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Helping Orangutans: Borneo Fundraiser

This weekend I sit in a shack at Black Point indulging in good food, wine, listening to music & swimming in the ocean with three of my girlfriends having a peaceful break from my hectic life. This is a stark contrast to the past six months of my life which have… well, keep reading and you may understand.

I have wanted to write about my time in Indonesia for a while now but I have just not felt ready to confront all my mixed emotions. But all of a sudden in this shack here in Black Point as my friends one year old daughter April looks up at me with her big blue innocent eyes the only thing on my mind is the orangutans and their big innocent eyes which have such a depth to them that gets right into your soul and changes your life. So I begin to write…

Orangutan_01_Borneo_FundraiserMost of the time it’s someone with orange hair that I am thinking about, it could be Tommy, Dewa or Charlie on my mind. It’s often Charlie’s captivating personality that makes me break out into a random smile or Tommy’s little face that would melt my heart everyday as my family and friends sit reading gossip magazines on the Hollywood stars or talk about which $160 face moisturiser is the best. Most of the time though it is the fact that they are stuck in cages and I am worrying if they have had enough to drink or if they have been out to the forest in a while that plays on my mind. Even though I am not normally a person who cries I know I could burst into tears in just a moment. These things are weighing on me constantly. While they could be considered a massive blessing or burden, I would never change the path my life has taken for anything in the world.

It’s Charlie’s funny personality that I want to tell you about because he actually is the funniest little boy around, this I am sure of. Charlie has a very quirky personality and just like some children stand out in your life, this little boy stands out in mine; Charlie just oozes charisma. One adorable thing about Charlie is the fact that he is a two and a half year old who is so childlike it’s hilarious. Charlie’s preferred mode of transport to the forest for his release time is to climb down onto your foot and just sit there clinging to the leg, looking up at you with his big animated eyes. So, picture two orangutans in your arms, sometimes another on your back and then little Charlie on your foot, now this is not an easy thing to do, walking with four orangutans on your body. Every now and again Charlie will even be eating a mango or a banana while you walk with him and although you will be all sticky you can’t help but allow it as he is just too funny!

Orangutan_03_Borneo_FundraiserCharlie is also known for his tantrums and could compete with any two-year-old child. If you have something Charlie wants and you say ‘no’, Charlie will throw himself on his back, cry out loud and almost scream and throw his arms about just like a two-year-old child would do in the shops when mum says no to a candy. It’s heartbreaking in the shops for the mothers and it is heartbreaking with Charlie just the same but you can’t help and smile at him because he is so adorable for such a tiny little man. Once his tantrum ends, he starts to sulk and just like with the two-year-old child your heart melts and you nearly always want to give in to them but know that you need to stay strong. But when Charlie’s big, beautiful eyes look at you and his lip is pouting it takes all your strength to not to melt, cave in and serve him whatever he may desire. Charlie also was known for being a little bit err…. excitable… he had his special face for this and you knew what was on! this small man’s mind especially if you were wearing crocks. He liked to attempt to get close to the little holes in them. Charlie really is a special boy indeed.

One more story is about Dewa. It is not uncommon for orangutans to feel stressed or depressed in current cages and as a result of this they are prone to lose their hair and weight which is just heartbreaking to witness. Dewa was like this when I arrived. He would sit alone with his arm over his eyes hiding from the world. As I sit and write this the tears fall again! Anyway, I worked with Dewa everyday giving him vitamins, food, love and extra forest time to make him happy and stronger. After four and a half months it is hard to even recognize him from when I arrived. He is now a fatty with lovely hair on the way and he was also a lucky boy who got a brand new spacious enclosure. Most importantly, he now lives and plays with his friends.

Many orangutans stand out in my life as they all have their own story, scars and their own personality. Despite my family looking at pictures and thinking they all look the same, they all actually have their own features and individuality. Each story behind the reason of them being in the care centre is just as heart breaking as the other. You see, all of the 340 orangutans are orphans. They have all been victims of Man’s destruction and devastation to this planet. I personally went on my visa run and drove through five hours of nothing but palm oil plantations. There, people burn forests so they can plant more palm oil plantations. Many orangutan babies are victims of the palm oil industry where the mother has been trying to eat as there really is not much forest left for them to find adequate food. They have been seen as pests and the mother has been killed and we end up with a distraught baby that will have to live in captivity until it is old enough to take care of its! elf again in the wild. They are usually up to or over eight years old and even then some of them just don’t have the skill to look after themselves. Some are so traumatised by what they have been through in their lives that they may never get over it and this is if there is even enough forest left for them to be released into. It’s all due to deforestation and the pet trade that these babies have to live without their mothers.

