Would you do it if you could? I would. Again!

Guest blog by Christina Fitch, DO, MPH

Myself (Christina) & ASRI clinic doctors

As a doctor, I work in several settings. But, the thing that everyone wants to talk to me about is my volunteer work with Health In Harmony (HIH). Likely this is because it is the component of my work that I feel most passionate about and it shows. Having just returned from six weeks in Sukadana, I am still radiating with joy at what we were able to accomplish and what I am at the heart of in my service to HIH as a member of our dedicated Board of Directors.


Volunteer Dr. Karen Dahl discusses medicine with ASRI doctors.

The pace that our Indonesian colleagues keep up all year round is astounding; the way they continually manage the revolving door of volunteers and make good use of the talents that come their way amazes me.  For example, even though I was there as a physician and public health worker, I also helped to catalogue the valued array of tools that ASRI has accrued from previous volunteer visits. Who knew that my time working with my electrical contractor Dad (pass me the Allen wrench) would come to my aid so serendipitously! When not cataloging or working on patient clinic flow recommendations for a clinic bulging at the seams, I was honored to work side-by-side with volunteer Thomas Lazzarini, on ASRI’s first update of the 5-year community survey.

While my first trip was an eye-opening inspiration, this time the pace and scope of activity was so much greater, affirming that all the arms of the program – from organic garden training to Green Day, from Goats for Widows to midwifery training – are more mature and therefore are interacting with the other programs and growing exponentially. Plus, our Indonesian physicians are better-equipped thanks to HIH and we are all more organized and receptive to learning from each other.

A volunteer shares photos from anti-malaria mosquito net event. Photo by Ted Ullrich.

And ASRI is building trust and making indispensible links with the community. This is exemplified by the fact that ASRI was asked by the government to help increase the rates of immunization for children in some of the villages from our service area.

What I love about ASRI is that we are not trying to accomplish things in a vacuum. Through great investment of time and resources, a cadre of nurses completed ASRI’s second 5-year community health survey. I felt privileged while at ASRI to work with this raw data so that we can learn what has changed in the community we serve and how we can better serve that community. Hopefully our survey will help us to understand why, for example, there are persistently low rates of immunization for children in some areas versus others and how we can change this alarming indicator of poor health.

Early information from the survey already shows that many communities have heard about organic gardening training and environmental education going on in nearby villages – and they want in! Indeed, with evidence of increase crop yields and income, ASRI’s organic farming program is clearly creating viable livelihoods as an alternative to over-harvesting precious rain forest resources.

As a physician, the data is important to me. I make decisions every day and help patients to make decisions based on evidence. But the work that goes on at ASRI is first and foremost spirit-based and secondly evidence-based. What I mean by this is that it is community driven, not just our own desires as an organization. I am so excited to continue working with ASRI and Health In Harmony!

Volunteer Coordinator Kari Malen discusses reforestation plans with project staff. Photo by Jessica De Jarnette.

Friends and family are forever asking me if they could be useful as a volunteer, wistful on hearing my stories. I am now more convinced than ever that many areas of expertise are needed and desired in Sukadana. Interested in volunteering? Contact Kari Malen, HIH’s Volunteer Director. Can’t volunteer but want to support or sponsor a volunteer? Contact Nichol Simpson, Director of Development. They look forward to hearing from you!

About Christina Fitch

Christina serves as the Director of the Health In Harmony Board of Directors, volunteered as an Attending Physician at ASRI multiple times, and is a dedicated supporter of this work.  She is currently based in New Hampshire.


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