Planetary Health in Action: First impressions from our program in Indonesia

I’ve just returned from my first visit to Indonesia, where our programs have been co-designed and executed by our Indonesian program partner, Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI).

I met former loggers trained to be sustainable farmers and small business owners. I walked through rain forests regenerated and protected for the health of thousands of species and the planet. I explored the beautiful, recently constructed hospital, and met the men, women, and children who can access life-saving health care there every day thanks to the generosity of our donors.

Now that I’ve seen this work in action I’m even more excited about the potential of Health In Harmony’s innovative, results-driven approach to human, ecosystem, and planetary health.

With construction of the hospital facility complete, ASRI’s expanded health services are slowly rolling out. Maternal and child health services offer comprehensive maternity care, including emergency obstetrics. Family planning and vaccine programs are all up and running for women and children. Health education is delivered at the hospital, through community outreach and mobile clinics. ASRI’s DOTS program (direct observed treatment short course for tuberculosis) provides essential care to over 100 patients. I spent several days with ASRI’s doctors, nurses, midwives, and dentists, as patients lined the corridors and mothers-to-be sought the only ultrasound available in the area. Many patients paid for their health care with non-cash means such as goat manure and tree seedlings, which are then planted in ASRI’s reforestation program.

One of the most salient moments for me came at Laman Satong, one reforestation site consisting of high conservation value rain forest habitat. I visited the site with Jackson, ASRI’s Conservation Director, and two of ASRI’s doctors and we planted seedlings together. What made this particular experience so special was the force at which working at the intersection of human and forest health was on display. As we planted, Michelle, a young doctor who normally spends her days seeing patients in the hospital, stood up admiring her just-planted seedling, shook mud from her hands and told me, “This means a lot to me because the seedlings I plant may have been a seedling one of my patients used to pay for their consultation.” (The average hospital visit costs roughly $10USD and seedlings are valued between 75 cents and $2 depending on species.)

I also had the chance to hike to the top of Lubuk Baji in Gunung Palung National Park. We had a great view of ASRI's other reforestation site - the Sedahan wildlife corridor - and recorded a video so you could see how your gifts have helped revitalize the national park:

As I visited ASRI’s various programs, I discovered two critical - inextricably linked - drivers of their success. These are the extent to which gender (women’s empowerment and the role of women in local development) and entrepreneurship (in spirit and practice) are embedded into the design and execution of ASRI programs. Projects such as the Kitchen Gardens, Goats for Widows, and the Chainsaw Buyback initiative all provide families with alternatives to illegal logging livelihoods, and all hinge on women’s leadership and ownership of a business model.

The Chainsaw Buyback program encapsulates both elements. Husband and wife teams agree to develop business plans for small businesses as an alternative income to his illegal logging. The husband sells his chainsaw to ASRI for 4 million rupiah (about $300USD) which ASRI matches to yield 8 million rupiah start-up capital for their businesses. In discussions with loggers, wives. and communities to design the optimal approach to this initiative, the critical element of involving wives in the business was emphasized. This program launched late February; five loggers have committed and several others are in discussions to enter the program.

Community members know the best solutions to their local development, health, and conservation challenges. Through radical listening, Health In Harmony identifies the often-linked, root causes of poverty and forest destruction. We generate community-led, win-win solutions that result in healthy communities and families. Families with the resources and training needed to develop as local entrepreneurs without sacrificing the health of their forests, water, and air.

Health In Harmony’s work is starting to raise eyebrows around the world. We were recently invited (and happily accepted) to join Harvard's Planetary Health Alliance.

Our Founder, Kinari, has been invited to speak at the Smithsonian's inaugural Earth Optimist Summit in April as well as give Yale School of Medicine's graduation commencement address in May. HIH programs are poised to expand into new sites across Borneo and beyond, addressing problems of conservation, health, and poverty on a global scale. I’m honored to be a part of that.

Finally, if a picture is worth a thousand words, this 1-minute film should be worth millions. It gives you a bird’s-eye view, high atop the rainforest, of the impact we’re having reforesting precious, high-value orangutan habitat inside Borneo’s Gunung Palung National Park. This reforestation site is important for the survival of small populations of orangutans, cloud leopards, and sun bears currently isolated from the rest of their population by clear-cut farmland. I hope you enjoy it.

Thanks so much for making this work possible and for your support of planetary health.

Help us take this life- and planet-saving model to the next level with a donation today.

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About Jonathan Jennings | View all posts by Jonathan Jennings