Orangutan_02_Borneo_FundraiserThis care centre is run by Dr Birute Galdikas who is in my eyes an amazing lady who has dedicated 41 years to these beautiful babies. She and the staff at the care centre are doing what they can to get by and care for every orangutan. This centre runs on a fundraising/ donation basis and its monthly food bill would make any person flinch. But she just keeps going and caring and scraping by with bills and fundraising to purchase rainforest for the release as so many grown orangutans are depending on this for their chance at freedom which is something that should just be their natural born right. My concern is that the centre was never build for the number of orangutans they have and it is well over crowded. This is where I have taken on the challenge of improving the lives of the orangutans while they are in captivity.

Prior to my 2012 visit I raised $10,000 to build larger enclosures as the current enclosures really do not even allow them to move at all. They live full time in these cages and if they are lucky they get to go to the forest for three hours every three days. The cages that were built with the $10,000 are not by any means large and amazing if you compare them to most modern zoo enclosures but they have provided a space for between five to ten orangutans, depending of course on what age they are. In the new cages they can have permanent enrichment so they can move around and play all day between their forest release times. This is great for their muscle strength and the enrichment keeps them entertained so they are not losing their very intelligent minds. They have also all been given a bed (which is a rocking hammock made out of a barrel that has been cut in half) to sleep in at night so they are off the floor, which is where most of them are currently sleeping. The new enclosures are 3m x 4m which is not large but obviously much better than some of the current 1.5m x 1m cages. Initially the intention was that every orangutan would be in the forest every day and the cages were just made for sleeping. But with so many now this is actually impossible.

I was lucky to be there overseeing all the building process and to take care of all the finance associated so I know exactly how much things cost. Surprisingly things are not as cheap as you would imagine. I was building enrichment for the enclosures and learning everyday different things that would excite the orangutans. I was working alongside the carpenters and at times the carpenters even had me on top of the enclosures helping them out with drilling and building. But for me the most exciting part of this was always the moment the orangutans were moved.

We could never anticipate the reaction we would receive from the orangutans as they would explore the new environment. Some of them were so used to the confined space that it seemed the new large space was a scary move and it could take up to three weeks for them to adjust and start enjoying the space. For others, imagine Christmas morning when you see the children approach the Christmas tree and find out Santa had been there and left them a present, the little eyes all lit up with excitement. This is what it is like for most of the orangutans when they are moved. They enter the new enclosure and immediately check everything out, they always so gently touch different things in there and then smell their finger, then lick it, after this it seems ‘what can I break’ is on their minds and then ‘how does this work’? Always with big bright eyes. It truly brings a tear to the eye simply knowing that their lives are now just that little bit nicer for them after everything th! ey have been through. Another job of mine was to go around and check that they actually hadn’t broken anything and, if so, repair it. This was also rewarding because I could see that even after two months in the new cage they were still continuously playing happily and there could truly be no bigger reward.

Each new cage costs $3000 plus around $200 for enrichment. My goal is to raise over $30,000 to build as many new enclosures as I can, fill them all with enrichment and orangutan beds & if I can raise even more I would like to buy forest to help them with releasing the older orangutans. My hope is that every orangutan will have a better quality of life while it waits to be released.

Snapping back to reality I am sitting in Black Point, right on the beach front really relaxing and enjoying time with my girlfriends but my heart is still in Borneo with what I now call ‘my babies’. I feel so distant in this world now and further away from anything going on here. I am constantly worried if the orangutans are ok and I am forever thinking of ways to raise money to improve their lives. I feel overwhelmed by so many issues in this world we live in and this is just the beginning for me. I often wonder if there are other people out there who feel the same. So much help is needed but I am only one person and I am only home in Adelaide for three months before I return to what now feels like home in Borneo. I am choosing the orangutans and their living conditions to be my main concern. So I now ask anyone who can afford a few dollars donation or would like to buy or help sell my raffle tickets, help me, hold an event or support the cause in anyway, please contact me through our facebook site at https://www.facebook.com/HelpingOrangutansThePeopleOfTheForest.

There is no better feeling than knowing these beautiful babies have a better quality of life.

To help support the organutans please consider leaving a donation using the form below. All payments are securely processed by PayPal and they accept most major credit cards (you don’t need to have a PayPal account either!).

[donationcampaign id=”1″]

Any questions or feedback can be directed to the comments section below and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.  :-D

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  1. What a beautiful insight into the lives of this lovely animals and it has been written with lots and love and compassion. I enjoyed reading this very much.

