Inspired by ASRI: My Journey to Planetary Health

In the final installment of her series about Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), guest blogger Nina Finley shares more details about her experience, and how Planetary Health is shaping her research and future plans.  You can read more of Nina's writing at her blog, Natural Selections.

For the past month I've been visiting Sukadana, a village nestled on the edge of Gunung Palung National Park in Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesia. This lowland dipterocarp rainforest is home to 3,000 of the last Bornean orangutans. I’m volunteering here with Yayasan Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), roughly translating to Healthy Balanced Nature, a pathbreaking Planetary Health hospital with a mission to “save the rainforest with a stethoscope.”

The model behind ASRI is simple: orangutans are expected to go extinct by 2050 due to habitat loss; most illegal loggers wish to stop but cannot because timber is their only source of cash for healthcare; to save orangutans, we need a human hospital.

ASRI staff selfie! | Photo: Nina Finley

Over the past month, I have worked on education with Amad and Etty, communications with Oka, grant-writing with Monica, and reforestation with Dika. I’ve gotten to share a house and meals with ASRI’s founder, Kinari. All day I feel respected and productive. In the afternoons, the clinic staff becomes a riotously fun group of friends. We watch the sun set over the ocean, sip kelapa coklit susu (fresh coconuts filled with iced chocolate milk), watch horror films and play cards. I’ve taught the staff to bake chocolate-chip cookies and buttercream cupcakes. They've taught me to speak Bahasa Indonesia and slow down my pace. I leave tomorrow, but on no account am I ready to bid this place goodbye.

For the past few years, I've been seeking an interdisciplinary lens through which to approach my work, one that embraces complexity. The Anthropocene Epoch demands a reckoning with entanglement; we will not find success by inspecting any one element in isolation. Initially, I titled my Watson project "One Health" because that movement -- the intersection of human, veterinary and environmental medicine -- seemed like a good stab at integration. But here at ASRI, I’ve learned that I identify even more with "Planetary Health," the recognition that solutions for human and ecological health must be integrated. ASRI does not draw a line between trees and bodies. It delivers babies, provides dental checkups, plants rain forest saplings, and buys back chainsaws from loggers to facilitate a regenerative economic spiral. With this lens, I have a new goal for my PhD. I want to identify and implement win-win solutions in which human health problems are addressed by restoring ecosystems.

Working at ASRI is emotionally exhausting in the best way. Every day, I find myself revising my place in conservation and developing hope that real change is possible. Since 2007, ASRI has recorded an 89% decrease in logging households and a 25,000 hectare increase in forest cover. The end of illegal logging in Gunung Palung National Park is within reach.

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About Nina Finley | View all posts by Nina Finley