IO – Atmadja Tjiptobiantoro, the owner of the Kaliandra Estate fulfilled a boyhood dream of rebuilding his family’s mansion in Pasuruan by building an Italianate Palladian palace called Villa Leduk, in the foothills of Mount Arjuna.
Even as a small boy Atmadja cared for others and liked helping people. When he was six years old a tiny baby bird fell from its nest in his garden, after which its mother rejected it. Little Atmadja immediately placed the small creature in a box in his room and fed it a sort of gruel made of crushed paddy grains and milk on which the little bird thrived. One day as he fed the bird it flew up and settled on his shoulder. A feeling of warmth and joy enveloped him as he felt the trust and gratitude of the tiny creature. The experience was where he first learnt how good it feels to help someone or something, even as small as a baby bird.
Sometime later, a little of the gruel fell on the bird’s feathers and Atmadja filled a basin with water in order to clean it. The baby bird somehow managed to fall into the basin. He saved it and dried its wet feathers but it was all too much for the tiny bird which died during the night. At the sight of its stiff, little body the small boy rushed into his bathroom where he broke down in sobs. Later after he left the bathroom an aunt asked him whether he was sad about his bird, “No” answered Atmadja bravely, “It is now in heaven right next to God.”
Despite the sad ending to the fate of the tiny bird, Atmaja never lost his joy in helping others. So, when he bought the land for the Kaliandra Estate he had already determined that he wanted to help the many poor people of the area. He also wanted to save the environment of the majestic mountain behind it: Mount Arjuna which had been terribly denuded of trees. In this he was inspired by the calliandra plant which is used in agroforestry systems due to its multipurpose attributes. It is a legume which yields many products such as firewood, fodder, fibre, honey and shellac. It also provides shade, prevents soil erosion, weed control and improves the soil. Atmadja wanted his estate to be useful to both man as well as the forest, so he named it the Kaliandra Sejati Foundation.
“I admire Atmadja’s energy to do all these things. If you are not kind you cannot do these kind of projects,” commented Atmadja’s cousin Edith Han during a visit to Villa Leduk. “Atmadja is a rare combination of sensitivity and strength. To that we must add his drive to do good. He feels when people need him…”
Mount Arjuna is a twin volcano, consisting of two craters namely, Arjuna (the name of a hero in the Mahabharata who nearly brought the world to an end when he meditated on this mountain. However, the uniquely Javanese wayang character, Semar saved both the world and the mountain from Arjuna’s unwitting destruction) and Welirang (a Javanese word meaning “sulfur”). Both creators are active and its highest elevation is on Mount Arjuna which is 3,339 meters above sea level. The mountain last erupted in 1952. It is the habitat of endemic animals such as the Javan panther, the Javan Hawk Eagle and the Javan Black Monkey. Most important the forests on the mountain are water sheds providing water for nearly 22 million people or 60 percent of East Java. The mountain has 28 springs, several small streams and a waterfall. The waterfall which in the past never dried up now runs out of water in the dry season.
From the start Atmadja was well aware that the people in the surrounding lands were poverty stricken and had a hard life, and he wanted to help them. He was also aware that vast sections of Mount Arjuna were denuded of forest threatening the water supply. Besides helping the people in the area Atmadja also wanted to stop the degradation of the land. The instinct that brought him to this area and the compassion that had been growing in him since childhood which led him to want to help heal the people and the land were reconfirmed with the message from two spiritual people who visited Kaliandra. They told Atmadja that the estate and the area around it are inhabited by invisible dragons and that it is important that the people living in the area take good care of the land as the dragons would then also take care of the people living there.
Mount Arjuna itself has over 52 shrines where people regularly go on pilgrimage. These include archaeological sites, ruins of small places of worship, the remains of small hermitages, holy sites such as the graves of ancestors and holy trees and springs and one very holy meditation site called Onto Boego guarded by – yes – a dragon!
Atmadja realized that in order to help the people and the land he would need to make Kaliandra self-sustaining. With this in mind he began two projects. The first was the organic farm. As an architect and business man with no experience in farming it took him 6 years to master organic farming and develop a program involving the local charcoal farmers who burnt the forest, and providing them with an alternative means of living. They grow vegetables such as salad, bak choy, spinach, tomatoes, aubergine etc. Kaliandra provides the seed and fertilizers (it has cows bred solely for their manure. In accordance with Atmadja’s religious beliefs, of never harming another creature, they are neither eaten nor milked.) The farmers may grow the vegetables at home or on the Kaliandra Estate where a farmer receives a simple greenhouse of plastic and wood. There he or she grows vegetables. Later the vegetables are partly sold to Kaliandra’s hotels and partly to Surabaya house wives. Kaliandra and the farmers practice profit sharing. The charcoal farmers who used to earn about Rp 250.000 per week now earn between Rp 500.000 and Rp 750.000 per week. The organic farming is already breaking even and sometimes even makes a profit.
The second project was creating a resort around Villa Leduk with eco hotels. He has some old Javanese village houses that have been restored as cottages as well as Japanese style cottages in a Majapahit style area with restaurants and conference hall like a Javanese pendopo. These are complete with a swimming pool and spa where guests can partake of a Japanese detoxifying enzyme bath as well as an enzyme drink. Recently, Atmadja added another colonial style building, the Rumah Kolonial 1880 hotel. Prices are very reasonable and guests can participate in many activities from hiking to cycling to learning batik making, dancing and other community programs.
