Building Stone Walls - the First NTA Project
When we started working on Semau island in the early 1990s we assumed that the greatest need of the Semau people would be for an effective and safe water system. Most parts of NTT, including Semau, are extremely dry and most people had to walk 2-3km from their homes to collect water. Our discussions with local officials and scientists in Kupang confirmed that water supply was an urgent need.
But, without exception, everyone we spoke to on Semau said that their most pressing need was for better fences around their gardens. Solid stone fences would protect the gardens from intruding livestock and make sure that there was a decent harvest of the staple food, maize. The people said they had always known how to survive with very little water, but that they spent too much time protecting their crops from stock. Collecting rocks from the surrounding countryside and carting them back to where the fence was being built was extremely labour intensive and being able to use a truck would make the work easier and faster.
NTA bought a second-hand truck in Kupang, and arranged to move it to Semau on a military boat. This was the first vehicle ever on Semau, and it not only marked the beginning of the first NTA project (and helped get a lot of fences built) but also found other immediate uses: transport and carrying goods for barter to nearby villages. Some locals learned basic mechanics as well, and when there were mechanical troubles, the truck was promptly repaired by local people using local resources. Some 50 kms of stone walls were built around six villages on Semau island with the use of the truck.
Nowadays, people don't build stone fences any more. It's easier to use barbed wire intertwined with a local shrub called gamal in order to create what are basically reinforced hedges. But building stone walls was a highly useful project while it lasted, and the walls still do their job today.