Youth Making Waves: Melati Wijsen

Hello! My name is Melati. I’m 15 years old and an activist. My mother is Dutch and my father is Javanese, which couldn't be any different, but they fell in love while working on a traditional boat sailing around Indonesia 16 years ago. My first memories are of sailing around with them, island hopping, snorkeling and appreciating the salt water and sun. When our sailing days came to an end, my parents raised my sister and I in Bali, in a house in the middle of the rice fields but still only 100m from the ocean; teaching us to become part of nature. We do not follow a religion, but we believe in a lot, I grew up following the Balinese concept of Tri Hita Karana; to live in harmony with nature, the people around us, and the spirit within. Bali is truly the island of gods, a magical place to grow up.

Growing up here, I also realized the other side of Bali, which is the rapid development and consumer society we live in. Only 15 years of life on Bali, and even I can see the damage our lifestyle is causing; turning this paradise home into an island garbage dump. Something that stuck with me was the plastic pollution and the negative impact it has on the environment, especially the ocean. I don’t think I can pin point an exact moment of “I need to do something NOW!” – I think it was more of a bunch of collected moments that piled and fueled me to get up and call for change. Plastic affected our everyday lives; when we went for a walk through the rice fields, we could see plastic, when we played in the rivers or swam in the sea, plastic was there too. So back in 2013, my sister and I, being only 10 & 12 years old set out on a mission to get the people on Bali to say no to plastic bags, you may have even heard of Bye Bye Plastic Bags, the name of our initiative.

We’ve been campaigning for four years now, with a solid team of 25-30 committed students on the island, both international and local. We focus on many things but we have 4 main pillars:

1) Education, as we believe that is where the change will happen. We created a 25-paged educational booklet in Bahasa Indonesian where elementary students can learn the problems and solutions of plastic pollution. We've spoken to over 10,000 students, in 8 different countries, in 3 different languages. 

2) We run a pilot village. It keeps us busy every Saturday as we distribute alternative bags and learned the importance of local support.

3) One Island One Voice, is a campaign we run where we check & recognize all the shops, restaurants & hotels that are plastic bag free by rewarding them and publishing their names on various publications.

4) Going Global, our international movement of youth-empowerment! With 9 publicly launched initiatives all driven by the young people around the world; Australia, NYC, Myanmar, Nepal, China, Guadalajara, Philippines, Singapore, & Jakarta

Our oceans face the threat of plastic pollution the worst. Indonesia is second highest plastic polluting country in the world. I have learned that here in Bali, and even Indonesia, the local people have their whole lives entwined with the ocean. They depend on it for food, for pleasure, and for the economy. This all will be taken away from them if we let this article title “MORE TRASH THAN FISH IN OCEAN BY 2050” come true.

Many people have a good enough idea of the terrible things going on around the world, and we often think “well, it’s okay someone is going to do something. Someone has to do something,” and it’s easy for us to forget that we are that someone. So when the opportunity passed by and I saw applications were open to join the Youth Advisory Council for Worlds Oceans Day, I thought, what a great, powerful platform to be a part of. Bye Bye Plastic Bags is my contribution to ocean conservation within my community, and being a part of this global team of youths on the World Oceans Day Youth Advisory Council, I hope to turn everyone’s agenda to standing up for the ocean.

The time to act is now. I want to help to make this action and change happen. Not only Bali, but the whole world is surrounded by ocean, so it’s time we start taking care of our planet home. 

Melati Wijsen 05-Oct-2016