After attending ASRI's sustainable agriculture trainings, the farmers who would form the organic farming cooperative HarapanBaru ("New Hope") were skeptical. Even if it were better for the environment, how could farmers possibly get good yields without expensive chemical fertilizers? They decided to do an experiment: they would plant a rice paddy using ASRI's organic techniques, and compare it with a conventionally farmed plot.

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“Capacity building” is believing in and creating the means to fulfill and express great potential. While it is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, it’s something  to which we and our project partner ASRI are deeply committed.

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2013 has been a big year for Health In Harmony and our project partner ASRI! We are deeply grateful for all you, our supporters, have made possible this year. Check out our highlights:

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ASRI's programs have always been designed and implemented by the people living in the villages around Gunung Palung National Park. Thirty of the 32 villages surrounding the park have signed memoranda of understanding (MOU) with us, agreeing to work together to reduce illegal logging. This month, we received word from our program partner, ASRI, that one of those two remaining villages also agreed to an MOU! That means there is only one remaining village that has not signed. After signing villages get discounts in the clinic even if they don't managed to stop the logging (but more if they do!). We are celebrating one more village having access to affordable healthcare and  protecting precious habitat!

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photo (4)

The Health In Harmony Board of Directors and staff.

These past few weeks have been an exciting time in the Health In Harmony office – or rather, out of the office! We want to share some of the highlights of what we’ve been up to:

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October 18th 2013 is Anti-Slavery Day

Although slavery seems very far removed from our work in healthcare and conservation, the truth is that forced labor comes much closer to home than we’d like to think. The Walk Free Foundation released the first Global Slavery Index yesterday, cataloguing the estimated prevalence of modern slavery around the world. [1] Their interactive map is an eye-opening and heartbreaking tour of the world. In Indonesia, the home of our project partner ASRI,  an estimated 200,000 to 220,000 people are enslaved there.

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Guest blog by Cam Webb

Health In Harmony Lamong Satong Fire

Dear friends,

I write with sad news. [...] Last Saturday, there was a huge, hot fire at Laman Satong. Within four hours it spread to almost all areas of our plantings. It seems that mortality of all plants save the tallest trees will be near 100%. One small mercy was that it failed to spread to some of the very first areas we planted in 2009. About a half hectare survived, and still looks green and well. But most of the seedlings planted in the 20 ha are dead.

I heard the news on Sunday and was at the site by noon Monday, with most of the conservation staff of ASRI.  We did our best to comfort the field crew, who are dazed and deeply disappointed. We shared thoughts and feelings for a bit, then split into 4 groups and walked around the site. Surprisingly, it rained heavily in the afternoon, just what we were hoping for: a few of the plants teetering on the edge of death might now live.  We came back on Tuesday and gently tried to ascertain what had happened on Saturday.  Finally we started to ask what people felt we should do next.

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Guest blog by Josh Fleming

Josh and Etty pose with ASRI Kids.

Josh and Etty pose with ASRI Kids.

So what is ASRI? I find myself contemplating this question upon arriving back home from my time spent away. Trying to properly convey to myself or furthermore others not having been a witness to the beauty and scope of ASRI, is no simple feat in itself. It is hard to easily define and put into words ASRI’s full magnitude and the breadth of complexities of this intricately designed program, but I wish to be so bold and try to articulate the essence of what I believe ASRI to be in my most humble opinion.

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Picture a tree. This tree is roughly 40 meters tall. It sticks above the forest canopy by a good 15 meters . Now put yourself in the top of that tree. It is breezy up here -- unlike the steaming forest floor below where the sun tries to evaporate a month of rain in one clear day. This is your tree. From here you can see your entire territory. Picture the view: to the south, mountains; to the east, a river; to the north forest; and to the west... well, let's not talk about that yet.


Now while you are sitting in the top of this tree, feel your legs shorten to half their length while your arms stretch by a similar amount. Flex your wiry arms as  you watch them sprout thick black fur. Go ahead and keep sprouting fur over your entire body, but, just for grins make your eyebrows and beard white (yes, even you ladies). Do you look a bit like a Muppet? Good, because the fun is about to begin - and you might as well look good doing it.

