Several years ago, a plantation company nearly broke ground on a plan to clear more than half of the rainforest in Indonesia’s Aru Islands. Local residents organized against the project. One of the leaders of the effort to stop it was a local bureaucrat named Mika Ganobal. Watch our video profile of Mika below. This article was co-published with The Gecko Project. When the politician in charge of Indonesia’s Aru Islands signed permits for a vast sugar plantation, many civil servants were afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs. Not Mika Ganobal. “If our forest is denuded, it won’t come back,” he said. “Indigenous peoples become marginalized when their land is taken over by corporations.” Mika, then in his mid-thirties, became the lead coordinator of street protests against the project in Aru’s main town of Dobo, home to nearly a fifth of the archipelago’s 80,000 people. Later, with the help of more experienced activists in the provincial capital, Ambon, Mika and his friends orchestrated a social media campaign that brought news of their movement to the wider world — no small feat given Aru’s scarce internet and phone service. Even as support for their movement grew, […]

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