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Health In Harmony Program Director Ashley Emerson recently visited Borneo and brought back this update from our next program site there:
Dear Friends of Health In Harmony,
I recently returned from an extended trip to Borneo to work with our partner Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) and support the launch of our second site in the beautiful rain forest communities of Bukit Baka Bukit Rya National Park (BBBR).
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.”
Internships with local high schools and universities allow our partner ASRI to share their knowledge of safe, sustainable farming practices with the broader community. In return, these young interns bring fresh ideas and innovation to the program, keeping ASRI at the forefront of the Planetary Health movement through an influx of talent from all backgrounds.
My first week at ASRI was an orientation: seeing the programs in action, putting faces to names, and creating connections with the community. My first week also marked a tough transition for the ASRI staff: it was Dr. Vina’s last week, after 3 years at ASRI, the last one as head of clinic. Despite her departure, things seemed to be going business as usual, the Clinic bustling as it is most days, with conservation education in the waiting room, volunteers crammed around the table in the back, and patients moving in and out. Even on the toughest day, when there were two suspected cases of tuberculosis, Dr. Vina was steadfast, working with the team to figure out how to best help the patients. It was only when I found her stealing a moment to take a breath did she tell me, “I’m trying not to think about the fact that I’m leaving.”
Sometimes you start things but you have no idea where they will go. That is what happened when we hired Ibu Hamisah to be one of our village health workers six years ago. She was a shy woman from a village about half an hour away from our clinic who had very little self confidence. Six years later, you won't believe what has happened to her!
Monica Ruth Nirmala, DDS is part of a proud, if new, tradition in Borneo: dentists saving the rainforest. This month, she follows in the footsteps of internationally celebrated dentist and conservation inspiration Dr. Hotlin Ompusunggu by becoming the Executive Director of Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI).
When Dr. Vina Wang first told her parents she would like to work for Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) in rural Borneo, they took some convincing.
“When I first wanted to go to ASRI, it was hard to ask for my father’s permission because my parents think Borneo is in the middle of nowhere. My mother was very supportive, but my dad was worried about his daughter in the middle of the jungle.” Vina told HIH’s executive director, Michelle Bussard, in a recent interview.
On one of my last days in Sukadana, I talked with my friends Dr. Nomi and Dr. Yuli, ASRI’s two newest physicians, about why they chose ASRI and what they like about working in the clinic. Both women are passionate about serving their patients and driven to learn and improve. They were drawn to ASRI as a clinic that meets the standards of care they aim to provide.
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.
Read about Dr. Bunawan’s life-transforming experience at Klinik ASRI and as a life-long learner of medicine. Health In Harmony thanks Yale New Haven Hospital/Global Health Program under the direction of: Dr. Asghar Rastegar; Laura Crawford of J&J Scholars; Board Member Kathleen White; and, Dr. Ewen Wang of Stanford University Medical School, and all the friends of HIH & ASRI who helped Nur out along the way.
Guest blog by Nur Chandra Bunawan, MD
Guest blog by Hotlin Ompusunggu, DDS and Alexandra Ristow
Alexandra Ristow, a Yale Medical Student, shares her volunteer experience with the ASRI project in Sukadana, and I reflect on trust.