April is Volunteer Appreciation Month. Each week this month, we'll be featuring new perspectives on ASRI’s work from some of the people who know it best: our volunteers.


In late 2012, Bethany volunteered with ASRI after being drawn to the connection between human and environmental health and how it leads to social change. Today, we are pleased to announce that she will be joining Health In Harmony as the new Grants Specialist!

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Guest blog by Etty Rahmawati

The word Adiwiyata is derived from 2 words in Sanskrit; ‘adi’ and ‘wiyata.’ ‘Adi’ means big, great, ideal, or perfect, while ‘wiyata’ means a place to get knowledge, norms and ethics in social life. The Adiwiyata program is run by the Indonesia Ministry of Environment, whose aim is to raise knowledge and awareness of environmental conservation among students and faculty in schools. They do this by paying close attention to how lessons are taught and making sure should they are linked to environmental awareness. They also teach the 3 R’s (Reuse, Reduce, Recycle) and manage gardens for medicinal plants, etc.

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It’s been over a year since a wildfire devastated our 23 ha reforestation site in the village of Laman Satong. Since then, two durian seasons and a particularly terrible dry season have passed (For awhile, if you looked up the weather in Sukadana on an iPhone, the status was “Smoke”).

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See below for a piece from Reforestation Volunteer Adam Miller.
Sedahan1I always say that ASRI’s two reforestation sites are like two children: Laman Satong, our older reforestation site that had the fire last year, is like the difficult child that needs constant love and attention in order to thrive. In contrast, Sedahan, our younger reforestation site, is the precocious child that constantly delivers amazing surprises, unasked.

Every time I go there, I am amazed at how tall the trees have grown in less than two years. The site's peatland soil is far more fertile than the degraded, dry soil at Laman Satong. Many of the planted trees are already over two meters tall. One species in particular, petai (stink bean) has been consistently shooting up like a rocket wherever we plant it.

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More than three years ago, the Gunung Palung community came to ASRI with a radical idea. Why not have an advocate, drawn from the community leaders in each village around the park that could work with loggers one-on-one to find alternative livelihood activities and sources of income? What emerged was the Forest Guardian program. In conjunction with the village authorities, ASRI chose 30 men (one in each village) who have forest knowledge and are well respected in their community to be sahuts or Forest Guardians. The sahuts have been crucial to reducing logging in the national park. In addition to working with ASRI and local loggers, they have acted as a group to advocate for greater enforcement from the police and function as critical environmental educators among their friends and neighbors. 

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Exciting news from Sukadana: A new Memorandum of Understanding increases synergy between ASRI and the National Park office

Further solidifying their long and productive relationship, Yayasan Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) and the Gunung Palung National Park Management office (BTNGP) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) last month formalizing their collaboration. Dr. Hotlin Ompussunggu, ASRI co-founder, and Ir. Dadang Wardhana M.Sc, the current head of BTNGP, signed the agreement on March 26, which outlines plans for more information sharing, greater park access for ASRI’s education and monitoring activities, and increased capacity building. Read More

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Forest Guardians, all together | Photo: Thomas Lazzarini

Forest Guardians, all together | Photo: Thomas Lazzarini

ASRI's Forest Guardians are our not-so-secret weapon in combatting rainforest destruction: they are the bridge that connect local villagers to all our programs. Each of the 30 Forest Guardians are respected members of their community, nominated to the post by village leaders and then vetted and trained by ASRI in how to most persuasively approach illegal loggers - many of whom are friends and family of the FG. They monitor deforestation around their homes and spread awareness of all of the ways ASRI assists people who want to make a change, from alternative livelihoods trainings to village-wide healthcare discounts for villages that protect their forests.

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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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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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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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Forest Guardians, 2013.

Forest Guardians, 2013.

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.

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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."

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Guest blog by Andrew MacDonald

Andrew with tree

Me with a tree, circa 2009

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.

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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?

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An abundance of seedlings at the Laman Satong nursery, ready to be planted. Photo by Kari Malen.

An abundance of seedlings at the Laman Satong nursery, ready to be planted. Photo by Kari Malen.

 

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.

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Rosevan is taking the Borneo Bicycle Challenge, and will be blogging about it on Health In Harmony’s website throughout the fall. Want to do it yourself? It's not too late to take the challenge – register now!

Me on my way to work at the Health In Harmony office during summer. Photo by Michelle Bussard.

Me on my way to work at the Health In Harmony office during summer. Photo by Michelle Bussard.

Every day in October, November, and December, as part of Health In Harmony’s Borneo Bicycle Challenge, I'll ride my bike to work, home, the grocery store, you name it. I’ll do it rain or shine, but mostly rain, because this is Portland and we get 42 inches of rain on average each year. Near our own patches of temperate rainforest, I ride to support a project in a tropical rainforest halfway around the world.

Gearing up in my effective but extremely unflattering rainsuit, I'll remind myself: I am doing this to reduce my own environmental impacts, and in solidarity with the communities around Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. They not only get around by bicycle every day, for every purpose, but also - thanks to the efforts of our partner ASRI - contribute to the conservation, reforestation, and stewardship of one of the most biodiverse, and carbon-absorbing, rainforests on the planet.

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For the one year anniversary of the Forest Guardian program, Hotlin Ompusunggu, DDS, co-founder of ASRI, talks about its inception. Based on the core values and philosophy of HIH and ASRI - that community be at the center, involved in and own the solutions of change – Forest Guardians have inspired a 45% increase in villages that have totally stopped logging. Livelihoods and the fate of the Gunung Palung National Park, home to 2500 orangutans, are at stake. You can help by supporting a Forest Guardian for only $50 per month!

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The likelihood that the 90,000 hectare-Gunung Palung National Park will perish without intervention is high. By some estimates, at least 20% has been lost in the last decade.

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Radiant smiles, ears of corn, eye glasses and orangutans: Reflections on Gratitude

See a gallery of photos I took on the trip here:

Crossing the tarmac at Ketapang’s outpost airport, I am momentarily caught in a gulp of sadness. I follow my traveling companions Nichol Simpson (Health In Harmony’s Development Director) and Toni Gorog, Ph.D. (Health In Harmony’s Program Director) on board the 138-passenger Aviastar Airbus to "Fly Safe and Comfort" back to Jakarta where twenty-one hours later and a time zone or two, we’ll reach our homes in Oregon and California where winter awaits. My sadness is not because I’ve gathered up a ring of new friendships I wistfully leave behind, though that has happened, but because I know in the deep well of my heart that I’ve stepped across an invisible threshold and will never be the same again even though I know I don’t completely know how so -- yet.

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