Let's start with a warm-up.

Clear your throat quietly, take a deep breath, then let out a high-pitched ascending "Whoop!" followed by a brief pause, then another. As you loosen up, try a series of 3 whoops in a row. At this point, you can continue whooping, creating a hauntingly shrill song that echoes among the treetops, or you can fall off the branch you are sitting on.

Seriously, just tip over and fall off the branch, riding a few seconds of gravity through the canopy before you deftly extend your impossibly long arm, catch another branch in your hook-like hand, and swing around, underneath, and slingshot yourself back on an upward trajectory, your other hand outstretched for the next branch. This method of travel, called brachiating, allows you to fly through the tree-tops with the greatest of ease -- crossing distances of 15 meters or more and reaching speeds of 35 miles per hour. It is as if the laws of physics were created to propel you. Congratulations. You are a gibbon: natures take on what would happen if Maria Callas and Jules Leotard had a love-child created by Jim Henson.

Despite their agility, good looks, and great voice, these lesser apes tend to be overshadowed by the poster-child for Indonesian rain forests: the shaggy Orangutan. Which is unfortunate, because in many ways Gibbons share more in common with us than other non-human primates:

  • They are the only other primates that walk bi-pedally -- often strolling across the tops of branches like a tight-rope walker, their arms raised above their heads for balance.
  • Like many humans, Gibbons are monogamous, but, like many humans not necessarily for life, practicing what is known as "serial monogamy," or having multiple successive partners for a period of several years. This monogamy is possibly "aided" by the female's potentially vicious tendency to "defend" their males from other females (again just like many humans.)
  • They are territorial, and although they don't nest like most of the Great Apes, they will often return to the same tree to sleep at night and patrol their territory during the day looking for trespassers.
  • They love (and here is where the similarity breaks down for some of us) to sing in the morning, performing sunrise duets with their mate and offspring.

The song of the gibbon is one of the most recognizable sounds of Gunung Palung National Park.

The series of ascending and descending whoops, calls, hollers, and cries last for several minutes, echoing nearly two miles through the thick canopy. Often sung in duet, the female will take the lead with the male chiming in his accompaniment. The songs are thought to identify the extent of a families territory, as well as to warn off home-wrecking females (see point 2 above). However, the song of the gibbon is slowly being replaced by the song of the chainsaw.

There are 16 species of Gibbon (this number varies depending on how you divide them) found throughout Southeast Asia, ranging from southern China to Borneo, East India to Vietnam. Of those listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), 15 are considered "endangered" or "critically endangered," and only one species' population is stable -- the rest are decreasing.

Habitat loss threatens gibbons on a daily basis. As forests are cut for timber or cleared for agriculture and oil palm plantations, the gibbons are forced to try and survive in fragmented forests or in the upper reaches of the mountains. There, food is scarce and populations decline. Those that live on the edge of the forest run the risk of being shot by hunters for bush-meat, or captured for the pet trade.

Picture your tree. To the west, the next tallest tree, only a kilometer away, shakes awkwardly for a moment before slowly toppling to its side. You watch it silently disappear into the forest before the roar of breaking branches reaches your ears. Picture yourself listening to the sound of chain saws as you sit in the crook of the branch, your infant clinging to your fur as the rain begins again.

Loren Bell spent three years chasing gibbons while managing the Gunung Palung Gibbon and Leaf Monkey Project. This long-term research project studies how habitat quality and ecological factors affect the demographics, behavior and reproductive potential of several primate species found in Gunung Palung National Park.

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September is Save Your Sight month, dedicated to eradicating preventable blindness around the globe.

Woman sees again for the first time in 10 years following her cataract surgery.

Woman sees again for the first time in 10 years following her cataract surgery.

