The Girl Behind The Speaker’s Podium

Most people wait until they’re adults till they seek out to do something in the world, to make an impact on society, but for seventeen-year-old Melati Wijsen, waiting until she was older was not an option. So, at the age of 12, she and her younger sister set out to do what most adults would never dream of doing, let alone following through. Together, they had intended to get 1 million signatures in one year on their petition to ban plastic bags on Bali to gain the attention of the Indonesian government. Five years later, Melati and her sister Isabel are still working tirelessly to see that their plans for the wellbeing of the environment are realized. From speaking at the general assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to travelling the world to spread her message and raise awareness, Melati is undoubtedly an inspiration to many; both young and old. But who is the teenage girl (who guest spoke here last month) behind this worldwide initiative?

I first met Melati in our eighth-grade classroom situated in the heart of a jungle, just one year after she had started her social initiative Bye Bye Plastic Bags’ in Greenschool Bali, where she ended up graduating from early this past June. To list all of her accomplishments would take long and list all of her awards would take even longer. But then, why would I need to? The person behind the speaker’s podium is far more fascinating.

What many people don’t know about her is that her name means ‘Jasmine’; fitting considering her passion is for the environment. She even became a vegetarian (who is starting to eat vegan) so help reduce the negative impacts of the meat industry on the environment. Luckily, her favourite food – nasi campur (which is a dish with a scoop of rice accompanied by small portions of vegetables, peanuts and eggs) – has always been vegetarian. Perhaps the most quirky fact about her is that due to doing competitive gymnastics as a young child, she has “broken both arms, sprained both ankles, fractured [her] skull, and both [her] kneecaps have popped.” she laughs “but not all at once!”

Melati loves to listen to Frank Ocean songs and loves all things mystical and/or crystalline. When she manages to get some free time, she enjoys writing creatively on her typewriter while listening to records on her record player amidst the melancholic bliss of island life. While she enjoys using modern technology to listen to music and to write, she finds that it is nice to unplug once in a while. When she does decide to participate in mainstream entertainment, however, she says “My favourite artists are Frank Ocean (I love ‘nights’), Daniel Cezar, and Anderson .Paak.” She lists while scrolling her extensive music library. It seems as though most things about her contribute to creating an image of the laid-back, bubbly, yet passionate person she is. Like most of us, Melati is a big fan of watching T.V. shows. She lists her favourite ones excitedly: “I love Velvet. It’s in Spanish but its so good. It’s my favourite right now but I also really like Suits and Grey’s Anatomy.” because who doesn’t.

Further delving into her hobbies and interests, despite her love of reading Melati hasn’t found as much time to read as she would like. Even so, her favourite book of all time is The Sea Of Tranquility by Katja Millay and has been ever since before I met her. Her favourite colour is blue “because of the ocean, duh…” she jokes as she’s been doing a lot of work with ocean conservation. As for her hidden talents, “A really cool talent that I just discovered was that I’m really good at making a simple pasta. It’s the only thing that I can cook.” she boasts.

Living in Bali she says, has “allowed nature to be a big part of my childhood and it took up a big part of our everyday lives, leading me to appreciate it.” As for her family’s influence on her and her ambitions, they have “always provided a space where it was okay to explore different ideas. My sister has influenced me too because she is one of my biggest inspirations as well as my biggest fan.” What’s more, attending a bamboo school in the middle of the jungle will inspire just about anyone. For Melati, “Greenschool always influenced me to ask bigger questions as a student and explore what was beyond the classroom.” Melati emphasizes that she gets a lot of her inspiration from words whether they be in the form of poetry or documentary, and the power that they possess. One of her favourite quotes is by her favourite political activist (because we all have don’t we?) is “A word after a word after a word is power” – Margaret Atwood.

So there you have it, Melati Wijsen: a Netflix watching, book reading, record listening, creative writing, pasta cooking, bone breaking, award-winning environmental activist and seventeen-year-old.