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In 2018, 4,894 individual patients accessed healthcare at ASRI including general medical treatment, dental care, maternal and child care, and more. During the year, patients paid for healthcare with over 18,000 rain forest seedlings of 59 species.Read More
June's latest and greatest reads on deforestation, global health, and everything in between.
Guest blog by David Woodbury
This is a story where I try to trace what left me squatting in a dark bathroom full of large spiders, in a house without electricity, on the edge of the rainforest, after an evening meal in a Dayak household (an ethnic group who are the native people of Borneo). **Note: I will star every time I consumed something questionable. Read More
See below for a piece from Reforestation Volunteer Adam Miller.
I 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.
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.
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
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.
ASRI has a steady stream of volunteers from the west. Less common are volunteers from within Indonesia. Yusep Synata, from Jakarta, is at ASRI for several weeks in March and April, working with the conservation team, in addition to translating materials for future domestic volunteers, and interpreting for me in interviews with patients, staff and community members. He sat down with Trina (HIH Development and Administration Associate) in his first week to talk about what drew him to ASRI and his interesting experience learning English.
Borneo's rainforests are under siege. Then why are we so hopeful for their future?
As I write, I am drifting through the Tanjung Puting National Park, a Bornean rainforest. Our first group of travelers has finished their days in Sukadana, and we are now on a traditional klotok boat navigating the rivers of the park between stops at orangutan feeding stations. In preparing for this leg of the journey, I kept imagining the gloomy story and setting of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a novel set in the depths of the Congo at the height of colonialism. While we are not being bombarded with the arrows of nearby people or running our boat aground in treacherous and murky waters, now that we are here, I am finding one true comparison.
Guest blog by Cam Webb
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.
Picture a tree. This tree is roughly 40 meters tall. It sticks above the forest canopy by a good 15 meters . Now put yourself in the top of that tree. It is breezy up here -- unlike the steaming forest floor below where the sun tries to evaporate a month of rain in one clear day. This is your tree. From here you can see your entire territory. Picture the view: to the south, mountains; to the east, a river; to the north forest; and to the west... well, let's not talk about that yet.
Now while you are sitting in the top of this tree, feel your legs shorten to half their length while your arms stretch by a similar amount. Flex your wiry arms as you watch them sprout thick black fur. Go ahead and keep sprouting fur over your entire body, but, just for grins make your eyebrows and beard white (yes, even you ladies). Do you look a bit like a Muppet? Good, because the fun is about to begin - and you might as well look good doing it.
Clear your throat quietly, take a deep breath, then let out a high-pitched ascending "Whoop!" followed by a brief pause, then another. As you loosen up, try a series of 3 whoops in a row. At this point, you can continue whooping, creating a hauntingly shrill song that echoes among the treetops, or you can fall off the branch you are sitting on.
Seriously, just tip over and fall off the branch, riding a few seconds of gravity through the canopy before you deftly extend your impossibly long arm, catch another branch in your hook-like hand, and swing around, underneath, and slingshot yourself back on an upward trajectory, your other hand outstretched for the next branch. This method of travel, called brachiating, allows you to fly through the tree-tops with the greatest of ease -- crossing distances of 15 meters or more and reaching speeds of 35 miles per hour. It is as if the laws of physics were created to propel you. Congratulations. You are a gibbon: natures take on what would happen if Maria Callas and Jules Leotard had a love-child created by Jim Henson.
Despite their agility, good looks, and great voice, these lesser apes tend to be overshadowed by the poster-child for Indonesian rain forests: the shaggy Orangutan. Which is unfortunate, because in many ways Gibbons share more in common with us than other non-human primates:
The series of ascending and descending whoops, calls, hollers, and cries last for several minutes, echoing nearly two miles through the thick canopy. Often sung in duet, the female will take the lead with the male chiming in his accompaniment. The songs are thought to identify the extent of a families territory, as well as to warn off home-wrecking females (see point 2 above). However, the song of the gibbon is slowly being replaced by the song of the chainsaw.
There are 16 species of Gibbon (this number varies depending on how you divide them) found throughout Southeast Asia, ranging from southern China to Borneo, East India to Vietnam. Of those listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), 15 are considered "endangered" or "critically endangered," and only one species' population is stable -- the rest are decreasing.
Habitat loss threatens gibbons on a daily basis. As forests are cut for timber or cleared for agriculture and oil palm plantations, the gibbons are forced to try and survive in fragmented forests or in the upper reaches of the mountains. There, food is scarce and populations decline. Those that live on the edge of the forest run the risk of being shot by hunters for bush-meat, or captured for the pet trade.
Picture your tree. To the west, the next tallest tree, only a kilometer away, shakes awkwardly for a moment before slowly toppling to its side. You watch it silently disappear into the forest before the roar of breaking branches reaches your ears. Picture yourself listening to the sound of chain saws as you sit in the crook of the branch, your infant clinging to your fur as the rain begins again.
Loren Bell spent three years chasing gibbons while managing the Gunung Palung Gibbon and Leaf Monkey Project. This long-term research project studies how habitat quality and ecological factors affect the demographics, behavior and reproductive potential of several primate species found in Gunung Palung National Park.
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.
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 mission. In 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 possible. Keep 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.
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.