    • Thank you Maggiea, i do really love them so much! I call them my babies without a second thought 🙂

      • You would call them your babies, as you have loved, fed and nurtured them all as if they are a baby. When you feel sad, think of all the good you have done and that you have given these animals a better and happier life x

  2. Really really lovely impassioned insight…thank you Sarah

  3. ThIs article almost made me cry. I love your passion Sarah – I know you have already made a difference and will continue to do so.

    • Glad I wasn’t the only one to well up whilst reading this! a true eye-opener, Sarah is doing an amazing job and hope she reaches her goal! If only there were more people like here in the world!

    • Hi Jane, thank you so much! I can just imagine you getting all welled up 🙂 have a brandy! xx

  4. It would be nice to see some more articles to read on this site based around helping organisations like this one, or other volunteer work that people do around the world to help animals and people. Thanks again Sarah.

    • Hey Maggie!

      I completely agree! I don’t think there is enough coverage of independent charitable organisations on the internet (and this site!). I’m in the final stages of completing the design of this website, should be done in the next few days but afterwards will see if I can dig up some good charities to write about, if you know of any that you think deserves coverage, or if infact you would like to write about any yourself please let me know.


  5. Hi Maggiea …. if you have the same passion and want to air it then by all means get writing and if you didn’t wish to become an author on the site you could always send us your copy and we could work it up onto the site…it’s a thought.

  6. Thanks to both Gary and Paul for responding to me. I have lots to think about and I do like writing, especially about topics that help other people or raise awareness of certain topics to others. Help with proofreading and producing a final article sounds good to me.

  7. Hi Sarah, firstly thank you for becoming a writer on the site, it was a pleasure to come home from work and read your article, it was very warming and sincere and is just a beautiful thing which you are doing. I am curious about your project and whether it is something I can get involved with as working with charities is something I’m very fond of doing. I will be teaching orphans English and art in the near future with my friend Nelly from France and would love the opportunity to take part in the selfless and rewarding work you undertake. Do you have any information on best times to look at doing this and whether there are any visa restrictions which I should be aware of? Thanks very much.

  8. Helga Campbell

    Dear Sarah,
    I have sent you some money, but would like to discuss another way how I would like to try to help. Could you possibly send me an email how I can reach you?
    With kind regards,
    Helga Campbell

  9. Seanagh O'Loughlin

    You are doing a great job Sarah. The world is a better place with you in it. I hope you are able to get the money you need to continue your work. All the best.

    • Thank you so much & thank you for your donation it is really starting to add up and will make such a big difference to their lives. They will all be happier and healthier! 🙂

  10. What you and other volunteers are doing in these regions is wonderful Sarah. There is more to be done though including ensuring that pressure on the Indonesian government is strengthened to bring about signficant change. Already too much nourishing rainforest has disappeared under palms and carbon emmisions from these regions are off the chart. Best of luck with your next trip.

  11. I read the article in the SA Weekend section of today’s Advertiser (16/3) about your work and was mightily impressed by what you are doing. I have sent a donation and put the link to this blog on my social media sites in the hope that a small ripple will turn into something bigger. Good luck with all your efforts.

  12. Thank you so much- everything really does help so this is great 🙂

  13. What a wonderful story in SA Weekend on 16/03/13. Sarah you are an AMAZING woman to dedicating your time and energy to helping save these beautiful creatures. My daughter and I were lucky enough to go to see the orangutans at Camp Leaky last year. We cant wait to go back to Borneo either.
    Could you please tell me where I can buy some raffle tickets as I would like to purchase some and make a donation.

    • I love Camp Leaky…. i went with Dr Galdikas one day & she asked me to go sit with a released male that i didnt know and give him a drink and some food. He just sat with me on the floor of the boardwalk thankful for it and was so beautiful and gentle- was a moment i will never forget! I sent you a message to your email address regarding tickets. Thank you 🙂

  14. Hi Sarah, Thankyou for your passion and committment to the orangutans. I would love to assist you in your fundraising efforts. If you require any volunteers please let me know. The more the merrier!

  15. Hi Sarah…how do you think the fund raising has been progressing? I will shortly be starting a campaign for disabled folks in Nepal so please watch the blog.

    Perhaps it would be a good gesture at this point to write a short follow-up article to let everyone know the progress and bring the orang-utans back into the limelight?

    Well done so far cheers Gary

  16. Amazing Sarah! I appreciate a lot to see people who fight themselves to go until their goal and who have these passion and fire just like I do! You give all your time for these animals, me, for Nepali children, but the target is the same: we want to HELP as much as we can, with small efforts, then bigger!
    Keep on going! see you on the road!