YSEALI U.S. Fellow Summer 2017 Cohort:
Week 1 Blog Post (8/14/17-8/19/17)
After the first week of my YSEALI fellowship I realize I am going at a rapid, whirlwind pace! This week flew by and it took me a full three days to fully recover from jet lag. I spent this first week meeting with many Ministry offices. In Indonesia there are many federal-level ministries. The ones I met with this week included the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (solid waste division) and the Ministry of Public Works (green cities team). I also have been talking with a wide variety of organizations, including the Indonesia Solid Waste Association (a membership organization), the national government of Denmark’s Environmental Support Program, the US Embassy, and City of Surabaya’s Institute of Technology.
My host, the Indonesian Municipality of Governments (APEKSI), along with the fellows we hosted in Eugene (Ratna and Lengga) have done an outstanding job preparing me for each day of the fellowship. I have someone come to my hotel in the morning to pick me up, and then we head out for a day of activities which generally includes two meetings/site visits, lunch together, and often dinner together too. Needless to say, I’ve been taking handwritten notes but by the time I get back to my hotel room at night I fall asleep exhausted only to wake up and do it all over again! I recognize the amazing level of coordination and logistics planning that have gone into making this fellowship a success for me. I am so grateful for this opportunity.
Some observations I’ve made throughout this week include:
- Depending on who I’ve met with, I’ve been in meetings with up to 12 people! This is rather shocking for me to meet with the heads of these organizations and their staff. Such an honor.
- This brings me to my next point: I didn’t bring clothes that are “professional” enough! Jakarta has a huge mall/indoor shopping scene so I’ve bought a few extra things 🙂
- Indonesia has a very strong hospitality culture. This is not that different than how I grew up on the east coast of the United States in an Italian-American family who goes completely out of their way to ensure you are comfortable, super comfortable, at all times even when it means putting the host at a complete inconvenience. It’s been good for me to learn this cultural difference to ensure I do not burn my hosts out!
- So many of the leaders I’ve met with in the environmental and local government sector are women! That has been inspiring to me. I’ve also noticed that gender dynamics are quite different here than they are in the US. From what I’ve seen, it seems like people in Jakarta do not make a big deal if a leader in these local agencies is male or female. That is refreshing to me, that gender politics has really not come up. However, I did learn that Jakarta is very progressive compared with some of the more rural, smaller communities. This seems to be in alignment with the US.
From my work’s standpoint, I’ve made some other observations:
- Because of a culture that values hospitality and pleasing/accommodating guests, single use waste and food waste is abundant and inevitable. In my first meeting (and most meetings throughout the week), I enter a conference room that has an individual box of snacks for every single person in the room (plus extras… there is generally a box at every seat of the table). I wondered if this type of treatment happens for every meeting between agencies, or if these were considered special meetings with an outside guest. Lengga told me that this practice is pretty common. One of my meetings (the very first one with the Ministry of Forestry and Environment) gave us a boxed lunch in addition to the snack box – this means that I alone created at least four small plastic bags of waste, one ramekin-type plastic container with curry, a plastic tray, a plastic spoon, and a cardboard box. Whew! The cultural aspect of hospitality and general niceties makes the behavior shift to a different model seem almost impossible. So interesting to me.
- Work with the Ministry departments focused heavily on the regulations around solid waste management and green building, so I had to dig a little to learn about how the regulations are actually working. It was interesting to hear what is working and what is not for a lot of these regulations. And, the regulations for the most part are very very new; since most of them have been legislated within the past 20 years, it does not surprise me that they are not all working perfectly right now. Jakarta alone has new regulations it needs to meet, but in a city of up to 12 million people (with commuter traffic), it seems unlikely that anything is going to change quickly. Legislation like banning plastic bags as proposed and adopted a few years ago, only to be met with huge community outcry against the new policy. This continues to be the most interesting aspect of my job for me: getting people to break habits and do things differently for the betterment of the environment and overall community. Jakartans are still only just hearing about a lot of these ideas around waste diversion and recovery, as well as green building certifications and standards, and regulations like these need time to take shape. As the Indonesia Solid Waste Association contact (Sri Bebassari) stated, “I ask myself, ‘How long did it take Japan to clean up their environment after the regulation was created? How about Singapore? The U.S.?’ We realize this is going to take time.” [See attached photo of Sri Bebassari]
I know getting to the end of this fellowship I am going to be able to draw much greater parallels between the work that I do in Eugene and what I am learning here in Jakarta. The most honored I felt this week was when I was accepted into the Surabaya Institute of Technology (I flew to the town of Surabaya on Thursday of this first week) with open arms ready for me to give a lecture on waste prevention and green building from the perspective of a small US jurisdiction. This presentation allowed me to really refine how I talked about solid waste management and green building regulation in the US in a way so that everyone could understand how we built our programs from the ground up (and to give a sense of the length of time it takes to develop a solid program). The students at the lecture (about 60 total) asked great questions and really wanted to know more about the ‘prevention’ piece of our work. That was an exciting moment for me because at this point the places I’ve visited are so focused on sanitary collection that prevention isn’t even part of the conversation. But since students are often thinking bigger about what impacts they can make, I found that explaining prevention and alternative recovery collection methods of waste for them really resonated. That same day in Surabaya my ITS hosts toured me around the city (population ~4 million) to view a rudimentary Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where recyclables get sorted, as well as a commercial composting site adjacent to a botanical garden (great use for compost!) Those that I met with in Surabaya were extremely proud of the accomplishments their City has completed over the past few years with direction and leadership provided by their Mayor, Tri Rismaharini, who is hands-on in her leadership and creative about the approaches she takes to get projects accomplished. One of my larger take-aways is that people (in general) need an inspirational leader to develop good relationships and partnerships, and to give them hope in times of need or struggle. Surabaya seems poised to continue to develop in a direction that considers the triple-bottom line of the community, and they are proud of what they have accomplished.
Stephanie Scafa, Waste Prevention and Green Building Program Manager
City of Eugene, OR