39 million people are blind worldwide. Eighty percent of visual impairments can be avoided or cured; yet huge numbers of people continue to struggle with serious vision problems. Why? Ninety percent of the visually impaired live in developing countries, where they often cannot access or afford the treatment they need.  (WHO 2012)

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Guest blog by Clare Selgin Wolfowitz

The second annual meeting of the Congress of the Indonesian Diaspora (CID2, for short) attracted more than 5000 participants from around the world. The 3-day conference, held in Jakarta (August 18-20), is a project of the Indonesian government; it was opened officially by President Yudhoyono. The CID is designed both to support overseas Indonesians through networking, and to encourage them to apply their talents and resources toward Indonesian development.

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Today, August 19th, is the first annual World Orangutan Day, dedicated to raising awareness about the crisis facing orangutans and celebrating efforts to protect them and their habitat. Health In Harmony is proud to participate and do our part! For more information about the movement, please visit the World Orangutan Day website.

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Between July 6 and August 9, Etty Rahmawati, ASRI’s Conservation Education & Outreach Manager, gained as many insights into the USA, her volunteer, staff and Board hosts as we gained inspiration from her and connection to something bigger. That something bigger is Alam Sehat Lestari, healthy nature everlasting, or ASRI, beautiful, and ASRI Kids, the program inspired by volunteers and led by Etty.  This is a story about those connections and why they are the very fiber of what we do and why it works. It is also a story about raising funds for the future: While on the west coast, Etty helped raise more than $10,000 between a ZACC grant and our generous Health In Harmony family of donors.  Will you help match the gift and help support ASRI Kids and its promise for the future? You are our connection to success.

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Serving a Purpose in Imperiled Paradise

Guest blog by Dr. Aaliya Yaqub

Health In Harmony's purpose is threefold: to provide ASRI with volunteers and funds, while telling its story, and we were recently awarded Guidestar's Silver Certification, demonstrating efficacy and responsibility in pursuing this missionIn today's blog, Aaliya Yaqub, one of our wonderful volunteer physicians at ASRI, paints a picture of the integration of conservation and healthcare, kicking off our August focus on sharing stories and asking you to lean on our expertise by giving the most flexible and effective gifts possibleKeep your eyes on your inbox for more details coming soon.

It’s true, life happens, but a rich life full of vibrant experiences will not just land in your lap.  One year ago, as I was expecting my first baby, I had the opportunity to spend 6 weeks in Sukadana, Borneo working in the ASRI clinic. Yale/Stanford Johnson & Johnson Global Health Scholars program helped me grow from an American into a global citizen ready to explore and experience.  I must admit that one must have some adventure in them to participate in such an experience, but the rewards are boundless. 

For me, the long 36-hour journey to Sukadana, the remote Bornean village where I spent the summer of 2012, was well worth it. Sukadana is the kind of fantastic place that exists in your imagination.  It is nestled in the rainforest and yet manages to boast a pretty little brown sandy beach that gets framed by marvelous rainbows during the rainy season.  Its people are otherworldly with their deep sincere smiles that never seem to end, their big hearts, and their vast gratitude.  The internet is slow and unreliable.  Sometimes there is no running water, and air conditioning is not an option even amidst the sometimes sweltering tropical heat and humidity.  Showers are taken with buckets and monkeys frolic outside of homes early in the morning.  People maintain a simple and organic diet consisting of freshly caught fish, local vegetables and rice.  And yet, even for a girl used to the modern luxuries of the first world, this is paradise.

Living in Sukadana was the greatest adventure I could have asked for, but it was my time in that tiny rural clinic that really shaped me as a doctor and as a person.  The clinic was housed in a small building and consisted of two patient examination rooms and three beds for inpatient care. In this clinic, I was no longer an internist who specialized in the medical care of adults. I was now one of the community doctors—equipped with the courage to care for trauma, eye emergencies, neurologic emergencies, children and pregnant women.

