Lulut Sri Yuliani is a fighter. After defeating a debilitating illness, she is now battling to preserve Surabaya’s mangrove forests. The 45-year-old mum has been assisting communities living near the mangrove forests of Rungkut Surabaya through the SeRu Batik group (Batik Art of Mangrove Rungkut), which manufactures batik featu-ring mangroves. “It’s good, but you still need to practice more to improve the batik motif,” Lulut told one of her students at the batik production house in Kedung Asem Indah, Surabaya.
Lulut has successfully taught batik production techniques to 60 people from communities living near the mangrove forests. Some have been able to produce batik with patterns especially from Surabaya. In addition to improving the surrounding communities’ standard of living, her group is also campaigning to conserve the mangroves.
Lulut has assisted more than 200 communities around the Surabaya mangrove areas to produce soap, tempeh, crackers, drinks made from mangrove fruit, embroidery and sewing featuring mangrove patterns. The groups Lulut coached have actively campaigned for the conservation of mangroves in Surabaya, as most raw materials the groups use consist of mangrove fruits collected in conservation areas. “All buyers of mangrove batik receive a certificate stating they have helped plant a mangrove seed in the mangrove conservation area. So every batik buyer gets a new tree as a present, and our group plants the mangrove seeds,” she said.
What is Lulut’s motivation? “It all started 13 years ago, when I was struggling between life and death. I became inspired by Mother Teresa’s programs for the community and the environment,” she told The Jakarta Post. After a doctor told her she suffered from a blood disease and had less than a year to live, Lulut was dumbstruck as she could not believe she had inherited a lethal condition, while her husband Budiono Halim, 50, dedicated himself to looking after her.
After the doctor’s diagnosis, Lulut stopped teaching dance at several high schools in Surabaya. Although she couldn’t move her legs anymore, she still got out of bed every day. She repeatedly collapsed but refused to sit in a wheelchair or walk with crutches, preferring to crawl. However, her combative spirit almost cost Lulut her life. She fell unconscious one day after exceeding the dose of prescription drugs. Her face turned pale and her heartbeat weakened.
Budiono could only sit cross-legged and pray. The specialist who had treated Lulut during this time had gone overseas. Lulut remembered Mother Teresa’s words: “According to my calling, I belong to the world, while my heart completely belongs to Jesus”. Two years later Lulut was no longer paralyzed and started teaching again. In 2000, she was blessed with a child, Nadia Chrissanty Halim. She regards both her recovery and her daughter as gifts from God, and swore to do what she could to serve her community.
Amid her activities at school, Lulut continued to visit mangrove forests in Rungkut Surabaya, which had been her childhood playground. But in the 1990s, loggers had cleared the mangroves and sold the wood, while pollution from the city’s growing population filled the mangrove forests — at the mouth of the Surabaya River — with trash.
“The condition of the mangrove forest was very delicate. Much of the land was barren and the bird population had started to decline because of hunters. Many people were throwing their garbage into the river thus polluting the mangroves.” To save the mangroves, Lulut campaigned to inform people about the need to preserve nature in the surrounding areas, but was unsuccessful.
How else could she convince people to conserve mangroves? By showing them the economic value of fallen mangrove fruits. She also started to produce products made from mangrove fruits. In 2007, she quit her teaching job at school. Instead, she taught people how to take the mangrove fruits that had fallen from the trees and use them to make natural liquid soap known as Sirvega, an abbreviation for mangrove liquid soap.
“The mangrove fruit is heated until it is liquid and then mixed with aloe vera and processed to become soap. This soap has been marketed in various places, including Kalimantan,” she said. Soon after, Lulut succeeded in creating a variety of foods and beverages using mangrove fruits, such as tempeh and an instant drink made from mangrove fruits named WeRo (Wedang Mangrove).
“The waste products from making soap and food and beverages using mangrove fruit could also be used as batik dye. I brought the mothers and young people together to help make batik,” she said. The mangrove fruit processing wastes can also be used to produce a liquid fertilizer, which she distributes to communities around her house for a greening program in the housing complex.
Lulut has successfully created 44 mangrove batik art designs, starting with the designs of leaves, flowers and fruits, and the creatures that live around the mangroves, such as fish, crabs and shrimps. Each motif includes the names of specific varieties of mangroves, both the Latin name and the regional name, as well as additional motifs. To introduce the mangrove batik she has created, Lulut has promoted mangrove batik in Jakarta and overseas. Many people who joined the mangrove batik craft group known as Griya Karya Tiara Kusuma (crown of flowers workshop) have profited from the sales of mangrove batik. “As I promised to God, I will devote my whole life to the community,” Lulut said. She believes her faith and work have kept her alive so far.