Leading The Way, To A Brighter Future
Words By: Bonita Grima
I enter the number again. I am trying to contact the founder of trekking company, Rinjani Women Adventure in Lombok. This time the phone rings and when I get through, I am greeted by the unmistakable voice of Katni Wati; filled with all the warmth and enthusiasm I have come to associate her with – ‘Hello Bonita Grima!’
I cast my mind back to when I first met Katni, on a trip to the Bayan district of northern Lombok…
Near the border of Mt Rinjani National Park, the 37-year-old mother of four is leading us through village gardens; past plantations of tobacco, coffee, cotton and spice; beneath shady groves of bamboo; up into foothills that allow spectacular views over rice terraces and palms and finally on through dense, humid rainforest to our destination – the Sendang Gile waterfall, whose cooling waters are believed to have special healing powers.
Along the way, Katni stops to point out wildlife and various plants, sharing with us her knowledge and their uses within the surrounding villages. She also shares her hopes for providing a better future for the people of these villages.
In her village of Senaru, the Sasak people still live and work in the traditional manner. Receiving a complete education and being financially independent is not common for women in these parts, with most Sasak girls only completing junior high before marrying or helping support the family through work in the plantations.
Passionate about empowering the girls and women of the area, Katni has found a way to bring about positive change not only to the lives of women here but also to the community as a whole.
In 1995 at just 15 years old, Katni became the first female mountain guide to take visitors to the summit of Mt Rinjani, 3726m above sea level. Since then she has trained up to 60 young women to do the same and today, her company, Rinjani Women Adventure, employs both men and women, with trekking tours of Mt Rinjani and surrounding areas as well as cultural tours that allow a glimpse into local life.
Talking on the phone now, Katni reiterates what she told me when I visited her village last year.
‘I love my culture, but women here are second level. I wanted to change that and make them independent and valuable. It’s not about being more than men; it's about being equal’.
Katni tells me the average daily wage for females in the villages of northern Lombok is just 25,000 rupiah (AUD 2.50), but by working as a guide in her company, they can earn up to 200,000 rupiah (AUD 20).
‘Through guide work, women can support the family as well as the men financially, and it means children can go to school longer’, she says. ‘Already we see more girls graduate from high school with hopes of university. Education means girls now have options.’
The difference Katni has made to her community is inspiring. Her company has won awards for eco-tourism, and in 2015 the Indonesian government invited her to visit some of the islands, including Flores, where she gave talks in the hope of inspiring local people to follow in her footsteps.
I ask Katni what she has been doing recently and what her plans are for the future?
‘In December, I was invited for another talk in Surabaya, but I couldn't go because a film crew from Australia was in the village to make a documentary about ‘kidnapping for marriage’ and they needed me to translate and explain our culture, also they want to know about the guiding’.
I think back to our arrival in the village of Senaru where a young woman named Sari showed us inside one of the typical houses made of mud brick, bamboo and thatched rattan. Inside, Sari told us the houses were occupied by families of up to fifteen people. As my eyes adjusted to the limited light, I had tried to imagine what it must be like to live with so many others in such a small space with no dividing walls.
Someone had asked why there were no windows to let light in and we had been shocked to learn the reason for their absence was for the prevention of kidnapping of girls for marriage. Later we discovered that ‘kidnapping’ was really more an elopement, agreed upon by future bride and groom and still an essential part of the traditional marriage practice among Sasak people today.
‘My big plan this year is to build a library in the village. I want kids to have a place to come to read after school. But we need more used books. Also, I want to bring in bamboo and weaving experts to train women in handicraft work.’
Local environmental issues are also a concern to Katni. Waste generated from trekking activities over the years has prompted her to implement a program called ‘Keep Rinjani Green and Clean', and she asks each climber to follow the program and complete a checklist of garbage before each trip.
‘I want to educate local people too, about the damage to our environment through rubbish and hope to start a recycling program in our village.'
When our conversation draws to a close, I’m happy to hear the good work is continuing and feel reassured that there are inspiring women in the world such as Katni, committed to improving the lives of those around them. Having seen the effect that her work has had and the confidence and joy in the faces of her female guiding team, I feel optimistic for these young women and their ability to provide a path for a brighter future.
For more information about Rinjani Women Adventure