In Indonesia, doctors must pay to complete their medical residency, creating a wide gap between those who can afford specialized training and those who cannot. Not only is this an inequitable system, but it means that rural areas are often void of skilled doctors. A small group of Health In Harmony donors has already given $110,000 to three former ASRI doctors currently completing their residencies. These doctors plan to return to ASRI and serve as required specialists in the Community Hospital and Training Center for five years. But they need $74,000 to finish their education. You can help keep them in school with a donation today.

Below, we share the stories of these three doctors.

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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.”

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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).

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vina doctor

Dr. Vina

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.

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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.

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Guest blog by Dr. Krista Farey

Coming to Sukadana has been a blast of hot humid air, and warm new friends. As soon as I arrived and was situated in the "girls' house" off we went on our bikes. Imagine my surprise, arriving from San Francisco, to what I had heard was arguably one of the most corrupt and disaster-prone countries of the world, to learn that we had no bike locks. Not needed in Sukadana, they said, and besides, these are ASRI bikes. The "girls" were confident that there is so much respect for ASRI in the community that no one would mess with an ASRI bike.

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Each week this month, we’re bringing you fresh perspectives on ASRI’s work from some of the people who know it best: our volunteers.

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Each week this month, we’re bringing you fresh perspectives on ASRI’s work from some of the people who know it best: our volunteers.

Dr. Anna Arroyo is a third year medical resident on the Global Health track at Stanford. She volunteered at ASRI for six weeks, and we had the chance to sit down together at the beginning of March right before she left to talk about what she contributed to ASRI and what she is taking home.

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The gibbons sing their howls. Motorbikes zoom by. ASRI Clinic hosts a few in-patients. The “plastics” truck eases by with its familiar tune, calling customers. Sun beats down as the morning breeze all but disappears. A day like any other and most, except that after three years, Dr. Nur Chandra Bunawan (Dr. Nur) departed ASRI yesterday amid tears and joy and, yes, trepidation to gain his residency in Internal Medicine.

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The ogoh-ogohs are nearly done. Devil creatures with ponderous breasts, big bellies, fangs, claws and bulging eyes. Some are three or four stories high, others the height of doorway. Some are being constructed by groups of older men and young boys, some by groups of older boys. On Balinese New Year, 30 March, the parading and burning will begin followed by a day of total silence throughout the island: everywhere, everyone. I think about the hundreds of ogoh-ogohs tucked under porches and temple roofs, of young boys learning from uncles and fathers, and of the thousands of offerings by women, young and old.

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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 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.

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