Guest blog by Daniel Ebbs
Volunteering at ASRI Klinik in Sukadana, West Borneo, was as much of a learning experience as it was an adventure. From opening our hearts and minds to the people and culture, to experiencing the surrounding jungle and biodiversity, every day we absorbed and saturated our minds with seemingly endless knowledge and amazement. Traveling to Sukadana is an experience that is difficult to describe in words and will, I hope, provide insight to those wishing to witness how health access coalesces with environmental life and health, and how community engagement can produce innovative solutions to save the planet while saving lives.
Once arriving in Sukadana after two days of traveling, I remember falling into bed, in an altered state of course - I would probably consider myself no more than a 13 on the Glasgow Coma Scale! After the initial acknowledgment that we were finally at our destination, it began to sink in: we were not dreaming, but at Klinik ASRI, a model we have been so inspired by over the last year. The sounds of the jungle began to creep through every orifice of the house we were staying in and my body - I felt relieved to hear the beautiful sounds of the jungle again, and quickly remembered how much I had missed these sounds.
Adjusting to the climate, the community, and the lifestyle was not difficult because everyone at ASRI and in the villages are so welcoming and kind. The food was amazing (I am a pescatarian) and riding a bike around town was more of a luxury than anything. The clinic could not have been more involved with the communities that surround ASRI, and there is a definite non-hierarchical feeling all around.
Reflecting on our planned trip to Sukadana prior to departing the United States, I knew I wanted to get as much possible out of every moment of this trip because we would be leaving and back home within a blink. Therefore – in addition to our community health and technology project – we did something new every day. The weekends we went hiking all day and the weekdays after working we went to the town, played indoor soccer (futsal), rode our bikes to the hotel for drinks while watching the sunset, rode to the juice bar one night… the list goes on. I woke up early in the mornings to run on the beach, in guilty hope of running past a cobra, or maybe seeing a fish owl perching next to the water, or… okay, I could go on forever.
It was a short but sweet visit to the jungle of Indonesia, and I am already thinking of ways to go back. If I could give any suggestions to future ASRI volunteers, hopefully myself as well, I would simply recommend that you depart for ASRI with an open mind and open heart. Plan on an experience that has no boundaries, like your body - this experience is a gift that can only be taken advantage of by those willing to express love for social justice with love for life.
About Daniel Ebbs
Daniel Ebbs and Mochorei Kesolei, graduate student researchers at the University of New Mexico, volunteered at ASRI this January. Their project explores using technology as a tool in community health, particularly in the developing world, using Health In Harmony’s partner ASRI as a pilot and site for further research. Their initial project brought tablets – and the training to use them - to ASRI’s community health workers to assist in monitoring tuberculosis treatment. These tablets include software to collect data, to allow “long-distance” diagnosis of patients in remote villages by physicians at ASRI, and to show cartoons relating basic health concepts even to villagers who cannot read. Daniel plans to return to ASRI and improve the program based on community health workers’ and physicians’ feedback!