Giving Service at ASRI

Guest blog by Dr. Krista Farey

Coming to Sukadana has been a blast of hot humid air, and warm new friends. As soon as I arrived and was situated in the "girls' house" off we went on our bikes. Imagine my surprise, arriving from San Francisco, to what I had heard was arguably one of the most corrupt and disaster-prone countries of the world, to learn that we had no bike locks. Not needed in Sukadana, they said, and besides, these are ASRI bikes. The "girls" were confident that there is so much respect for ASRI in the community that no one would mess with an ASRI bike.

Dr. Krista with new best friend Dr. Nomi

Dr. Krista with new best friend Dr. Nomi (Photo: Michelle Bussard)

Actually the "girls' house" is a residence for some of the women of ASRI, both volunteer and paid, including medical staff. I soon met one of my new best friends there, Nomi, a young doctor from Aceh, Sumatra, whose experiences in med school there included Tsunami. One of the first things she told me was that what she especially loves about working at ASRI is "the way of giving service".

She was speaking of service on many levels. First, giving this service means taking the time and having the interest in the patient to take a thorough history and make a careful diagnosis. Going further, she was also talking about the organization's mission to be of service to the community. ASRI's very existence is a response to both environmental health and human health needs expressed by community members and leaders.

The following two weeks I traveled with the mobile clinic to two small communities with which ASRI is developing relationships, that are located on the interior side of Gulung Palung National Park. We packed a pick-up truck with plastic bins full of medical supplies covered by a tarp, and loaded into the cabin a small team of health care workers. Among them was Yuli, a young doctor from southern Sulawesi, another new best friend from the "girls' house."

A teaching moment

A teaching moment (Photo: Michelle Bussard)

We drove many hours on rough roads, past pristine forests, burned out grasslands and oil palm plantations, seeing trucks of oil palm fruit and of logs going down, trucks of men going to work on their way up. We were welcomed by the headmen's families in remote villages, off the electrical grid, and out of cell phone service areas. We sat on the front porch of a basic wooden village house drinking water. The sun went down in a soft display of color, the full moon came up, and the evening was lovely. Then we got to work on the service we came to give. Yuli took careful histories and provided detailed health education. She did this because the community leaders saw a need and requested this from ASRI.

When we returned to Sukadana, we joined members of the second donor tour for a dinner discussion of ASRI's clinical programs. One of the donors, a physician by training, said to Ronald, an ASRI doctor from Java, "You are the kind of professional that could make our profession respectable again." Later that evening, when we were putting away our bikes, I asked Ronald what he made of that comment. "Well," he said, "medicine is not a profession." "What is it then," I asked, "a calling?" "Is being a shaman a profession?" he countered. OK, I thought. Perhaps something more like a gift which when received, both supports and compels one to give to others.

The next day, I assisted Ronald (who plans to train in surgery) with an office surgical procedure. He impeccably draped and consented his client, quietly prayed and made an incision with the utmost of care. I then understood, I hope, a little better what he was articulating.

Examining a patient together

Examining a patient together (Photo: Michelle Bussard)













The following week, I met the bone shaman. A dignified gentleman elder, he is a cassava farmer by profession. In addition, he had been trained by his father, and was training his son, to set bones, reduce dislocations and provide other hands-on musculoskeletal care. He is usually the first-choice in the community for the care of orthopedic problems. Two staff members had acute joint injuries and called him in at the end of the work day. Most of the ASRI clinic staff watched as his large strong hands relaxed and adjusted the joints, and when shortly thereafter a badly dislocated knee-cap slid back into place, everyone cheered.

The bone shaman answered a few questions and quietly went on his way, perhaps back to his farm. The ASRI doctors and nurses were informed of an after-hours emergency patient on her way in, and several stayed into the evening taking care of her, without complaint. The emergency patient lay down on the same bed that the staff member with the healing knee cap had just been able to walk away from. The ASRI way of giving service. Gifts received and gifts given.

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About Krista Farey

Krista is an Attending Physician in Family Medicine, based in San Francisco, CA. She has volunteered at the ASRI Clinic multiple times and is a dedicated Health In Harmony supporter.


About Trina Noonan | View all posts by Trina Noonan

Trina is the Managing Director at Health In Harmony, based in Portland, OR.