Three million perennial trees of various varieties now cover Manggarai Raya thanks to the pioneering role of Pastor Marselinus Agot.
He has not only advocated for the greening of the region comprising the regencies of Manggarai, West Manggarai and East Manggarai in East Nusa Tenggara, but also helps to plant the trees.
The principle Rev. Marsel, as he is affectionately called, 64, seems to strictly adhere to is that conservation should begin with individual efforts.
He started his venture by growing trees in certain areas of Manggarai in the 1990s. In Labuan Bajo, the capital of West Manggarai, he has planted thousands of trees on 20 hectares of land owned by the SVD (Societas Verbi Divini) community or Society of the Divine Word.
Marsel was originally worried about the increasing forest denudation in Manggarai. He was also saddened by the fact that as nature was getting even more ravaged, landslides, erosions and shrinking water sources frequently prevailed.
He bought land in phases at very low prices in the 1990s in order to realize his dream of greening the city of Labuan Bajo. “I secured the land through the kind assistance of local people who also wished to restore the lush greenery. Besides, I set an example by getting down to work instead of mere talk,” Marsel told The Jakarta Post recently.
In return, Marsel continued, he maintained good relations with the former land owners, not hesitating to help them in times of difficulty. “I wouldn’t have been able to carry out the greening without their low-cost land so I’ve got to relieve them of their troubles,” he said.
The greening drive initiated by Marsel began in 1997 in Labuan Bajo. In the 1990s, Marsel had planted about 5,000 trees on a plot in Ruteng in Manggarai regency, currently under the charge of the Teacher’s Training and Pedagogic College of Ruteng.
In Labuan Bajo, Marsel manages about 20 hectares in two areas: Pantai Pede in Gorontalo village (8 hectares) and Batucermin village (12 hectares). Thirteen local tree varieties are flourishing there.
“We’re planting local trees so they won’t be lost in their own native land. We’ll be expanding the greening to rescue the environment on another plot of 30 hectares,” he said.
The man born in Wela village in Manggarai on June 2, 1950, said a total of 3 million trees now blanketed the three regencies. All the seedlings are distributed to local residents free of charge through dozens of parochial subdistricts. Marsel related how he had told them jokingly, “These are given for free, but if they fail to grow you must pay.”
Marsel can now enjoy the scenery at his rehabilitated forest in Batucermin village, Komodo district, with 6-year-old mahogany trees standing at 1.5-meter intervals. With the spacing, the trees will hopefully have fewer branches and grow straight up.
While describing his forest, Marsel also showed off a spring of water amid the trees in Batucermin. “I’ve been deeply moved by the emergence of this spring. It’s a great blessing because water sources are very scarce in Labuan Bajo,” he said, beaming. The spring has formed a brook where lotus plants now grow. In early May, they were blooming, enhancing the beauty of the woods and producing fresh air.
There’s also a second spring 50 meters away with a small pool around it. Marsel said he hoped the spring would grow bigger like the initial one. According to Marsel, students returning home from school frequently go to the brook and a number of local residents also use the water.
Marsel said all conservation activities were supported by the Foundation for Social Education. For the continued existence of the foundation, Marsel has set up various businesses handling estates, agriculture, timber workshops and telephone and Internet kiosks under the umbrella of PT Predicator Unitatis Mundi (Prundi), meaning the world is one.
“Our mission involves social affairs, education and environmental conservation. But we’ve never undertaken projects from other institutions. Determination and persistence are our assets,” he said.
In his birthplace of Wela, a long way from Ruteng, the pastor could not attend elementary school when he was supposed to.
In 1958, Marsel was denied entry by the elementary school in another village because of his frail physique, and only allowed to enter the following year.
His life in the rural area of Manggarai caused him to become very attached to the natural environment of his village. So, when local forests were being stripped of their verdant vegetation, he became enraged. But he managed to turn his anger into the laudable pursuit of reforestation.
Now after almost five months without rain this year, people living near the forests that Marsel helped to create can enjoy clean water flowing from the springs that have emerged.