Guest blog by Mike Kanaga
My wife Peggy and I recently had the privilege of traveling to Indonesia to tour the ASRI facility in Borneo as part of the 2015 Health In Harmony Friendship Tour. We both had a bit of trepidation about this trip – half way around the world, different culture and language, unfamiliar food and surroundings, etc. However, after completing the trip I can say without reservation that I found every aspect of the 3 weeks to be fascinating.
ASRI is the Indonesian component of the Health In Harmony program which seeks to preserve Bornean rain forests by working with the communities and villages that surround the Gunung Palung National Park – a rain forest gem in desperate need of protection. ASRI’s “secret sauce” is their culture of “radical listening” – that is to listen and fully understand the needs of local villagers and then design programs that address their needs to minimize or eliminate the sources of rain forest degradation. The initiatives that ASRI have developed are wide ranging and have been effective – data clearly show both an improvement in the health of villagers served by ASRI and a reduction in rain forest impacts.
When we arrived in Sukadana, our first meeting was with Cam and Kinari Webb for a Q&A session about the ASRI program. The next day, Cam led us on a hike into the Gunung Palung National Park rain forest – it’s a real treat to go on a nature walk led by a pre-eminent scientist in rain forest ecology!
We were able to experience first-hand, nearly every ASRI program. We toured the ASRI Clinic and even attended rounds with the medical staff. We ate lunch with the staff and got to know some of them quite well. As part of the Organic Farming program, we met with several local farmers and their families, toured their gardens, and harvested some of their crops and at the end of the tour we were presented with a delicious luncheon at one of the farmer’s home.
We met several of the widows that are part of the Goats for Widows program. I can testify that these widows LOVE their goats which provide them with a source of income and companionship.
A particular highlight of the trip for me was accompanying a group of local elementary school kids on an ASRI sponsored after-school outing to a reforestation site. Both the school children and the tour members had a chance to plant tree seedlings in a clear-cut area of the rain forest. The school children were well educated on the importance of the rain forest which surrounds their homes. Later, we also met with a couple of Forest Guardians – these are local village volunteers who monitor rain forest health and are advocates against illegal logging in the National Park. Illegal logging was common a few years ago but has now been much reduced.
After a week in Sukadana, our tour group along with several ASRI staff went on a boat trip into the Tanjung Putting National Park – another rain forest in Borneo. In this case, access into this lowland rain forest is by boat – think “African Queen” on steroids.
We spent 3 relaxing days on a small houseboat gliding up and down the Sekonyer River which marks the Western border of the Park. We were able observe orangutans, gibbons, macaques, wild pigs and other animals of the rain forest “up close and personal” – in one case a little too up close! On the way back from one of our rain forest walks, the narrow boardwalk to the river was occupied by an adult orangutan sitting quietly and minding its own business but taking up the entire boardwalk! What to do? With the help of a local guide we were able to gingerly, one by one, step past the animal without a problem. What I liked best was bonding with our shipmates as we glided quietly along the slow-moving river as the ever-changing rain forest moved past us.
We ended the trip on Bali where we stayed at a luxury hotel, saw some local sights of interest, and had some time to become acquainted with the Balinese culture – quite a contrast to Borneo.
The Friendship Tour succeeded in giving us an in-depth knowledge of the total ASRI presence in Borneo and the dedication of the wonderful staff and supporters.
We can highly recommend the trip to any adventurous soul!
About Mike Kanaga
Mike is a dedicated supporter of Health In Harmony and joined the 2015 Friendship Tour. He is based in Seattle, WA.