Whenever I meet someone on my travels around Indonesia like Ferzya, I am filled with great hope for the future of this country. This bright, young lady was born in Banda Aceh in 1990, however at the age of 10, her parents moved to Jakarta to get respite from the ongoing civil war, and she completed her high school education in Bogor.
Ferzya went on to University and completed her degree in Economics in Jogjakarta. She had a yearning to return to her home, and spent a year travelling extensively in Aceh, getting more familiar with her native land and its variety of cultures. Ferzya recounted her impressions, “I realised very early on in my travels that Aceh is nothing like it is reported in the [negative] media. People are naturally friendly, and there are many beautiful areas to visit.”
However, on her travels through the forestry areas and national parks, Ferzya witnessed a lot of environmental destruction. Sadly, the increasing threats to both the biodiversity and cultural heritage of Aceh are a reality and happening at a rapid pace.
“Deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade are robbing Aceh of its ancient forests and iconic species. I believe eco-tourism can help boost Aceh’s local economy, as well as the people’s sense of pride, adding value to the preservation and restoration of its natural and cultural heritage.”
Ferzya decided to do something about it. “I made a decision to get involved in eco tourism, and be part of the solution, not the problem,” she stated. Ferzya speaks and acts from the heart. She speaks with tremendous passion about preserving the forest, the natural resources and the wildlife in Aceh. She takes tourists to visit these special places.
I travelled through Aceh in March this year, and met Ferzya. We started in Banda Aceh and finished in Medan. I experienced some of the environmental changes she spoke of first-hand, and I know with the passion and drive this smart, young lady possesses, she will help to bring about a positive change.
It is Ferzya’s hope that people will not listen to the media, which often portrays Aceh in a bad light, but come and experience for themselves what Lonely Planet describes as “one of the world’s best kept secrets for the adventurous traveller”.
There are still vast tracks of wilderness intact, and to see it now – before it is all gone – will help bring awareness to the issue and hopefully cast some light on turning those illegal commercial activities into more viable options like eco-tourism initiatives. If enough pressure can be levelled to halt commercial activities that threaten conservation, heritage and the shrinking wildlife species that exist in the national parks, reserves and forestry areas change will happen.
Ferzya has seen many positive changes since the 2004 Tsunami. The city of Banda Aceh is rebuilt, and the social fabric is mending. The Acehnese people are positive about their future. In December 2014, the 10-year anniversary of the tsunami will hopefully attract visitors. Now is the time for responsible tourism to forge ahead and if you wish to support Ferzya, you will be supporting her commitment to deliver responsible tourism with a long-term vision, which delivers true sustainability, working hand-in-hand with the local community.