Wood warrior

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 April, 2006, 12:00am

Greenpeace volunteer Cathy Chan Hiu-wan is about to begin an adventure of a lifetime: a journey into the ancient forests of Papua New Guinea as part of a campaign to fight illegal logging.

Cathy is one of 20 volunteers from around the world, and Hong Kong's sole representative in the project.

The volunteers have already arrived in Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby, and will fly to a remote part of the island later this week.

They will then head off into what Greenpeace calls the 'Paradise Forests', where they will stay with indigenous tribes for three weeks.

The Paradise Forests (which are yet to be formally named) stretch across Southeast Asia, through the islands of Indonesia, and on to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in the Pacific.

The volunteers will travel to Lake Murray where Greenpeace has built a small hut, and there, with the help of the local tribespeople, they will launch a demarcation operation in the forests to prevent loggers from illegally trespassing in the forests.

They will use yellow ribbons to mark the tribes' boundaries, covering an area of 300,000 hectares.

'It's not an easy job,' said Cathy last week before setting off on her journey.

'We may need to walk three to four hours through dense forest to get to the place where we mark the boundaries.

'It can be dangerous too because there may be bugs and snakes. The tribesmen will go with us as our guides and guards.

'Also, city dwellers may fall sick easily as we may not cope with the water and food, and there will be a lack of hygienic facilities. I've had three rounds of vaccinations for several infectious diseases and during the journey I have to take pills against cholera every day.'

While working on the campaign, Cathy will experience tribal life. This will include going hunting with the tribesmen, preparing and eating what they have caught, and bathing in the lake.

The 24-year-old says her adventurous spirit and love of nature was part of the reason she was selected to join the project.

After graduating from East and Southeast Asian studies at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) in 2004, she travelled to Yunnan Province alone and stayed for a month.

Fascinated by their tranquil, rural life, she asked the local people she made friends with to take her to their ethnic minority villages on weekends. She stayed with them for a couple days, learning about their culture.

When she returned to Hong Kong, she worked as a research assistant at CityU. She says the regular working hours made her restless to do more with her life, so she joined Greenpeace as a volunteer last October.

'Hong Kong people are alienated from the countryside, let alone forests. I hope our campaign can raise their awareness of the value of natural resources,' said Cathy.

'Ancient forest protection is not just a foreign issue. We are also suffering from climate change and diminishing biodiversity due to deforestation. We should treasure paper and other wooden products, and refuse to buy from illegal loggers,' she said.

Cathy and the other volunteers write blogs to record their experiences. To read, visit www.greenpeace.org/china