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Trina Noonan, Health In Harmony's Managing Director, is currently in Borneo visiting our pilot program Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI). Seeing the beautiful new hospital building, and signs of economic development in Sukadana, along with ASRI's successful reforestation initiatives, Trina reflects on how the region has developed over the years.
When my boat driver pulled out his smart phone, it was a bit of a shock. He casually scrolled through Instagram as we sped past the dense mangrove forests and wooden homes perched on stilts over the river. That's when I realized how quickly things have been changing.
This is my third visit to ASRI in the five years that I have been fortunate to work with Health In Harmony. But there’s been a multi-year gap since I was last here, and some of the changes have been remarkable. Medical students used to have to wash the mud off their feet after trudging along dirt roads to get to the clinic, but now Sukadana has a paved boardwalk on the beach -- not to mention a public square with benches, a playground, and topiaries. And the driveway at ASRI has recently been completed, allowing their ambulance quick and easy access to the hospital.
Sukadana is now the head of a new regency - an administrative unit similar to a county in the US. With this new status, there are now large government offices on the outskirts of town and I've noticed some larger, newer houses. The power hasn’t gone off once in five days and the roads are dotted with new businesses, including countless internet cafes. I'm delighted to see these infrastructure improvements, signs of a rising living standard. On the other hand, as an environmentalist, I know that if everyone were to live a resource intensive consumer lifestyle like people in the developed world, we would need a new planet!
But Sukadana offers hope. The hospital building is new and modern, but it is situated in a rain forest noisy and vibrant with life. As I walk through the trees at the back of property I can hear gibbons leaping through the leaves and branches. Development has proceeded apace since my last visit -- in the form of two-story houses, smart phones, and modern medical facilities -- but at the same time 2,500 orangutans are still living in the intact rain forest on the mountain behind us.
Watching (and hearing!) a surprise afternoon deluge from the ASRI hospital building. So this is how the #rainforest got it's name... Instead of flooding, thanks to the trees and intact forest ecosystem, the water will filter down slowly for the farms, villages, and the clinic to consistently use! #watercycle #rainstorm
Yes, I can also see a few negative side effects of economic development -- from increased motorbike emissions to plastic pollution in the streets -- but if we can spread Health In Harmony's model around the world, protecting more habitat and improving well-being for more people, then more of us can begin living in harmony with our planet and more ecosystems can thrive!
Since ASRI began over a decade ago, we've seen success that we couldn't have predicted: the communities around Gunung Palung have seen an 88% decline in logging households in 10 years. ASRI has bought 65 of the estimated remaining 150 chainsaws in this area and helped families set up sustainable business that add to the local economy, including some of the cafes I've seen in town. ASRI is also working with farmers on the borders of the park to incorporate more native fruit trees, replanting the rain forest while also increasing their income. Meanwhile, the waiting room at the ASRI clinic is full of babies waiting for their immunizations.
Walking through the beautiful new ASRI building (that I’m still shocked to be seeing in person!) everywhere I look I’m reminded of someone’s story – but not a person here with me in Indonesia. Everything from bricks in the driveway to the books in the library, from the ultrasound probes to plants in the walkway and the tiles on the floor, reminds me of someone at home who cares so deeply about the rain forest and has so much hope for the future, that they invested in this building.
Thank you to our generous donors! You have built this place of healing for people and the planet. I know that with the brilliance of the ASRI team and the communities here, and the energy of our incredible donors around the world, we can take this amazing change happening so quickly in Sukadana and create that change for our whole world.