yayasan KEHATI, Yayasan Terumbu Karang Indonesia, Teens Go Green, Ciliwung Merdeka, Joint Society for Nature, and other groups for an environmental activity at the Ciliwyung River in Bogor. Apart from gathering river trash, the groups held a river expedition and a story-telling session about the importance of maintaining the river’s cleanliness. They also launched a “No Styrofoam” campaign that aims to reduce trash being thrown into seas and rivers.

Related to this project is a coral reef conservation initiative at the Indonesian Thousand Islands of Pulau Pramuka. Adeline brought together children to educate them about the importance of conserving marine biodiversity. Members of Sahabat Alam were involved in planting coral reefs to provide homes to many species of fish and to encourage ecotourism.

To curb pollution, Adeline also advocates the increased use of bicycles among her friends. Leading by example, Sahabat Alam members join Indonesian’s Quartely Hari Bebas Kendaraan Bermotor or Car Free Day. “By riding bicycles instead of cars, we help decrease the percentage of pollutants released into the environment. When you bring down pollution, you help curb climate change. Riding a bicycle also promotes health and well-being,” the young conservation advocate explains.

Sahabat Alam also bridges the information gap between experts and young people. Regular teach-and-learn activities are conducted to advocate conservation to primary, secondary and university students. During the International Day for Biodiversity in 2009, Sahabat Alam gathered over 350 students and introduced them to biodiversity and invasive alien species. The group invited experts such as Ms. Rina Kusuma of Yayasan KEHATI and Dr. Rajiman Mushlihudin of Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment as resource persons. An ecotour and a film showing were also part of the activity.

Adeline and her friends also operate the Electric Generator Water Reel project where they connect remote villages to an electric grid, providing potential economic growth to villagers and improving health and education facilities. They utilize clean renewable energy to provide electricity to villages. With the success of her project, electricity is now accessible to five villages, including Cilulumpang and Situbiang village in West Java.



Adeline’s many contributions to environmental conservation have not gone unnoticed. Her long list of awards include the 2009 Youth Biodiversity Award from Yayasan KEHATI, the 2009 International Young Eco Hero from the United States’ Action for Nature, The Indonesian Ecology 2009 “Realize Our Ecology and Make it as Our Lifestyle” from the Agriculture Institute of Bogor, the 2010 Energy Globe Award’s World Award for Sustainability, Global Teen Leader 2012, International Green Awards 2012 and 2013, Energy Globe Award 2013, and International Diana Award 2013. She was placed second in the Youth Category of the ASEAN Champions of Biodiversity in 2011.



Empowering the youth

Sahabat Alam is empowering Indonesian youth to become actively involved in environmental education,” Mr. MS. Sembiring, executive director of Indonesia’s KEHATI Foundation, said. He added that by encouraging youth to advocate sustainable development through biodiversity conservation initiatives, Sahabat Alam has fostered a generation of environmentally conscious youth.

For Dr. Henry Bastaman, deputy for Community Empowerment and Environmental Communication, Ministry of Environment, Indonesia, “Sahabat Alam will definitely serve as an Ambassador of Goodwill not only in Indonesia but also for other countries in continuing its goal of promoting the values of biodiversity among ASEAN leaders and youth.”


Young people can be eco-heroes too

For Adeline, being young is not a hindrance to saving biodiversity. “At first, I thought, I’m only a young student. What can I possible do to help? Then I realized that I can help bring together young people and adults through various environmental actions. Initially, I invited only my friends to join the movement. By word of mouth, more young people heard about Sahabat Alam and started joining our activities. Now, we even have university students in our group,” Adeline shares.

To date, Adeline has encouraged the participation of more than 25,000 young people, teachers, and even other activists in more than 100 different activities ranging from simple actions such as biking to school and planting trees to nationwide-scale projects such as a water turbine program that uses hydropower energy from waterfalls to generate electricity in villages.

The group targets to reach 10,000 schools and 300 universities throughout Indonesia, as well as those in other ASEAN countries and eventually the rest of the world.

“I want to encourage other youth leaders worldwide to initiate similar environmental actions,” Adeline says.

Asked whether her many environmental projects get in the way of her regular youth activities like hanging out in shopping malls, Adeline says’ “By having many environment activities with children, I have the opportunity to hang out with them. I am happy and excited that I am able to involve them in worthy activities. Young people should not always be in shopping malls or play computer games. They should also allocate time for other activities.”

Supporting a young biodiversity champion

Adeline credits her success to the firm support that she receives from her parents, siblings, relatives, schoolmates, teachers and community. “My parents always advise me and my sisters to do what we really want to do. They support my ideas and actions. They give suggestions for my environmental advocacy and support me financially. My friends support me by bringing their friends to take part in our many activities,” she shares.

Today, whenever there is news of flooding, Adeline is reminded of her advocacy to do something to save the environment. “I believe that the young generation can be environmental heroes in their own communities,” she said.


#WeCanBeBiodiversityHeroes #ABH2017 #ASEAN2017