Science and Management major Jahnavi Kocha (CMC ’19) discusses the ways she has been inspired by the people she met on the Clinic Trip. In January 2016, students and faculty from the Claremont Colleges and Yale-NUS went to Malaysian Borneo and Singapore to learn first-hand about environmental issues facing the region.
Envirolab Asia was a special experience for me it gives me a very new, personal, take on the subjects that I’ve been pursuing at college. I am a Science and management major with an environmental focus and hope to get into environmental consulting and corporate responsibility. Such subjects and careers can often become technical and can become based off of textbooks and case studies. This experience provided me the opportunity to see the tangible effects of such corporate decisions and inspired me to continue to pursue and study a corporate career with a more humane interest. I’ve come to realize that I am an experiential learner and thus this experience really made me see a parallel between the environmental issues faced by poverty stricken areas around the world as more than just theory. Growing up in India, I had the opportunity to do a lot of social service work while in high school. I had realized the issues in my environment there and was inspired to take up studying their cause and solutions at an early age. The trip to Sarawak and Singapore gave me a more vast global perspective on such issues that permeate every economy and country. Our experience as a group was not inhibited by the language and cultural barriers we faced because we had alongside us men who were local and clearly explained to us what they were going through as a community. This was unique to me because while they were strongly opposed to development projects such as the Baram Dam, they were also aware of the international players in the issue and the need for a global movement and voice. It was this passion, this love for their cause in the indigenous people that made me realize how much courage springs from a powerful cause.

Jahnavi with kids at longhouse

Jahnavi (right) with kids at longhouse


While it seemed to me that Borneo is completely insulated from the outside world from their lack of use of technology, it made me realize a powerful message that they gave through their lifestyle. The intense need to save a culture and community, especially one that is dying out, requires immense efforts and a pure heart. These men and women, although poor, welcomed us into their longhouses and gave us home cooked food and hospitality beyond that they could afford. This showed me the pure power and goodness of humanity and gave me a stronger reason to fight for their human rights and environmental sovereignty. Coming from a country whose goals of development have led to several compromises for its people (smog, lack of space, etc), I tired to understand that sometimes the identity of a place goes beyond its development statistics.

What I thought was unique about our trip was the fact that we had an amalgamation of so many perspectives. We had the ability to feel empathy for the indigenous communities, understand the efforts of local NGOs, learn about the corporate efforts in sustainability while understanding their profitability goals, and realize the role of the government and its political corruptness. Through this holistic approach I realized the importance of studying and completely understanding the complexity of an issue before even attempting to solve it. When I take up consulting in my future, this will definitely teach me the necessity of seeing all sides of an issue. Another thing that I saw as unique in this experience was the interdisciplinary nature of backgrounds we came from and the necessity for these perspectives when studying an issue so complex. Having a professor of Religious Studies alongside us made me understand the religious and cultural impacts on the environment in the region and how this changes demographics more than we realize. Having a photojournalist on the trip showed me the way media can be used to skew messages, but also showed me the power that media has in propagating messages and objectives. Having scientific researchers teach us about collecting data, such as water purity and oxygen concentration, showed the importance of statistical evidence regarding environmental destruction. These different perspectives made me realize the value of my liberal arts education for I hope to have an interdisciplinary mindset when I graduate.

Meeting Philip, one of the founders of the NGO called Save Rivers, really impacted me. While he was a man of great influence and had a lot of work in the country he was very humble about it and actually spent time showing us around the area and explaining every aspect of the problem in an unbiased way. He actually spoke to us about the risks to his own life such as threats that have come his way, but the way he has continuously put his purpose before himself inspired me. During one of the long drives with him, he was talking about his children and was reminded that he had not seen his daughter for more than a year, and was going to see her the day after we left. The fact that he forgot about his own family and his own joys showed me the selflessness with which he showed us Miri and his islands. Even after we left the country, Philip wrote me an email asking if I had reached college safely and giving me his wishes from thousands of miles away. This touched my heart and made me realize the power of human connections. I realized right then that the satisfaction of working for a humanitarian cause or one for the future of the earth is one of the most fulfilling things one can do because it connects you strongly to people who share those goals with you. Even the corporate sector, or the policy making sectors of the economy need to be constantly aware of such bigger goals and the ultimate responsibility of each one to other human beings. On a whole, the trip reaffirmed and strengthened my future aspirations to enter the sustainability sector and fight for what I believe in. I was reminded of the day that I saw a dead dolphin on the beach behind my house in Mumbai and the inspiration it gave me to protect my planet. I now have a stronger determination to fight to stop further destruction while taking into account corporate and governmental goals because I believe that such compromise and understanding is possible. I think the key is for people to really understand the global impacts that are looming closer than most people realize. Thus the trip also taught me about the morals that I stand for and the research work that I want to take up in these fields.

Please note that in March 2016, news was shared that the Mega Dam was stopped by the activism of the indigenous communities.