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Delphine Robbe: Taking it personally

  • Marcella Segre


Gil Trawangan, West Nusa Tenggara | Tue, January 12 2010 | 10:53 am
Delphine Robbe: Taking it personally

Courtesy of Delphine Robbe

Behind every successful project there is a successful manager and a successful team, but when community work is involved, then the networking and personal commitment of the project’s beneficiaries are the only keys to success.

Delphine Robbe is the driving force behind the Gili EcoTrust, a not-for-profit organization actively involved in the protection of the environment on the Gili islands in West Nusa Tenggara.

After extensive travels around the world, French national Robbe moved to Gili Trawangan six years ago to attend a dive master and instructor course.

Her passion for the environment and her encounter with Anna Walker, one of the founders of the Gili EcoTrust, pushed her to stay and dedicate her time to actively protecting the environment around the Gili islands.

A convinced activist, people who know her say “she always does what she says she would”, and her motivation is evident.

Robbe learnt Indonesian because she could not stand not being able to talk directly to the local
people, and she personally posted up informative material about the protection of the reef around the Gilis.

In 2005, she launched the Biorock project in Gili Trawangan, together with Foued Kadachi and Laurent Lavoye.

She is enthusiast about it, because in only four years the project has helped restore XX kilometers
of reef. And there is room for improvement.

“This innovative methodology has a great potential,” Robbe says.

“I’m looking forward to the latest prototype with a current turbine. This model doesn’t need power to work, so it doesn’t need cables.

“We’ve already been contacted by the Komodo National Park, where there’s no electricity and there’s a great need to restore the reef.”

Robbe is the only full-time worker at the Gili EcoTrust, which makes her the manager and the person responsible for the EcoTrust’s activities.

In fact, her role goes beyond leadership, as she is a real hands-on manager. Her deep involvement in the protection of the environment leaves no room for compromise or hesitation.

She strongly believes awareness and knowledge are aspects needed by a community according to its specific context, in which local people and tourists live side by side.

“Awareness is the first step toward participation, and it’s the only way we may hope to get results,”
she says.

Robbe believes lack of knowledge is the first barrier to a healthy living environment.

This is why her job focuses greatly on raising awareness.

“I’ve been to every business and almost every private house on the island to tell people to use the garbage dump and not to burn garbage in their garden, because it’s very unhealthy and may lead to lung  disease and  skin problems, especially in children,” she says.

Besides going door to door to teach people and businesses basic knowledge about the environment, she has also started working with the local Islamic school, where she gives ecology classes to children aged 10 to 13.

This is completely new in the local school curricula, and only since she learned to give classes in
Indonesian has it been possible to convey some environmental information to the young, wild crowd curious to learn but very difficult to control.

“I always try to do different things with the children, to motivate them and involve them in some extracurricular activities such as the Clean-up Day,” Robbe says.

“This is to teach them that ecology classes need to be put into practice in daily life. These children are the future of these islands.”

The Clean-up Day is a regular event held in Gili Trawangan every first Friday of the month, with the next one was held on Jan. 8, when local residents and tourists get together to clean up the island.

Involving the community in which the project is implemented is fundamental — people have to feel the project is being carried out for them and also that it will not work without them.

Awareness brings empowerment and results in replication and sustainability.

“Without the support of local residents, nothing would be possible,” Robbe says.

“Pak Acok Bassok, the owner of the Sama-Sama [restaurant] is one of them. He initiated many clean-up days and takes care of the land, pushed me to go to the school and do the ecology class. He’s the one who never gives up!”

However, her work has not always met with approval. For instance, the building of the Biorock structures was at first opposed.

“Some people thought we were transplanting the coral by breaking of pieces of it and then attaching it to the structures,” Robbe explains.

“So we did a video to show them we were collecting coral that was not attached to anything and that without our help would die.”

As the Gili EcoTrust expands its programs, Robbe’s job is also gradually including a growing variety
of tasks.

Local residents and tourists alike volunteer their help, but she remains the engine running the place — planning environmental awareness campaigns, organizing meetings with local authorities, checking on the vetiver growing and on the progress of the erosion-resistance scheme.

Another important aspect of her work is the establishment of a network with other environmental organizations such as Eco Bali and companies in Lombok that may be interested in collaborating in the collection of rubbish to recycle.

She also ensures the Biorock structures are regularly maintained, and is keeping up with the construction of the new garbage dump.

During the Biorock workshop in 2008, Robbe was the one waking people up every morning, saying “they are here to save the environment, not on holiday”.

She is currently preparing the next Biorock workshop, which will run from Nov. 15 to 21, and organizing a team of volunteers and local people to ensure the workshop’s success.

“At first I didn’t want to do it again because it was so much work,” she says.

“A lot of sponsors, a lot of participants and a lot of stress. But it’s such a rewarding experience and we all learn so much…”


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