By Puspita Insan Kamil
Plastic Waste along our Waterways Research Project: The Adventure (2)
Rare as is true love, true friendship is rarer.
In my first article, we focused on the questions in our minds regarding how people relate to – and treat – rivers. With support from a National Geographic Society Early Career Grant, we were able to proceed with the fieldwork – an adventure that I was fortunate to share with a great partner from PlastikDetox Bali.
There is a strong reason why Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birutė Galdikas were chosen by Louis Leakey to study primates: they are all women. According to Leakey, women make good field scientists in very sensitive study areas because they are patient, observant, and are easily accepted by local people. As I have demonstrated the merit of this fact so many times, I think Leakey is right – women often make the best field social researchers. This is why I reached out to a female partner for my team, the coordinator of PlastikDetox Bali.
We started our journey along the Ayung River in Bali. To make this research more relevant to local communities, we invited six local volunteers to join our waste data collection from upstream to downstream areas. The June sun burnt our skin, but as my team predicted, the water current was very favourable to us when picking up debris on the riverbank. The field work was fun, mostly because most of the volunteers are close friends of mine. I felt proud that I could communicate this important issue to them by being witnesses to the pile of debris on their river banks.
The Brantas River is a different story. This huge waterway cuts across large cities and regencies in East Java. The sites in East Java are located around 100 km from each other – from any aspect, this was very challenging in terms of fieldwork. My partner and I started the journey in Batu and then we made our way to Kediri, before ending up in Sidoarjo. That was my first experience carrying all this equipment, setting up transect zones, picking up debris, collecting geographic information, and packing all the equipment again before moving to the next site – all by our own, helped by a woman partner. We got one volunteer each in Batu and Sidoarjo, but we only had ourselves to rely on in Kediri.
However, this was nothing compared to our psychological experiment data collection. Our research required group interactions, but we faced challenges with local community members to find the time to join our 1-hour experiment with other fellow members. During the project we faced objections, schedule cancelations, and budgeting adjustments. We were assisted by local facilitators, but there were things we could not control – local authorities who put our research on hold, or when the village chief suddenly rejected our research permit. As a result, the time needed to prepare and collect psychology data was much higher than water debris data collection.
After all the challenges that we faced and the miles that we trudged, I was in awe with my team’s ability to obtain rich multidisciplinary results, as we had predicted at the very beginning of the project. When our psychology experiment and water debris data results came out, we could use geographical data such as land use and land cover, as well as river zonation, to help explain all the results. In the next article, I will tell the story of how we translate our results into communication tools for local communities.
But most of all, I realize that this project has given me an even more valuable gift: a true friend who always genuinely helps me when I need her the most.
(To be continued…)