Six years into a conservation project, a women entrepreneurs group in Terengganu is reaping the results, writes Zuhaila Sedek
SIX years ago, Rusnita Ngah did not care where the rubbish from her home ended up and sometimes she even ate turtle eggs. But this changed with the presence of Nestle and WWF-Malaysia in her village, Kampung Mangkok, in Setiu, Terengganu.
Rusnita and her fellow villagers are blessed with the scenic view of the beach, white sand, coconut trees and other natural beauties. But over time, this privilege turned into something that she and her friends took for granted.
“I didn’t know then what was right for the environment,” says Rusnita. “But I do now.”
Thanks to the collaboration of Nestle and WWF-Malaysia, she and the other women of Setiu are learning the importance of conserving the wetland area they call home.
The former homemaker is now chairman of Pewanis (Setiu Women Entrepreneurs), a group of 40 who work together to raise conservation awareness while improving their economy at the same time.
This is made possible by Nestle and WWF-Malaysia through a capacity building project where Kampung Mangkok women are provided with the skills and knowledge for sustainable development.
The village is part of Setiu Wetlands, home to the world’s largest remaining population of critically endangered painted terrapins and nesting ground for endangered green turtles. The village is also rich in mangrove plants. These two factors place Setiu as an important location for conservation.
“The villagers used to throw rubbish near the mangrove trees and in the sea. They collected turtle eggs for food or to sell at the market. When WWF-Malaysia told us about the seriousness of the situation, I was appalled. I knew we, the women, had to do something,” says Rusnita.
Rubbish dumped at the mangroves sites affect fish nurseries while trash in the sea affects the turtles as the latter eat and choke on the plastic bags.
Rusnita and her friends visited various schools in Setiu to talk to the children about the danger of littering and eating turtle eggs to the children.
The women also go to the wet markets to distribute brochures about the endangered turtles.
“At times, the sellers at the markets made sarcastic remarks when we gave them the brochures, but we didn’t care,” says Rusnita.
In the beginning, the villagers were sceptical about the project. The Pewanis members received numerous cynical remarks from other villagers about their involvement in the project.
“People will always talk, so we let them be. We are doing this for the environment and we help lessen the financial burden of our families at the same time by taking part in other Pewanis activities,” she says.
EARNING FROM MOTHER NATURE
Pewanis members earn money by teaching tourists to make kerepek (crisps) and wau (kite). For RM10 per person, tourists also get to plant mangrove trees.
But to get tourists to come to Setiu, Pewanis members know that they need to protect the nature.
“It is not all about money. The number of turtles coming to lay eggs has decreased tremendously. If nothing is done, there may not be any turtles coming in the future,” says Rusnita, a mother of six.
Nestle executive director of human resource and group corporate affairs Zainun Nur Abdul Rauf, who spearheaded the project, says it is now in its second phase and is part of the brand’s values, which encompass three areas — nutrition, water and environment as well as rural development.
“People say if you give a man a fish you’ll feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish, you’ll feed him for his lifetime,” says Zainun about the aim behind the project.
CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
Zainun and her team were impressed with the change in the Pewanis members.
“They are so different now. When we first came, they were so shy and scared. We had to push them. Now, after six years, they are more confident and well-informed,” says Zainun, who hopes that the Pewanis members will pass on their knowledge to the people in other villages too.
Rusnita agrees that Pewanis members express themselves better now. “Now, we have someone to talk to when we are feeling down or want to discuss important things. Before this, we just stayed at home,” she says.
Members gather daily at Pewanis’ Pink House for classes or discussions.
Their environmental work has the support of their husbands, who also lend a helping hand.