There were moments that really challenged my emotional fortitude.  I particularly remember a 43-year-old woman who was brought in unconscious by her family.  One moment she was preparing dinner in her kitchen, and the next she was being rushed to the clinic after suffering a massive stroke.  With no imaging capabilities and little resources, we treated her supportively and comforted her family as she peacefully passed away.  I had mixed feelings about the experience—sorrow, sadness, and frustration that I was unable to do more.  As her family members thanked me and my colleagues for our love, support and guidance during this tragic time, I began to realize that I was serving a purpose. Although I was unable to save this patient, I was able to make her comfortable and provide support to her family.  In moments like that, we all face our fragile humanity and are bonded together by something deeper than medical care.

Apart from the amazing experiences I had in the clinic teaching young Indonesian doctors and treating patients, I spent time learning about the heartbreaking destruction of the rainforest.  With illegal logging by people looking to sell wood to make a quick profit and the rapid spread of palm oil plantations in the region, I saw the repercussions firsthand.  Orangutans, a species of great apes only found in Indonesia, are losing their habitat at an alarming rate.  With destruction of the forest, we are also losing the amazing biodiversity found in the region—insects, birds, trees, plants.  And, most alarming to me is the increase in greenhouse gases and climate change as a result of this critical loss of forest. All of these issues may seem so foreign and obscure to those sitting in the western world, but seeing all of this in person changed me.  It changed how I feel about the environment and about health.

I believe that as we allow the destruction of our environment, we are also allowing the destruction of our health.  Respect for one’s health and respect for our natural resources go hand in hand.

When my daughter is old enough, I hope she can experience Borneo the way that I did.  I am looking forward to taking her halfway across the world for an experience that will add richness and color to her life.

 

About Aaliya Yaqub

Aaliya volunteered at the ASRI Clinic in 2012 through the Johnson & Johnson Scholars Program at Stanford University. She currently resides in Atherton, CA.

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Guest blog by Ana Sofia Wang

Just a month ago, a project that started as a small idea experienced its second year of success when a group of 17 students traveled all the way from their remote villages to surrounding the Gunung Palung National Park to Tanjung Puting National Park. The students were chosen from 4 schools to take their first trip away from home and first ever plane flight to experience firsthand the beauty of protected rain forest. One of the most amazing things the kids learn on the trip is that people from all over the world want to come and see where organgutans live. This realization gives them a sense of pride in where they come from and in their rain forest. Watching these discoveries and being involved in those small magical moments was, for me, the most valuable thing in the world. For my sister and I, coming back to work with ASRI Kids’ amazing teacher and coordinator Etty, has been monumental. These past two years visiting the classrooms, meeting the kids, going on the field trips, I have realized it is not only us who are teaching the kids, but the kids have a lot to teach us too. Their eagerness to learn and constant curiosity gives me hope for their future.

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We were lucky enough to have Mariam Soumah  intern with us for a month in the Portland Health In Harmony office. She was a wonderful addition to the office and did a lot of great work in the short time she was here. This is her account of her time with HIH. Thanks for all you did, Mariam!

Guest blog by Mariam Soumah

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The Clinic sees more patients every year

And we need to make room for the steadily-increasing number of patients. The high volume of patients is evidenced in long wait times for treatment and crowded waiting areas (indoor and out).

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We are launching a campaign to build a full-service Community Health and Training Center at ASRI.

Today, the ASRI Clinic is crowded far beyond capacity. Patients have long waiting times for treatment, and in some cases must return another day. Moreover, the clinic lacks facilities to treat more serious injuries and emergencies, or to provide simple surgeries and inpatient care.

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Guest blog by Art Blundell

Spectacular coral, one of many at Raja Ampat. Photo by Kari Malen 2013.

Spectacular coral, one of many at Raja Ampat. Photo by Kari Malen 2013.

According to mythology, long ago a woman found seven eggs. They hatched into a ghost, a woman, a stone, and four kings—one for each of the four large islands in the archipelago off the northwest tip of New Guinea.  And so the vast archipelago (about the size of New Hampshire & Vermont combined) came to be known as Raja Ampat, or the Four Kings. The area is now the largest marine park in Indonesia, the crown jewel of the world’s coral reefs.

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