A Hospital That Saves Lives...And Trees

An open invitation to the villages calling all loggers for hire for construction on ASRI’s new Community Hospital Training Center (CHTC) is taking sustainable construction to the next level.

Well before ASRI broke ground on the CHTC, the staff had made sure to include a clause stating they will hire 40% of local labor during the duration of construction. The labor was defined as low-skill labor to people without construction training for work under the supervision and direction of the CHTC contractor. The jobs include excavation, block laying, and construction of temporary form work to support concrete.

Former logger, Pak Usuf now works as a security guard on ASRI's hospital construction site.

Former logger, Pak Usuf now works as a security guard on ASRI's hospital construction site.

ASRI has been committed to saving the rain forest by offering more options for illegal loggers to be trained in alternative livelihoods for the last 8 years. A common refrain heard from illegal loggers is, “We are ready to stop logging – but we still have to feed our families. Can you offer us other work?”

So when ASRI’s Hospital Construction Manager Edy Cahyadi was practicing “radical listening” with ASRI’s conservation team to learn how the hospital’s construction could support conservation – the team replied, “Please hire loggers.”

The construction team listened. They offered an open invitation to illegal loggers in the area to join the CHTC construction team. The local labor recruitment follows a three-tier system, which prioritizes loggers (Tier 1) before moving on to recruit area from the neighborhoods surrounding the hospital (Tier 2) or from the broader community (Tier 3).

Currently, there are 17 former loggers working on the hospital, and about 3-4 positions are being added every week as the construction progresses in phases. Positions will come and go, offering about 200 different jobs throughout CHTC construction; even though the call for hire has long been closed, not a week goes by without more community members registering their interest to join the construction team. The hospital construction labor force is constantly changing with phases of the complexity, and sometimes more technical work requires trained qualified individuals. In between phases, ASRI will provide as many jobs to loggers as possible. The low-skilled labor will take loggers out of their current work and provide them with new hard skill learning opportunities.

However, the transition from logging to construction has not been easy. One logger almost resigned on his first day – because he found the construction site to be brutally hot compared to the cool, shady environment of the forest. “I could hardly breathe because there was no wind entering the site at all,” he recalled. “But we have to do the best we can in the course we have chosen.” Other loggers agreed that the learning curve has been steep for them, but they have expressed determination to overcome all the physical and intellectual obstacles posed to them to succeed in this new line of work.

Interestingly, the recruitment process has provided many fascinating insights into the rationale of why loggers choose (or do not choose) to quit logging. These insights are helping the ASRI conservation team to re-tool each individual program to better target behavior change in illegal loggers.

For example, ASRI tracks the number of active illegal loggers in village surrounding the Park through its routine monitoring efforts to determine which villages are awarded the “red” and “green” status. However, after the CHTC call for hire ASRI discovered the numbers were higher than formerly documented. 63 active loggers have registered to join the construction team, many of which originated from villages where ASRI had previously counted only a handful of loggers. This new data has provided ASRI with a more accurate picture of the seasonal dynamics around logging – many of the individuals recruited for the hospital are not “full-time” loggers; they log in-between odd jobs, between crop harvests, and other times when they struggle to meet day-to-day needs.

This helps to make sure that all the villages receive a fair “red”, “yellow”, or “green” discount based on logging activities.

Following the completion of the CHTC, all the local laborers will be provided with certificates that certify the skills and expertise they have obtained during the construction phase. ASRI believes that this certificate will help the former loggers to secure further work with construction jobs – ensuring that they never need to pick up their chainsaws again once the hospital opens its doors.

In a recent interview with some of the ex-loggers in the community, ASRI found that all of them had some understanding on the negative impacts of logging the forests. Many of them acknowledged the trees bring water, and need water to live and to farm.


About Erica Pohnan | View all posts by Erica Pohnan

Erica is the Conservation Program Manager at ASRI, Health In Harmony's pilot program. She is based in Sukadana, West Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo.