My friendship with Azhari Ahmad, Arie for short, started when I first visited a reforestation project he was co-leading in Timbang Lawang, North Sumatra in 2015.
Arie and I had a common mentor, Mohd Tahar, a Singaporean paramedic turned humanitarian aid practitioner whose approach in engaging Indonesian communities taught us the importance of tapping on local traditional knowledge and empowering communities to take ownership of the environment they live in and rely on.
Arie’s passion for the environment caught my attention during that visit in 2015. I remember one night during that trip, I followed him into the forest in search of frogs, and he educated me on the significance of different species of frogs and how they are indicators of good forest health. After that, we shared many conversations over freshly roasted highland Sumatran coffee and simple but flavourful kampung food.
Despite the language difficulties, we shared a special connection in our passion to save the habitat of millennia-old forests and the majestic orangutans. After four days, we parted ways. I didn’t expect our paths to cross again.
Back to Singapore
Shortly after I returned from my trip, I decided to start my full-time volunteer journey with People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM Haze), now a Singapore-registered charity that aims to bring solutions to transboundary haze to residents of Singapore, impressing upon them the need for a shared responsibility for this annual smog. I also worked in various non-profit organisations to build more knowledge on social and environmental sectors in Singapore, while maintaining my involvement with PM Haze.
In 2019, I took over the operations of PM Haze as executive director. One of my objectives was to implement a community-centric peatland restoration programme in Indonesia, to support Indonesian livelihoods and prevent haze in our region. My friend Tahar who is also an advisor on our peatland restoration programme, recommended that I get in touch with his friend whom he thought would be a suitable candidate to coordinate our programme with our partners on the ground. This individual was Arie.
Friends at work
We connected via a Whatsapp call which immediately jolted both our memories of the brief friendship we shared back in 2015. At the start of 2019, we rekindled our friendship and our close working relationship continues to this day.
Arie has helped me to better understand the culture of his fellow Indonesian people as well as impart his 16 years of reforestation experience to our programme. One memorable experience we shared was when we brought food and water supplies to volunteer firefighters at a site of a peat fire. We conversed for hours after that emotional experience, reflecting on the environmental destruction we witnessed first-hand.
Arie and I aspire to co-create a future of clean air and a balance between human needs and the needs of our natural environment. Arie has been a source of inspiration for me on how people from seemingly different nationalities and cultures can build a friendship that is mutually beneficial and share aspirations for our better ecological world. Thank you for being a friend, Arie!