Off to University after Three Years as a Field Lab Assistant

By Muhammad Syainullah, Field Laboratory Assistant

I first went to Cabang Panti Research Station in April 2017. I had been a conservation volunteer at the Yayasan Palung (GPOCP) office through the youth group Relawan Konservasi Taruna Penjaga Alam (RK-TAJAM) for almost three years. During this time I campaigned to save orangutans and the forest, even though I didn’t really know what Gunung Palung and orangutans looked like! A staff member at Yayasan Palung recommended that I write a proposal to volunteer at Cabang Panti for one month in order to find out more about orangutans and their habitat.

When I first arrived I was very enthusiastic and excited. On my very first day I saw an orangutan and I was so excited that I could not speak. Long story short, after being a volunteer for a month I was promoted to a new position as the laboratory assistant for the GPOP research project. I have continued in this role until now. 

Syai takes notes while processing samples in the lab at Cabang Panti Research Station

My first three months were spent training, and it was difficult for me to adapt to everything at first. I realized I was most interested in studying the foods of orangutans and other plants. I was not shy about asking other people everything about plants. Eventually, I decided learning in the field independently was not enough for me. I believe there is still a lot to learn and so I made a plan to continue studying at university.

Luckily, two years ago, GPOP Research Director, Wahyu Susanto, and Project Director, Dr. Cheryl Knott, offered to help me find an undergraduate scholarship if I could stay at Cabang Panti for two years. I agreed! Now, I have been working here for more than three years. I have found a new family, gained knowledge, and much more that I did not realize I would get out of being here. I began to be motivated to become a botanist because of my love for studying plants. Last month I was thrilled to find out that after a rigorous application and interview process, I was selected as a recipient of one of GPOCP’s West Bornean Orangutan Caring Scholarships (WBOCS) for 2020. Because of my interest in botany I will be studying in the Forestry Department at Tanjungpura University. I hope that as I continue my studies to a higher level, I can further explore my potential so that I can get to know who I really am.

Syai prepares his sampling equipment while in the field during an orangutan follow.

I have a long-term plan, mission and vision that I designed a few years ago, which starts with building my capacity and potential, so that in the future I can serve my community. My goal is to build a non-profit institution and create programs that benefit the public, especially rural communities at the edge of the forest. My program will break the chain of illegal hunting, illegal forest encroachment, and more. My hope is to help the fight for the conservation of the forest and orangutans, and give back to the community in which I have grown up.