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I'm writing on my last day at ASRI. Here, I have spent and experienced time with the staff that has infinitely doubled my appreciation for their dedication. And, along with Kari Malen, HIH's extraordinary Volunteer Director, have spent nearly 7 days with 12 women representing Dining for Women who have equally doubled my appreciation for courage and what can be accomplished by a few dedicated people whose hearts are as big as the Gunung Palung rainforest and National Park no matter what side of the world they're from. And it's not just their collective passion that is as inspiring as it is humbling, it is that they truly "just do it."
Green Day celebrates the conclusion of the community planting season with thousands of seedlings now in the ground and several dozen more dug in to their pre-made holes with willing hands by a legion of volunteers hailing from the villages of West Kalimantan to distant North American cities and towns. Gathering at the site of the Lamong Satong nursery, many assemble under a large canvas tarp, others shelter under a thatched gazebo, still others assume an Indonesian squat that for most westerners is unavailable. Mitta, a dental student volunteer from Jakarta narrates the performances like pearls on an exquisite string. Voices of nearly 2 dozen school-age children sing out a song honoring the Gunung Palung. Dayak girls dressed in sequined shimmering red tunics with a most exquisite and sacred head feather pointed straight to the sky. An elder reading a scroll poem that flowed from his hands as the words were read like water. Finally, the ASRI staff, including Holy (Head Nurse Will and Nurse Clara's daughter), raise their voices in song with this poor western ear picking up only the refrain: alam sehat lestari - harmony with nature, and knowing that is what we work for. "In my philosophy," Will said, "I can make everyone happy with my guitar playing and singing. I've always played for my friends everywhere. I want my daughter, Holy, to see how happy every people are to come from everywhere for Green Day. I want her to join with us and teach her for the future how to save the world by doing little things to big things." As the day folds, the gathered slowly disassemble as hugs, handshakes and smiles that beam beyond words are shared.
Only the day before, we'd gathered for a different but as powerful celebration when the 12 Dining for Women travelers participated in placing of 10 goats with 10 widows at Harapan Mulia (noble hope) as part of the Dining For Women's generous grant and commitment to ASRI's Goats for Widows program. Awaiting our arrival were 10 goats carefully swaddled in plastic-weave "burlap" bags to keep them safe during transport. After a lovely introduction by Hotlin Ompusunggu and brief talk from Ibu Setiawati, Goats for Widows Coordinator, the work of freeing and sorting the goats began. Earlier, each widow had drawn a number associated with a number of each goat. Sons, friends and ASRI staff kneeled carefully over each goat to undo the bag's wrappings, often with a lit match or sadly even a cigarette to melt the strands. (This is an ingenious place when tools we in the developed world would want are not at hand.) As the late morning sun poured into a courtyard filled, each intended widow awaited side-by-side often holding hands with her Dining for Women companion who had also drawn a number. Children swarmed around the gathering with eager smiles. There were few dry eyes as those widows who lived close, peeled off with their companions and goats to head for their humble homes. Stories shared through hands held, smiles and laughter wrapped the groups in such a love as seldom beheld.
"Let us keep walking hand in hand with community for the benefit of human and environmental health," Monica Ruth Nirmala, ASRI Dentist. She was talking about Green Day and how it "was not only a celebration of ASRI...but the poems, songs, and dances by the community had shown that it was a celebration of the community." As I close, the Imam calls the devout to prayer. I am lulled by the deep vibrant voice and appreciation in knowing that the universe provides in so many ways we may never have imagined. And I think that from one end of the world to the other, for a few days we joined hands, honored this work, inspired each other and left as friends united in a vision of noble hope.