Guest blog by Edward Pranoto
The months leading up to my departure were quite often filled with trepidation. Despite being fluent in Bahasa and being relatively familiar with the local culture, there is always something about going alone into the "unknown." In hindsight, this couldn’t be any further from the truth. On my first day at Klinik ASRI, I saw more friendly, smiling faces in one small room during morning meeting than I do in a typical, busy hospital ward in Melbourne. The atmosphere on morning meetings are almost always jovial, but what I came to realize during my time in Sukadana is that you not only become part of the ASRI family, but also part of the local community.
It was a cloudy Sunday morning when Etty (Community Outreach Coordinator), Efan (ASRI Nurse), Nick (Volunteer Photographer), Dr. Hafidz (ASRI Physician), and myself sat at the coffee shop in front of the clinic. Suddenly local community members asked if anyone would be willing to lend a hand in cleaning out the water reservoir for the stretch of road that ASRI sits on. All I knew at that time was that the reservoir is located up halfway up the small mountain behind where the clinic is located.
It would be about a quarter mile before we got off the sealed road and ploughed through an unsealed dirt road down through the forest. With durian trees whizzing by, we soon ended up in a small clearing. About half a dozen other motorbikes were parked where we stopped, and we were cordially told that this is as far as the motorbikes can take us. As two of the three motorbikes turned around and left (to my paranoia’s delight), we hiked up a slippery narrow "trail."
A short, steep hike later we finally met up with about a dozen men huddled around a small concrete pond in the middle of a clearing. As we reached the reservoir, it’s clear how nature and time has taken its toll in the structure, although not quite dilapidated. The two small pools were filled with sediment, heavy undergrowth surrounds the small stream flowing into the pool, and a huge log had fallen on across just upstream of the reservoir. The village chief greeted us and we were soon off to work.
Since hiking up the mountain is the only means to reach this reservoir, the only tool we had was a plastic paint bucket, a small piece of tin roof, and a few machetes to clear the undergrowth. Everything else would have to be done by hand, in as literal sense as could be. Nick, Dr. Hafidz, and I started working in the ponds, clearing out the sediment. Despite it being a relatively laborious task in the high humidity of the forest on a wet and cloudy day, the atmosphere was a convivial one. Of the dozen men (and Etty) who were there, the youngest volunteer would have been in their early/mid-teens and the oldest would be somewhere in their 60s; all working towards the same goal.
With each person working on their own little tasks, eventually we cleared most of the undergrowth surrounding the reservoir and scooped all of the sediment from both ponds. To top it all, ASRI had organized refreshments made by ex-loggers who have recently given up on logging and started a catering business - it was a real win-win. With local delicacies on one hand and a cup of tea on the other, all of us knew how much of a difference we’ve made in just a few of hours. It was just an incredible feeling to be sipping a cup of tea as you enjoy the sights and sounds of the forest on a wet, cloudy day after a morning of manual labour.
With only a bucket and a piece of tin roof to pack up, it wasn’t long before people started heading back to their get on with their Sunday routine. They offered us a ride back to which we kindly declined. We preferred the slow walk through the jungle and enjoyed what nature has to offer along the way.
Personally, I found it quite astonishing that such a small stream could support more than a hundred local residents living on the stretch of road that the reservoir supplies. We were lucky too in that we still had water, as opposed to other households that have been struggling in the face of water scarcity as other streams have dried up during the summer months. This highlights just how integral ASRI and its programs are in being part of long-term development of the community; both in the provision of good quality, low-cost health care and in its conservation initiatives. Unabated logging will only continue to reduce groundwater absorption, leading to more severe and prolonged water scarcity in the future. In turn, the public health risk could only increase as more and more people (as well as wildlife) will be forced to rely on sharing a shrinking pool of resources to survive. Should such reservoirs be contaminated and an outbreak occur, one could only imagine the health (and financial) ramifications it would place on the people of Sukadana. This is why I really believe in what ASRI is doing and I had such an incredible experience being part of it. Thank you ASRI!
About Edward Pranoto
Edward is an Indonesian medical student living in Australia. He volunteered at the ASRI Clinic in fall of 2015.