Serving a Purpose in Imperiled Paradise

Serving a Purpose in Imperiled Paradise

Guest blog by Dr. Aaliya Yaqub

Health In Harmony's purpose is threefold: to provide ASRI with volunteers and funds, while telling its story, and we were recently awarded Guidestar's Silver Certification, demonstrating efficacy and responsibility in pursuing this missionIn today's blog, Aaliya Yaqub, one of our wonderful volunteer physicians at ASRI, paints a picture of the integration of conservation and healthcare, kicking off our August focus on sharing stories and asking you to lean on our expertise by giving the most flexible and effective gifts possibleKeep your eyes on your inbox for more details coming soon.

It’s true, life happens, but a rich life full of vibrant experiences will not just land in your lap.  One year ago, as I was expecting my first baby, I had the opportunity to spend 6 weeks in Sukadana, Borneo working in the ASRI clinic. Yale/Stanford Johnson & Johnson Global Health Scholars program helped me grow from an American into a global citizen ready to explore and experience.  I must admit that one must have some adventure in them to participate in such an experience, but the rewards are boundless. 

For me, the long 36-hour journey to Sukadana, the remote Bornean village where I spent the summer of 2012, was well worth it. Sukadana is the kind of fantastic place that exists in your imagination.  It is nestled in the rainforest and yet manages to boast a pretty little brown sandy beach that gets framed by marvelous rainbows during the rainy season.  Its people are otherworldly with their deep sincere smiles that never seem to end, their big hearts, and their vast gratitude.  The internet is slow and unreliable.  Sometimes there is no running water, and air conditioning is not an option even amidst the sometimes sweltering tropical heat and humidity.  Showers are taken with buckets and monkeys frolic outside of homes early in the morning.  People maintain a simple and organic diet consisting of freshly caught fish, local vegetables and rice.  And yet, even for a girl used to the modern luxuries of the first world, this is paradise.

Living in Sukadana was the greatest adventure I could have asked for, but it was my time in that tiny rural clinic that really shaped me as a doctor and as a person.  The clinic was housed in a small building and consisted of two patient examination rooms and three beds for inpatient care. In this clinic, I was no longer an internist who specialized in the medical care of adults. I was now one of the community doctors—equipped with the courage to care for trauma, eye emergencies, neurologic emergencies, children and pregnant women.

There were moments that really challenged my emotional fortitude.  I particularly remember a 43-year-old woman who was brought in unconscious by her family.  One moment she was preparing dinner in her kitchen, and the next she was being rushed to the clinic after suffering a massive stroke.  With no imaging capabilities and little resources, we treated her supportively and comforted her family as she peacefully passed away.  I had mixed feelings about the experience—sorrow, sadness, and frustration that I was unable to do more.  As her family members thanked me and my colleagues for our love, support and guidance during this tragic time, I began to realize that I was serving a purpose. Although I was unable to save this patient, I was able to make her comfortable and provide support to her family.  In moments like that, we all face our fragile humanity and are bonded together by something deeper than medical care.

Apart from the amazing experiences I had in the clinic teaching young Indonesian doctors and treating patients, I spent time learning about the heartbreaking destruction of the rainforest.  With illegal logging by people looking to sell wood to make a quick profit and the rapid spread of palm oil plantations in the region, I saw the repercussions firsthand.  Orangutans, a species of great apes only found in Indonesia, are losing their habitat at an alarming rate.  With destruction of the forest, we are also losing the amazing biodiversity found in the region—insects, birds, trees, plants.  And, most alarming to me is the increase in greenhouse gases and climate change as a result of this critical loss of forest. All of these issues may seem so foreign and obscure to those sitting in the western world, but seeing all of this in person changed me.  It changed how I feel about the environment and about health.

I believe that as we allow the destruction of our environment, we are also allowing the destruction of our health.  Respect for one’s health and respect for our natural resources go hand in hand.

When my daughter is old enough, I hope she can experience Borneo the way that I did.  I am looking forward to taking her halfway across the world for an experience that will add richness and color to her life.


About Aaliya Yaqub

Aaliya volunteered at the ASRI Clinic in 2012 through the Johnson & Johnson Scholars Program at Stanford University. She currently resides in Atherton, CA.


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