Atmadja then met a very special woman called Hotlin Ompusunggu. Hotlin and her team find solutions to the problem of illegal logging being carried out by the local communities in the Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan by combining forest conservation with community self-empowerment and health care. She found that the illegal logging by locals was actually because the communities had to travel 87 kilometers in order to obtain health services. The sale of their crop and cattle was not enough to cover transportation, hotel and medical expenses in the big town so the villagers were forced to turn to illegal logging.
Together with American doctor Kinari Webb and forestry expert Antonia Gorog, Hotlin established the Alam Sehat Lestari Fondation which stopped illegal logging by increasing the farmers’ income through teaching them organic farming. At the same time it carried out reforestation programs and built clinics to provide quality health care where payment could be made in manure, seedlings, rice husks or the shells of eggs to make fertilizer for the organic farms. A patient is identified as living in a red zone where there is illegal logging or a green zone where there is no illegal logging. Those in green zones receive a 70 percent discount on their health costs whereas villagers living in a red zone receive only a 30 percent discount for health costs.
Between 2007 and 2015 the Alam Sehat Lestari Foundation clinic served 25,000 patients during 60,000 visits to the clinic. By 2016 Families illegally cutting trees had dropped from1,360 to 450 families. They found different professions mostly as organic farmers. The program was so successful that she received the Gold Award from Princess Anne of the United Kingdom in 2016.
By 2016 however, Hotlin’s program in Kalimantan was running well and did not really need her any more. At a party in Jakarta she was introduced to Atmadja Tjiptobiantoro by the wife of the then American Ambassador to Indonesia, Mrs Sophia Black. Atmadja told her about the dreadful forest fires each year on the slopes of Mount Arjuna facing Villa Leduk for the villagers were charcoal farmers who burnt the trees on the mountain in order to gather the charcoal to sell at the market. This activity was denuding the mountain and creating both soil erosion and water shortages. Hotlin told him about her work in Kalimantan and how reforestation proved to be tightly bound with her team’s success working with the local community. She began going back and forth to Kaliandra to study the situation and possible solutions in 2016.
In July 2016 she attended the Kalpataru environmental award ceremony presided over by the President of Indonesia. There she met a humble villager named Mbah Sadiman. This simple man had managed to reforest an entire area in Central Java that was constantly experiencing forest fires and where there were severe water shortages as a result. He succeeded in reforesting and providing 700 families with clean water again for which he was awarded the Kalpataru award.
When Hotlin arrived the organic farming was already running well. What she needed to know was what to grow for reforestation. Mbah Sadiman advised her to plant “beringin” (ficus benjamina) or wild fig saplings for their roots are very good at preserving ground water and their crooked trunks are not popular for building. That added to the fact that many people consider them sacred trees with spirits makes them less likely to be cut down. They also do not need much care. The head of the Purwodadi Botanical Gardens in East Java agreed with Mbah Sadiman’s choice as did the head of the Community National Park. So, Hotlin began the program to plant “beringin” trees and to try to get the surrounding community to change its views on environmental conservation. The local community had become rather cynical about reforestation after seeing Pertamina (government oil company)’s reforestation efforts end in corruption charges and the CSR programs of several other companies fail to really reforest the mountain. She was helped in approaching them by Mbah Sadiman who spoke to them about his experiences and the value of reforestation in the simple vernacular that they felt comfortable with. He became a role model for them.
Hotlin hopes that in 10 years there will be new forest covering the slope of Mount Arjuna facing Kaliandra. It will be a slower process than in other areas because the steep slopes make planting more difficult. Also obtaining the seedlings for reforestation is not easy. The wild ficus is a parasite. Birds scrap off the sticky seeds on to the branches of other trees and grow. These make the best saplings but they are not so easily obtained. There are also barely any trees left in the forest to act as sources of seedlings. Planting them by seed takes 2 to 6 months. Grafting or using cuttings is faster but their root system is then shallow and not resistant to strong winds etc. Kaliandra plants 11 species of ficus as well as some fruit trees indigenous to East Java which are mostly edible for animals rather than humans.
Atmadja has another community project that Hotlin is also helping with namely, to create a better clinic than the one he has already set up which will include dental services too.
Atmadja noticed that there were many old people who could not come to the clinic who were very neglected. At present a doctor and nurse are available on weekends and they will visit the elderly or very sick at their homes. “Pak Atmadja, is a truly caring man and at times accompanies them on their rounds. It means so much especially to the old,” says Rifki who is the guest relations officer for the hotels.
Since the people are so poor there are not many cultural activities available. The Kalaindra Sejati Foundation now provides the community with professional teachers for Javanese dance, gamelan and batik making. In Indonesia where the artistic and cultural value are so highly regarded this is not only meaningful but brings much enjoyment to the community. Nina Tanjung a good friend of Atmadja and frequent visitor to Villa Leduk says, “I really like helping Pak Atmadja as much as I am able because the Kaliandra Sejati Foundation is also educating the community to empower itself. People are given the opportunity to develop their talents including dancing and music. So, the village people are also receiving a good cultural education. I really like that!”
An Englishman once visiting villa Leduk asked Atmadja whether he was descended from an aristocratic family and Atmadja told him, “I am no nobleman.” Hotlin Ompusunggu disagrees, “Pak Atmadja has a great dream for Kaliandra and its surroundings and a noble heart which wishes to help the people of the area empower themselves. He is constantly busy with matters which he is really under no obligation to perform but he wants to leave behind one day a self-sustaining Kaliandra for the people of Mount Arjuna.” Virtus vera nobilitas*. In that sense Atmadja Tjiptobiantoro is a nobleman in the best sense of the word. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)
For further information regarding the Kaliandra Estate and foundation see www. Kaliandrasejati.com