Guest blog by Art Blundell
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.
This month at Health In Harmony is dedicated to Forest Guardians, respected members of their local communities who represent powerful bridges helping villagers to improve their health and livelihoods and protect their watershed. Inaugurated with a prestigious Whitley Conservation Award, Forest Guardians are the connectors between ASRI and communities around the park, helping to mutually identify and create livelihoods that promote conservation of Gunung Palung. To date, over 330 villagers in 20 communities have, as a result of working with Forest Guardians and ASRI, developed organic farming initiatives that have decreased illegal logging in the park, boosted local incomes, and improved household nutrition.
I'm writing on my last day at ASRI. Here, I have spent and experienced time with the staff that has infinitely doubled my appreciation for their dedication. And, along with Kari Malen, HIH's extraordinary Volunteer Director, have spent nearly 7 days with 12 women representing Dining for Women who have equally doubled my appreciation for courage and what can be accomplished by a few dedicated people whose hearts are as big as the Gunung Palung rainforest and National Park no matter what side of the world they're from. And it's not just their collective passion that is as inspiring as it is humbling, it is that they truly "just do it."
Gliding up the Sekonyer River towards Camp Leaky late that first day, it seemed impossible to be transported so completely by a mere 45 minute plane excursion to this place. In the wake of this long day, I let my eyes close on the soothing rustle of Nipa palms hugging in ever closer as we slip up the river in our cradle boat. I miss the silent demarcation with the turn up the Simpan Kanan River and out of the the Sekonyer River's water, mudded by an upstream gold mining operation. In this slow moving narrow channel, the black water river runs clear and cooler. Captain Iyan nestles the boat into its nightly berth against the sturdy Nipa palms, snugs and ties up the other two along side and with that all 18 of us gather on the largest deck of the boats at a long table for a family style dinner. It is a feast of fish in spicy pepper sauce, cap cay, wilted jack fruit greens, sambal, fruits, tempe and the ubiquitous rice served with a water elixir. As we eat, the deck hands make light work of pulling out 18 mattresses, setting beds across the 3 top decks of each boat. A dark night heavy with heat falls quickly and we slip beneath the dreamy gauze of mosquito nets where a single sheet awaits atop each mattress. Like a lullaby, the chorus of crickets thrums us fast asleep.
Guest blog by Dr. Kathleen White
Good afternoon to the dedicated and therefore, to me, fortunate fellow Health in Harmony volunteers.
Michelle and Rosevan asked, because I am both an ASRI volunteer and member of the Health in Harmony Board of Directors, would I write the ASRI final volunteer story of this series to both tell my story as well send a personal thanks to all volunteers from the Board? And I said of course! So first I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to you all.
Tanjung Putang National Park - On the Dolphin
Three days ago, leaving in the dark from Sukadana, there was a telltale shadow of trepidation about spending 3 nights on boats of unknown shape, size or origin with 18 women in humidity and heat between 92-96 degrees, destination: Tanjung Putang National Park.
Morning meeting is packed with ASRI staff and the delegation from Dining for Women who arrive this morning bearing gifts of medical supplies, medical library books, hundreds of eyeglasses, medicines and medical supplies adding to the already delivered ski bag of aluminum crutches and ambulatory boots. Name your most wonderful holiday tradition, and multiply it by 10 and you have a sense of the joy in clinic that morning. Morning meeting is also packed with final preparations for Green Day tomorrow (April 25) at the Lamong Satong nursery, about 90 minutes from Sukadana. More to follow! The excitement of all is palpable as the 12 women that are here are here because of a very generous $33,000 grant from Dining for Women in support of the Goats for Widows program.
Guest blog by Andrew MacDonald
How in the world can I express what that time meant? It has been almost four years since I arrived at Sukadana, and my memories of it are still treasured and vivid: I can still recall many heartbreaks and joys from my time there. When I look back, I particularly recall certain things that were said to me -- words which, through the following years, would become symbols of my time in and around Gunung Palung. They are not direct quotations, of course (and my apologies to anyone who feels misrepresented!), -- nevertheless I want to share some of them with you, because I hope they will recall your own memories of why you loved your time with ASRI.
