We have received strong evidence that our work in partnership with Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) is preventing and reversing deforestation in Gunung Palung National Park. Just this week, new research conducted by ASRI staff revealed that deforestation in Gunung Palung has slowed significantly. Summing up their findings, the authors wrote: "Community empowerment, forest rehabilitation, and health care incentives as payment for ecosystem services can help reduce deforestation."
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Throughout this week, we featured the stories of four Forest Guardians who are committed to the program and protecting the rain forest. You can find their individual stories on our Facebook: Wawan, Amir, Samsu, and Ridwan. Be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram to see campaigns like these in the future. #FacesOfTheForest

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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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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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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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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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