Environmental Education in Sumatra - SOS – Sumatran Orangutan Society

Environmental Education in Sumatra

SOS founder, Lucy Wisdom, was a champion for environmental education, making a school in Sumatra a very fitting tribute to her life's work.
If you receive our newsletters or have spent time browsing our website, you’ll know about the Lucy Wisdom School, or Sekolah Alam Leuser. Built in memory of our founder, Lucy Wisdom, the school is a reminder of Lucy’s commitment to using education to ensure that the projects SOS supports are beneficial to people as well as to wildlife.


Lucy began supporting environmental education projects in Sumatra in 2006, starting with the OranguVan, or Mobile Awareness Unit. This provided outreach to communities in the form of conservation training, discussion forums and a mobile library full of books, films, exhibitions and even tree seedlings. It reached almost 3,000 people in its first year.


The first OranguVan was funded by ethical fashion brand Komodo, and the second by Lush natural handmade cosmetics – both companies that we maintain close partnerships with more than a decade on. In fact both Komodo and Lush are linked to the Lucy Wisdom School, having funded the land that it’s built on at Bukit Mas, and the construction of the school itself.
A group of people standing in front of an environmental education van with orangutans painted on it.

The OranguVan. Image courtesy of OIC.

In 2007, SOS and OIC were asked by the Governor of North Sumatra to develop an environmental education curriculum for schools in North Sumatra. The focus of the curriculum was highlighting the importance of orangutan habitat for ecosystem services, and the benefits to communities of supporting and being involved in conservation efforts. Between 2007-2008, this project reached around 3,500 secondary school students across North Sumatra.


As an extension of this, SOS and OIC also ran conservation camps to give children and teachers alike a chance to immerse themselves more fully in conservation learning and discussions. Encompassing everything from environmental film screenings to practical training in compost production and tree nursery development, these camps were extremely popular, with over 60 people attending each one.
A school surrounded by trees.

The Lucy Wisdom School. Photo courtesy of Zac Mills.

Lucy was a real driving force and inspiration for these early crucial steps in building education into SOS and OIC’s toolkit for orangutan conservation. It seemed only right, therefore, to dedicate the school at Bukit Mas to her memory. Now running for almost a year, the school is a testament to the benefits of a nature-based curriculum. The school’s students, who would otherwise struggle to access any secondary education, are already equipped with knowledge about their environment that will enable them to have a positive impact throughout their lives, whether or not they ultimately choose a career in conservation. They know about wildlife – from orangutans, tigers and elephants to the near-invisible invertebrates in the soil, and they recognise the native tree species that are so important for the future of wildlife and people. This is Lucy’s legacy, and we are thankful that she spearheaded so many of the initiatives that still inspire today’s OIC educators.
An adult sumatran orangutan

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