“She is only 14 years old, but she never stops encouraging young people of her age to be care about the environment. She even wrote a letter to protest four countries that sent their plastic trash to Indonesia.”
Her name is Aeshnina Azzahra Aqilani. The girl, who was born on May 17, 2007, began to attract public attention following her courageous move to send a letter of protest to four countries. Nina, as she is fondly called, wrote letters to the representatives of America, Canada, Germany, and Australia. She also wrote letters to the Regent of Gresik, the Regent of Sidoarjo, and to the National Police.
Nina protested these countries for throwing their garbage into Indonesia. In her handwriting, Nina asked local authorities in each of the four countries not to dispatch or smuggle their plastic waste into Indonesia.
Nina began to protest about the plastic waste when she accompanied her father, Prigi Arisandi, who is also the executive director of the Wetlands Conservation Institute (Ecoton), to visit a number of villages in East Java. In one village, she saw that the river was polluted with paper waste. The waste is thought to have come from a used paper processing company not far from the location.
The river looks turdy and smelly. Not only that, the sky above the river was dark due to the smoke from the industry. The area was also littered with scattered plastic waste, leftovers of the recycling process. The plastic waste is disposed of not far from the factory site. From this plastic waste, she could identify the origin of the products, which is from those four countries.
Some countries responded favorably to Nina’s protest by inviting her to a discussion, but some did not respond, and instead they blamed Indonesia for importing used paper.
Nina’s concern for the environment is driven by her parents’ activities as environmental activists. Her father is the executive director of Ecoton and her mother is a researcher in the institute.
Since her childhood, Nina used to participate in campaigns and rallies about the environment. “My parents teach me to care about the environment,” said the 8th grader at State Junior High School SMPN 12 in Gresik regency.
When her parents were doing their works, they often brought Nina since she was a child.
The idea of writing a letter of protest sparked when, as a young girl, she wanted to join a demonstration, “I wanted to join the demonstration. But then, I was asked that if I join, what would I do? Then I thought that I can write a letter to the US President,” she said.
Nina was happy, because her letter was responded. In fact, Germany and Australia gave extraordinary appreciation to her. In their reply letters, the governments of the two countries promised to tighten waste export activities from their countries.
Not only writing letters to the developed countries sending plastic waste, she also succeeded in encouraging her school to ban the use of single-use plastics and to impose sanctions for violators.
Nina explained that she has interesting tricks to raise the awareness of her friends. One of the tricks is by providing education about the dangers of plastic waste from their parents’ research.
“I keep reminding them and making them scared. Plastic will produce harmful microplastics, if being thrown away. The plastic will be eaten by fish and the fish will be eaten by humans,” she said with a smile.
“Now, there are 12 of my friends at school who have joined the Brigade Sampah or “Garbage Brigade”. The Garbage Brigade is a community that cares about waste. In the past, before the Covid-19 pandemic, once a week Nina took her friends to the streets to campaign. The target is mass crowds such as car free day events in various areas, such as around Surabaya.
However, since the pandemic, the campaign has been conducted online. She created an Instagram account with the name info.mistik, which is the acronym for informasi mikroplastik (microplastic information). The campaign is mostly about building awareness of the dangers of microplastics, which are not yet widely realized. She is also the co-captain of the River Warrior community that is concerned with observing the cleanliness of the river.
Every time they find piles of garbage in the river, they will inform the local authorities of their findings along with the coordinates of the location to be handled.
Thanks to her activities, she had the opportunity to meet the Regent of Gresik. To the regent, he requested that the number of landfill be increased.
“Because there is no landfill, the garbage is then being thrown into the river or burned. The Regent promised to address this problem,” explained Nina.
One wish that she wants to fulfill is to speak in a forum related to environmental issues, especially about waste. She admitted that she had never seen children of her age speak in front of an adult forum regarding waste and environmental issues.
“Who knows that if it is the children who talk in the campaign, we can get more attention,” she said. This is definitely not an easy task. She saw that her parents had been campaigning for the environment for almost 30 years. But the conditions remain unchanged, pollution continues, the environment remains damaged.
However, she enjoys her activities so far. She will continue to fight against waste and build public awareness to protect the environment, at least from one action: not littering.