Guest blog by Maggie Gumbinner
Last month, a group of nine Health In Harmony supporters traveled to Sukadana in West Kalimantan, where our partner ASRI operates, as part of the 2016 Friendship Tour. On the trip, they met members of the ASRI staff, saw the rain forest that they helped reforest, talked to the patients whose lives were saved at the clinic, and watched the hospital grow before their eyes. Below, Health In Harmony Board Vice President and trip participant Maggie Gumbinner shares her reflection from the trip.
My recent trip to Borneo as a part of the Friendship Tour was an amazing experience. It wasn’t a luxurious trip by most people’s standards – no hot water and limited air conditioning. But for me, it was luxurious. For a mother of two children, this trip provided time away from my world of electronics, schedules, and hurry, hurry, hurry. We slowed down and got to know the people of Sukadana and the people that work at ASRI each day.
First thing each morning the entire staff of ASRI gathers for a staff meeting filled with smiling faces and cheers. We thought the guitar playing and sing along at lunch the first day with the ASRI staff was especially for us, but they do that almost every day. Their good humor and positive attitudes are infectious in a place where it would be easy to get discouraged.
The clinic staff sees life-threatening cases every day. While we were there we saw a man that had TB in his bones (believe me, it’s not pretty) and a child that was close to death after being misdiagnosed at another clinic. We saw lots and lots of palm oil plantations where rain forests used to stand – the soil on those plantations so filled with pesticides that, even if they quit farming palm oil, nothing else would be able to grow on that land for many, many years. We saw the devastation to the Laman Satong reforestation site caused by a wildfire in 2013.
But, we were shown hope as we traveled around the area and had tea and meals at peoples’ homes. I found a group of people that are kind, friendly, and working hard to not only provide for their families but also have a real sense of duty to protect the rain forest that surrounds their villages. And, let me be clear, I’m not just talking about the staff at ASRI, but the entire community. Everyone in the surrounding area is very supportive of the work that ASRI is doing. In fact, after the wildfire in the reforestation site a few years ago, the local village asked ASRI to continue because they could see how much better ASRI's reforestation site was doing compared to other reforestation sites.
We met a group of organic farmers that have created a very robust organic farm so that they no longer have to slash and burn the forests to have fertile fields. We met widows that now have financial security because of the Goats for Widows program. We saw seedlings brought by villagers to “put in the bank” in case they need medical care. We met with a village that has worked hard to keep the palm oil corporations from cutting down the forest surrounding their village. We met with 5th graders who were learning about the importance of the rainforest and also learning to brush their teeth. We met with the DOTS coordinator that ensures that people take their TB drugs.
We also heard inspiring stories. We met a man who had spent eight years in a closet suffering from tuberculosis before being treated by doctors at ASRI. Now, he is quite healthy and is working and sending money home so that his mother can build a new house. We saw the reforestation site that links two areas of rain forest and now allows animals like orangutans and sun bears to cross between the two.
As a parent, I know that if one of my kids was sick, and I had to choose between their getting the medical care they need or cutting down the rain forest, I would cut down those trees every time. It’s inspiring to see that Health In Harmony has made it possible for the people in Sukadana and the surrounding villages to no longer have to make that choice.
The difference ASRI has made in just under ten years since it was started amazes and inspires me. It makes me wonder what we can accomplish in the next ten.
About Maggie Gumbinner
Maggie has been a member of the Health In Harmony Board of Directors since 2013 and currently serves as the Board Vice President. She currently lives in Washington, DC with her husband and two daughters.