When we met with Marta Muslin, she had just flown in to Flores from Jakarta, and had gone straight to spend time in communities affected by the recent devastating landslides in Labuan Bajo. Trained in disaster and emergency response, Marta was there to provide on-the-ground support to victims, reassuring them that the government would assist to rebuild their homes, businesses and lives. She was also intent on providing local students with a place to sit their exams, as widespread flooding on the main road between Ruteng and Labuan Bajo had rendered schools inaccessible. This commitment to education is synonymous with Marta’s approach to community development, as she believes that education is key to empowering communities to create sustainable and lasting, positive change. She is a woman who needs little introduction in Flores, a community leader fighting for both the people of Flores and the future of their pristine environment, and it was a privilege to hear her story.
Marta has many years experience in community development roles, and has worked in NGO’s and community building projects across the Asia-Pacific region and has consulted with bodies all over the world. With a focus on sustainable tourism and environmental policy, she has worked closely with local communities, businesses and governments to deliver initiatives that benefit all parties, while simultaneously instituting conservation measures. She is a coordinator on the Indonesian Waste Platform working on sustainable waste management procedures; the Past President of DOCK Komodo, with whom she still works closely on safe and sustainable diving initiatives within the Komodo National Park; and has worked on writing and implementing policy for marine pollution management, particularly in developing areas. In 2011 and 2012, she was responsible for a project that created water refill stations around Labuan Bajo, in order to reduce the single use of plastics and encourage the adoption of reusable drinking bottles.
Marta grew up in Flores, and knows first-hand that implementing environmental management projects can be tough in developing nations. For people who can sometimes earn as little as $2 per day or less, and families who struggle to access basic needs like food, clean water, and healthcare, it can be unrealistic to expect them to prioritise land conservation. Marta believes though that empowering communities through education, providing employment opportunities and consultation on community issues, is the key to a sustainable future for all.
She tells the story of her own path to a brighter future, as a powerful example of the life-changing potential of education. Born the twelfth of fifteen children, she learnt from an early age how to use her voice to be heard. While Marta was caught up in the riots in Lombok, her beloved father passed away and rather than sharing his estate fairly between the fifteen children, Marta and several of her siblings were overlooked. This propelled her to study a Bachelor of Law as she wanted to learn her rights and about the rights of others. At the time, she was a restaurant worker, and informed her employer that registration for the degree was due in three days. Shocked, he asked her why that was his problem. She answered that she intended to do the degree, but had no money to pay for it, and implored him to lend her the money to cover the tuition fees. Her employer’s wife overheard the conversation, and urged her husband to invest in Marta, pointing out that staff like that are rare and deserve to be supported. She embarked upon the degree, struggling to get by on barely any money, and worked in three different jobs in order to pay her rent, for food, and to pay back the money she had borrowed. The determination and resilience she had learnt, growing up in a huge family, had served her well, and she graduated earning her law degree in high esteem.
Marta is currently the community project manager with Wicked Diving in Flores and its affiliated charity, the Wicked Good Foundation. She is integral to instituting programs that train locals, giving them skills that will provide future employment within Flores’ growing tourism and hospitality industry. Wicked Good SEEDs provides training and sponsorship to locals to become qualified dive masters and instructors, providing employment opportunities within the diving and tourism sector. Marta’s biggest fear is that if growth in places like Flores is improperly managed, the unspoiled environment will be irreversibly damaged by rubbish and pollution, like so many other tourist destinations around the globe. She says that by creating greater wealth and jobs for the people of Flores, and tying these to the ongoing preservation of their environment, ensures the health of both the people and the natural world. Education plays a large role in this, and Marta hopes that higher education will soon be more widely available in Flores. Currently, other than the new Tourism College, students must leave Flores to study at colleges and universities elsewhere, and often don’t return. Marta says that by creating education and employment opportunities within Flores, students are retained and encouraged to stay, strengthening and adding value to their own communities.
And as a single mother of a 12-year-old boy, who is similarly passionate about the environment and conservation, she feels that education is of the utmost importance to women, who are often the first teachers that children have. By educating and empowering women, you in turn empower the next generation of students to effect positive changes in their communities. It’s an inspirational and holistic approach to sustainable community development that has earned Marta a reputation as a formidable and impressive leader in her field, and in communities all around the world.
For more information on The Wicked Good Foundation check out their website!