Rising before dawn, we run, do our yoga, listen to the swish of brooms and the buzz of saws from the louver and door makers down the street. Roosters having been silent through most of the night begin their cacophony, the Imam calls believers to prayer and the motorbikes begin their buzzing like flies along Sukadana's few main streets. Everything starts early here, before the sun pours down molten hot and life is forced to slow.
Immediately upon our arrival, the neighborhood kids congregate on the blue-tile front porch of the modest concrete brick home. The house had been Kari and Loren's who left six months ago to return to the states after having lived, worked and volunteered for ASRI for 3 years We've returned for 3 weeks to host a group of women from Dining for Women but know that there is so much more we are here for as well.
As a past student of biology, Indonesia has long held a special place in my heart, both for its abundant natural beauty and for its vast biological resources. Located in the equatorial region of the Pacific Ocean, Borneo is the third largest island in the world. Although its size is massive, at nearly 740,000 square kilometers, its human population is slight.
After 5 years of life in Asia – 3 of which were spent at ASRI – being back stateside is strange.
No doubt, there is much to relish - rekindling spirits with family and friends, eating foods that don't appear in Bornean village markets, driving a car anywhere at anytime of the day. But the most striking piece that I keep coming back to is the disconnect I feel here in anytown, America. I find myself wondering, where do we find community?
Guest blog by Chris Woerner
Waking up in Sukadana for me is an auditory adventure in itself. From the distant rainforest the exotic siren-like whoops and howls of the kelempiau, the White Faced Gibbons, drift through the mist into my window. Closer by, the cheerful, bubbly song of the Yellow-Vented Bulbul perched outside in shrubbery contrasts with the surprisingly loud, harsh croaking of the Cik-Cak gecko in the rafters above my head. Suddenly a new sound begins: the powerful soul-stirring wail of human song: the morning “Call to Prayer” coming from the village mosque.
It’s the end of the rainy season here in West Kalimantan, and the hundreds of newly planted seedlings in the village of Laman Satong are soaking up the last few rainstorms before their upcoming battles with drought and weeds during the dry season.
Guest blog by Sisca Wiguno and Natalia (DOTS program coordinator)
Natalia, the ASRI DOTS Program Coordinator, interviewed one of the community health workers for TB treatment (DOTS workers), called Pengawas Minum Obat (treatment adherence supporter) in Bahasa - and one TB patient. In this interview, they shared their impressions about ASRI’s TB treatment program, their motivation to continue their work (for the DOTS workers), and to finish TB treatment (for the patient). Here are their stories:
We are excited to announce a milestone achievement in our long-term forest conservation effort, as ASRI prepares to break ground for a larger, fully equipped health center.
ASRI’s initial community survey identified two crucial issues that contribute to illegal logging in the park. (1) The lack of alternative livelihoods, which prompted ASRI’s program of training in sustainable farming. (2) The lack of access to affordable health care -- because medical costs are a primary driver of household debt and thus of illegal logging.
Today is my daughter’s birthday. Just as it did 24 years ago, it is snowing in Washington, DC. Instead of giving my presentation at the Woodrow Wilson Center on the Five Year Survey, the day unfolds quietly and offers a time for reflection on this east coast swing.
Guest blog by Daniel Ebbs
Volunteering at ASRI Klinik in Sukadana, West Borneo, was as much of a learning experience as it was an adventure. From opening our hearts and minds to the people and culture, to experiencing the surrounding jungle and biodiversity, every day we absorbed and saturated our minds with seemingly endless knowledge and amazement. Traveling to Sukadana is an experience that is difficult to describe in words and will, I hope, provide insight to those wishing to witness how health access coalesces with environmental life and health, and how community engagement can produce innovative solutions to save the planet while saving lives.
“Five years ago there were more than 100 people in my village doing illegal logging, now there are less than 10.” - Pak Bastarin, West Kalimantan