Catholic students in Indonesia are helping villagers affected by a state-sponsored geothermal project in Christian-majority Flores Island to improve their livelihoods.
Around 100 people of Poco Leok village in Manggarai Regency in East Nusa Tenggara province, were trained to make fermented feeds for domesticated animals at a program organized by the Association of Catholic Students of the Republic of Indonesia on Sept. 16.
"We want to stand with the villagers who are fighting for their living space. We want them not to walk alone, not to be abandoned," said Laurensius Lasa, chairman of the association's branch in Ruteng.The program's beneficiaries are against the power project spearheaded by the State's Electricity Company (PT PLN) at Poco Leok.
"Other groups of residents who support the project are receiving assistance from the PT PLN through its corporate social responsibility initiative," Lasa said. However, those opposing the project were excluded from the benefits, he added.
The villagers say the power project funded by the Germany-based Kreditanstalt fur Wiederaufbau (KfW) bank will take away their ancestral land and livelihoods across 10 villages.
Most of the affected residents, who are farmers and also raise livestock, are Catholics under the Ruteng diocese.
Lasa said the training will help the villagers to produce animal feed using fermentation, a cost-effective practical way to improve gut health and increase the productivity of pigs.
Robi Gamar, a pig farmer from Ruteng, said in Poco Leok and other areas on Flores Island, villagers generally keep pigs to supplement their farm income.
Katarina Emuk, a mother from Lungar, said the training would help generate more income. "This animal feed can speed up pig growth, so I can make money quickly," she said.
Tadeus Sukardin said the Catholic students are doing what the government should have done. "So far, we have always hoped for the government to carry out training to improve income. But until now there hasn't been any," he said.
Since last year, the government has been pressuring the villagers to accept the power project. Security forces were deployed at the project site when the residents began blocking roads to the drilling points in 10 villages.
In June, several villagers were injured after clashing with security forces and were hospitalized.
The Catholic Students' Association is one of several organizations involved in helping residents, apart from church organizations such as the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission of the Divine Word and Franciscans.
Advocacy groups such as Sunspirit for Justice and Peace, the Mining Advocacy Network, and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, have also come out in support of the villagers.
The affected residents, with the help of Church institutions, have sent their complaints to the government authorities.
Flores Island was designed as a geothermal spot by a 2017 government decision. It has a total geothermal potential of 902 megawatts, or 65 percent of the total capacity in East Nusa Tenggara province, according to the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry.