Moving The Dream Forward


Awakening to the timbre of roosters crowing up the dawn that blushes over the steamy landscape, my western-world mind takes a moment to settle. As familiar as I’ve become with Sukadana, a small village of 2,200 sitting on the edge of one of the world’s largest islands, Borneo, it never ceases to humble and inspire. In a world starved for real connections, where texts, tweets, Facebook, Myspace, and a myriad of apps substitute, ASRI stands as a beacon of hope and bastion of true human-to-human connection.

Photo: Loren Bell

Michelle trekking through Gunung Palung National Park | Photo: Loren Bell

I’m here with Rafael Martinez, a member of the 20+ architectural team that has devoted, pro bono, their time to complete the set of drawings that represent ASRI’s Community Hospital and Training Center. Really, I am here with every one of you as well who has believed in and helped to move this dream forward. Now, it is time to honor one of our shared core values: radical listening, and make sure we have all the details dialed in with our partner. Our days start early and go late.

Against this backdrop, my own Mac's neural synapses seemed to have grown keloids; I fight back to no avail. Not even ASRI’s relatively superb Wi-Fi is accommodating. In defeat, I walk across the street from the Clinic to the Yellow House where lunch is made, served and shared daily with staff and volunteers. There, I find Ibu Rasam and Ibu Lena at work; one at a two-burner gas stove, the other sitting on a tikar with baskets of shallots, onions, garlic, chilies, tomatoes and greens arrayed like a rainbow – the making of the day’s sambal. I am welcomed with kisses, a steaming bowl of Indomei and invited to share a simple but satisfying meal. Letting go of that quarrelsome internet tether was the medicine. But not the cure.

Patients waiting outside of the ASRI clinic | Photo: Michelle Bussard

Patients waiting outside of the ASRI clinic | Photo: Michelle Bussard

By 8 a.m., the day is in full swing with the beginning of what would be a 12-hour marathon meeting leaning into the design of ASRI’s Community Hospital & Training Center that will serve the edge of these shores at the foot of the Gunung Palung National Park and rain forest. Rafael and I have taped the 24”x 36” architectural drawings to curtains, walls and the shelves holding copious medical records. Like a big embrace, the drawings surrounded the 30+ of us who find our seats on the cool peach-colored tile floor.  Here, there would be no PowerPoint presentations, only good, old-fashioned bumwad, architectural rulers, pencils and most essential, the intention to listen deeply and completely to each other. We work in a mélange of Bahasa, English and translations.

Occasionally, drinks or bowls of Indomei would appear, brought in by Pak Ahmed who runs the small, trusty warung next door. As we leaned more deeply into the inquiry and the day unfurled, Agus, the illegal logging monitor, began rubbing Head Nurse Will’s shoulders; Dr. Vina leaned into Etty’s lap and Indah held Fatima’s hand briefly over a moment of secret joy shared: they would be getting their own cashier and pharmacist offices. Driver, nurse, pharmacist, housekeeper, cook, doctor, volunteer, dentist, executive director, founder, village healthcare worker, goat tender, we all sit all day side-by-side without wavering even when only three rooms and their configuration became the topic of dialogue for an hour.  With consensus there was the clacking of a wooden child’s toy, the signal that it was now okay to move on to the next question, and the next and the next. We would be here until done. There would be a break but we’d resume until nearly 8 p.m. that night.

By 3:00 p.m., though nobody could wait any longer for the group picture celebrating the arrival of the new batik shirt uniforms, all handmade (Thank you Tim Thomas!). There was no “Made in China” or “one size fits all” and there was no distinguishing one rank from another. Whether seated on the cool peach tile floor together or dressed alike in the ASRI uniform, the value of individual dignity is always honored. None is above another. All views are equally valid. Everyone is accorded the honor of being listened to. And this extends to every patient and their family that walks through ASRI’s doors.

Sometime mid-morning, with no effort on my part, the Wi-Fi connection was suddenly restored, and the tell-tale alerts began flipping over in the top right hand corner of my Mac. What sorted itself out, I have no idea. My relief was palpable. But it was when we drew to a close with the night drawn down tight around our gathering, that I felt in my heart the true ecstasy that fills the throat with tears and makes speech croak. I spoke into the honor of being here, present, in this gathering simply, irrevocably, deeply listening, and carrying with me all of your generosity and hopes for a new standard of care in a world that is desperate for connection and true solutions for the challenges facing our planet.  You can’t do that with an SMS, or Facebook or through email (though they help immeasurably!); FourSquare can’t hear and tweets can’t really speak this language because it is a language of love. But we can; face-to-face, side-by-side even if we do not all speak the same tongue.

Dr. Vina and Dr. Monica at a CHTC meeting | Photo: Michelle Bussard


This work is not over. In fact, it is far from over. There will not be fast and easy answers to many of the big challenging questions around how the new Indonesian health care regulations (BBJS) will influence ASRI’s conservation incentive system, design and management of the new facility. But these are good problems to have.

Why?  Because what the community began asking for eight years ago is finally within sight --access to high quality, affordable health care for all that would eliminate one of the major drivers of deforestation of one of our planet’s most vital resources, rain forests. Could anything be a greater gift? As the saying goes: what is worth doing is worth doing well, and this is what we will do. Nothing less is acceptable, not when one of ASRI’s core values is always giving the very best. As Dr. Vina said to me yesterday, “ASRI has changed my life and now I want to give my patients all of the very best I have to give, whatever it takes with what limited resources we may have. I don’t know how I can go anywhere else where this isn’t true.” Indeed, ASRI continues to stand as a beacon of hope for all and with your support, and love, Health In Harmony will help continue to shine that beacon for all to see.

Stay tuned in February for some BIG NEWS about hospital fundraising and more updates from my meetings here. If you haven’t yet, and would like to make your gift to the hospital now, a gift that will change lives for good, I invite you to do so and become part of a most astounding connection.


About Michelle Bussard | View all posts by Michelle Bussard

Michelle is the Executive Director at Health In Harmony, based in Portland, OR.