“Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” says Mahatma Gandhi.
This suits perfect for these young girls named Melati and Isabel Wijsen hailing from Bali situated in Indonesia are campaigning to ban plastic bags locally and reduce the impact of plastic waste globally.
Ever growing problem of Bali
We all know the issues faced by the countries throughout the world due to the usage of plastic and Bali is no excuse to that list.
The local government downplays the event, on one occasion calling it a “natural phenomenon,” but at its root are poor disposal systems and a lack of education on the problem of waste.
It is no surprise that Indonesia comes the second in plastic pollution after China. And the Indonesian government has pledged to invest more than $ 1 billion to solve this issue.
Time is always right to do the right things
Both Isabella and Melata where just 10 and 12 years old when they came across great people like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana and the impact they created in the world in their school.
They went home that day and decided to do something and that to right at that moment. They firmly believe that they can make an impact in the world right at this young age itself. So the sisters sat down together and brainstormed all the issues facing Bali.
That’s when they discovered the problem of plastic bags that Bali had been facing over the years and both of them had hope in making Bali Plastic free.
How did they do it?
So they founded, an organization called Bye Bye Plastic Bags, an NGO is driven by young people determined to get the population of Bali to say no to plastic bags.
In their TED talk, the sisters stated that only 5 percent of plastic bags get recycled in Bali, but the island produces 680 cubic meters of plastic garbage a day — the equivalent of a 14-story building.
“Next to the many highs and successes,” says Melati, “there were definitely challenges. Particularly dealing with the government and lobbying to get them to move in the right direction.” In their bid to get the local government to pay attention, they started a petition.
They obtained permission to start collecting signatures behind customs and immigration at Bali’s airport and, eventually, got over 100,000.
Bali’s governor Mangku Pastika, however, remained unimpressed and for over a year-and-a-half failed to meet Melati and Isabel’s request for a hearing.
Frustrated, the sisters decided to start a hunger strike — a decision inspired by trip to India and a visit to Mahatma Ghandi’s house. Due to their young age, they performed the strike under the supervision of a dietician and only from sunrise to sunset. It proved effective.
A hard fought victory
Twenty-four hours later they were escorted by the police to the governor, who signed a memorandum of understanding to help the people of Bali say no to plastic bags by January 2018.
Along the way, they’ve had other successes, such as Bali’s largest ever beach cleanup, which attracted 12,000 volunteers.
“It was crazy to see so many people, no matter what age, nationality or occupation coming together for the same thing,” says Isabel.
That was the start of an incredible journey that has taken the sisters around the world, including to London where they delivered a TED talk and New York where they made an appearance at the United Nations.
They believe the voice of the youngest generations should have a larger resonance.
“If we could meet with world leaders and speak to them, we would tell them to listen more to the youth, consider us as more than just inspiration. We have bright innovative ideas of how to deal with some of the greatest issues of our time,” says Melati.
“We are the future, but we are here now, and we’re ready. We’ve learned kids can do things. We can make things happen.”
Melati & Isabel Wijsen on INK Talks: