Cleaning up the World’s Mess, One Shovel at a Time
by Caitlin Goos
If you’d asked me a couple of months ago I would have said “you couldn’t pay me enough to shovel bear poop”, so today I am wondering why I paid to scoop up a poo-trifecta of bear, monkey and bird droppings!! “Volunteering” here at the Tasikoki Wildlife Center in Northern Sulawesi Island, Indonesia, costs money. This money goes to pay for my room, food and of course is a donation to help the animals they are so desperately trying to release back into the wildlife. My first night I was sure I made a mistake; there was a spider the size of my hand in the bathroom (which I wasn’t allowed to kill, because the animal lovers also love insects); I was told I had to be up at 5:45 to work for 8 hours shovelling poop, scrubbing the algae of the inside of concrete ponds and cleaning out all the monkey enclosures, our entire dinner conversation consisted of talking sadly about the plight of animals; and I was also told there would be no meat served, because if we loved animals we wouldn’t eat them.
I came back into my room and said to one of my roommates, “I think this place is far too ‘hippy’ for me!” Little did I know that in just two short weeks I would make some amazing friends, laugh more than I have in a long time, enjoy every laborious task (well kind of), and feel passionately about saving our world’s wildlife and ecosystems. I never thought it would happen to me, but it has.
When my parents asked me what I was doing for work at Tasikoki I told them jokingly “feeding the animals papayas in the morning, and cleaning up papaya poop in the afternoon”, but it does pretty much sum things up. I have been working 6 days a week, 8 hours a day, feeding, cleaning, scrubbing, and plucking branches for the animals to eat.
I have gotten dirty, sweaty, covered in substances I don’t want to think about and bitten by more bugs than I can count (every time I look there is either a mosquito sucking my blood or an ant with its head buried into my foot, or on a couple occasions partying in my pants.) I also said to my parents in the beginning, “I am not sure I even like animals enough to do all this”, but I never did mind a little hard work, so I pressed on with my duties.
Eventually, I grew to love the two orangutangs Iz and Bento who had the habit of peeing on me through their cage every time I walked by, the sun bears Binbin and Bonbon who had the nastiest poops, Betty the noisy Siamang always screaming for a mate, and the other 30 primates and hundreds of birds the center has. What I started to understand was that my money, and my hard work, was helping these animals to live a better life, and hopefully with mine and future funding be released back into the Indonesian wildlife. I probably complained more than any volunteer Tasikoki has ever had, I will admit that, but at least I kept everyone laughing.
Living in my American Bubble, I often forget that the world is suffering in so many ways or that there actually are people willing to fight for it. Willie Smits, the man who opened Tasikoki, is an inspirational man who has devoted his life to saving the world. Seeing that the animal trafficking problem was not the fault of the poor man who needed to feed his family he created a solution that, until I visited his factory and saw it functioning, was beyond my one-tiered thinking. He bought up land around northern Sulawesi, planted palm trees (which when tapped daily, will produce gallons of juice a day, which in turn can be used for making palm sugar and also can be turned into ethanol which can be used for electricity for their homes), and watched as people protected the forrest growing around their crops. Now this area is thriving not only economically, but also ecologically. If you have time check out the talk he gave (tapergy.com), it is truly inspiring!!!
I suggest everyone get involved in Willie’s plan to help save the world, whether it is buying palm sugar (which also has some amazing health benefits as compared to white sugar), donating food or money to Tasikoki or just getting educated on what can be done. We can change the world on step at a time, even if you start by shovelling poop!!