Eco Warrior: Ben Dessen

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Working in remote locations and hanging out with orangutans, UWS student Ben Dessen has been on a life-changing adventure to Borneo while shooting a documentary called Rise of the Eco Warriors, which hits Australian cinemas this month.

Rise of the Eco Warriors tells the real-life story of a group of 15 young people from nine different countries who travelled to Borneo and spent 100 days living in the jungle. While there, they were involved in a mission to explore and implement solutions to rampant deforestation, which is destroying local communities, driving endangered orangutans and other wildlife to extinction and contributing to climate change.

"I was involved in the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation team, and we worked to help establish a new orangutan rehabilitation centre in a remote part of West Borneo," says Ben.

For as long as he can remember, Ben has been passionate about wildlife and the environment. Ben is currently studying a Bachelor of Natural Science, majoring in Animal Science, at the Hawkesbury campus. He is also a recipient of the Vice-Chancellor's Leadership Scholarship and a member of the UWS Aspire program.

"I had previously been on a trip to Borneo and was aware of the severe environmental devastation occurring there on a daily basis. When I heard about this project, I felt like everything I had been doing with my life so far had been leading up to this moment. I just had to be involved."

Ben says one of the highlights of his experience in Borneo was striking a special relationship with an orphaned orangutan called Jojo. "The first night that we returned to the orangutan centre after she had been rescued, I had to spend the night sleeping in the cage with Jojo to help her settle in," says Ben. "This was an experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life! There is something very special about looking into the eyes of an orangutan; it really does change you forever."

The challenges faced by the team included limited resources and funding to combat extreme environmental destruction. "The destruction and countless animals desperate for help in need of immediate rescue was heartbreaking," explains Ben. "However, this is what made us more determined than ever to do whatever we could to help – no matter how big or small."

Ben says the UWS community has been very supportive of his work in Borneo, with the University donating towards conservation work. "I was able to defer a semester of my degree to travel to Borneo and be involved in the project and movie," says Ben. "Undertaking the Animal Science degree at UWS has enabled me to develop and further the career that I am already so passionate about."

The makers of Rise of the Eco Warriors have established an education program to inspire other young people from around the world. Through DeforestACTION, they have engaged more than 1900 schools and 60,000 students about the issues facing Borneo and how people can continue to highlight the situation.

Rise of the Eco Warriors is currently being previewed nationally around Australia.

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