JAKARTA: Local myth has it that strangers who dare to step foot on Semau island in East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia, will not be able to return home alive.
Noverius Henutesa Nggili, who is part of a motorcycle group that tours the province to help people solve their everyday agriculture and livestock problems, was intrigued by the old folklore.
In 2014, they decided to see what Semau island has to offer despite the scary myth.
“People were scared to go to Semau island. The island was said to be haunted, scary, and people always say if you go there, you won't come back alive. But we love challenges, we find it challenging,” he told CNA.
“It turned out that when we went there, the people were nice. The myth says it is haunted, but it is just their way to protect the island so that not many people will go there and they could fend (strangers off from) the island," he added.
Nggili is a civil servant based in Kupang, the provincial capital about 30 minutes away from Semau. He is attached to the East Nusa Tenggara’s development, planning and research agency.
With a degree in animal husbandry, he is in particular concerned with livestock and agriculture problems, which are aplenty in the province.
Thus, he teamed up with about 10 of his friends from similar backgrounds in 2005 and took matters into their own hands by visiting communities on their time off.
In Semau, Nggili and his team taught the islanders to be self-reliant in food, water and energy.
From cooking with firewood, today the islanders cook with biogas and stop cutting down trees.
They also produce organic fertiliser, among others.
“So their environment becomes more sustainable. We also teach them how to develop non-timber forest products, like harvesting honey.
“There are many endemic trees in Semau and the honey sells well because the nectar from endemic trees (supposedly) has various benefits.”
Nggili knew their effort had paid off when Semau islanders rejected manure given by the government because they could produce their own fertiliser.
“That is just one success story, there are many more,” he said.
"CUTE" MOTOR GANG TO THE RESCUE
In 2009, Nggili and his team switched from a problem-solving approach to asset-based approach, which focuses on strengths the communities have.
They also decided to finally give their initiative a name.
“Because we are all motorbike enthusiasts and travel on bikes, and I personally like to tinker with bikes, we decided to name ourselves Geng Motor iMuT," he said.
IMuT is an acronym for animal care community alliance in Bahasa Indonesia. It also means cute in the language.
“We want people to think ‘What kind of creatures are these people?’ when they hear our name," he said with a laugh.
Fortunately, the response has been positive and they even gained more members over the years.
The new members and volunteers come from various backgrounds and bring along their expertise.
In 2011, iMuT was updated to "Innovation, Mobilisation for Transformation."
FROM EAST NUSA TENGGARA TO BEYOND
Over the years, countless volunteers have come forward to work with iMuT. It has since covered 80 per cent of the East Nusa Tenggara province.
It has also been invited to train communities in Jawa, Sulawesi and Papua.
Apart from teaching communities how to construct systems such as desalination device to turn seawater into freshwater, the team members also educate locals how to deal with middlemen so they can gain more profit.
Looking back at his journey, Nggili admitted things were not always easy.
Although he is a civil servant, Nggili said the biggest challenge was convincing the government that they are more than just a group of people on motorbikes roaming around every weekend.
That was why in 2014, the group decided to station in Semau island so they can measure the impact they have made.
"I have one goal - to transfer our knowledge to the community before we die. That will be my greatest happiness."
And Nggili also said he was happy to report that the team is well and alive, despite the folk tale.
“So, those magic stories ... until now, we have never been affected. We have never been sick, everything is safe.
"The locals are even like our own family,” he said.
Read this story in Bahasa Indonesia here.