Thursday, November 8, 2012

The People You Meet: Nina van Toulon

This is a series on different people I’ve met that have made an impression. Some are people I know well, others are just chance encounters that have left a lasting impression. I strongly believe that it is not the place we go in life that change us but the people we meet. 

I was going to write my own story on Nina but I’ll let her words speak for themselves. I met Nina while working with the Eco Flores Congress. I had the pleasure of working with her both before and after the congress. She has a natural ability to link people together and motivate people to get involved. This is Nina’s story:

Originally from the Netherlands, Nina first came to Flores in 2010. She fell in love with the land and the people right away. 

Nina’s professional career started in Health. In 1978 she worked at the University Hospital of Leiden for 10 years. She specialized as an Enterostoma Therapist and helped set up the Enterostoma clinic in the hospital, supporting patients, and running the clinic. 

During the Eco Flores trip in Bajawa visiting Traditional
Villages, Children gathering around Nina to see their photo
In 1987 she moved to Hong Kong, where she lived for 10 years in Hong Kong where she started a business together with her business partner Katy. They have been building and running this company for almost 20 years: an international trading company exporting from China and Indonesia to clients worldwide. 

In 1994, they were running a small factory in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province. In order to “give” and not only “take”, Nina started supporting a local state run orphanage, located far outside the city of Ningbo. Most of the children in this orphange were born with a disability and the people taking care of them had received no proper training, were underfunded, and had inadequate medical supplies. This resulted in many children being tied to chairs kept in their beds all day and night, or worse. 

Nina began visiting the orphanage every month, bringing the supplies the Matron of the orphanage requested. The Matron explained that in order to create the kind of environment that all children deserved, staff training and proper sanitation was absolutely necessary. They had no hot water, open latrines, and no rehab equipment. 

Because she did not possess the skills needed to make these changes, she began looking for others, individuals and organizations, that did. She began researching which governmental departments to contact for permissions to renovate the buildings, and where to find training for the staff. 

Nina became very disappointed. The organizations she found were not open to sharing. They seemed to be working in solitary fashion and were showing territorial behaviour.

As a newcomer to the NGO world, this was quite a shocking to Nina and she did not understand this mentality. Why was this information not being shared? Why were people not supporting each other?

She proposed to the people and organizations she did encounter, to set up a network. But nobody was interested and she had to reinvent the wheel over and over again. This caused a waste of precious funds and time, and it taught Nina many things. 
With Farmer Group in Ruteng

Flash forward to 2010. During Nina’s first evening in Labuan Bajo, she met Stefan Rafael. They spent the evening talking about his mission: setting up a Bank Sampah. He told many stories and Nina asked if he needed help and if so, what kind. 

He indicated he needed more Public Relations for his organization, so Nina agreed. She  began Public Relations outside of Flores, helping to find useful contacts that could support his efforts. She set up a website based on information he sent and added useful bits and pieces of information about similar initatives elsewhere in the world to help “connect” Stefan with other who were working on similar projects.

Nina decided to stay in Flores, not literallly all the time but with her heart and spirit. She hoped that she could find a place where her and her two daughters could live, spending time in a useful way supporting sustainability; She found a “home” with a piece of property in Waecicu.

A year later Nina was informed about a new development in Waecicu Bay, which planned to start operating Jet Skis in the bay. Waecicu is an area of exceptional beauty, home to sea turtles, reef sharks, coral, dolphins and other sea life. The idea of jet skis racing that area was shocking.
At the Wrap Up Party the last night of
Eco Flores Congress

A group of landowners and Dive Operators, both locals and foreigners, signed a petition for the Bupati to ask his support in creating legislation to protect Waecicu. 

The idea started to involve all community members of Waecicu and Binongko to work together in a community based project to protect the environment. The idea grew to set up a locally manageed marine area. At this point Nina reached out to Michael Guilbeaux of the Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) Network. With his guidance and support, Eco Flores was able to coordinate efforts between local community members and organizations elsewhere. As part of this process, Eco Flores was born. Local community members have expressed their needs and other who like to give support respond accordingly. 

1 comment:

  1. Just saw this post Meghan !!! Thanks for helping raise awareness :) About yourself : you did a great job on Flores, I was impressed seeing you arrive on you motorbike that day we passed trough Ende at that restaurant where we were meeting. And your input on the congress in Sept. 2012 was very valuable and also fun :) I hope you can come to the congresss in October in Bajawa !!! Askings for funds again here and there to make it happen and going to Bajawa on 15 and 16 April with Arie and Silvester to make arrangements. Bye, Nina