About three weeks ago, I was flipping through the channels and landed on PBS. If you know me, I spend about an average of 1 hour per week by the television, and it’s usually to catch the most recent episode of The Office. However, this particular night, PBS caught my attention. What I saw on the screen was a man sharing his story of getting emergency health care and paying for it with manure. Yes. You read that right. This rural Indonesian man whose life had once been on the line was able to afford quality health care with cow feces. I was hooked. And as I kept listening, I heard stories of others paying with seed, labor, crops, chickens. But it didn’t stop there. Dr. Kinari Webb, founder of Health in Harmony/Project Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), shared how their work is also an effort to cease the illegal logging of Indonesia’s rain forests.
I immediately jumped online, found Health in Harmony, and emailed Dr. Kinari Webb. I had to write about this. I had to share with my readers how one woman with a passion for people and the earth is preserving the environment and saving lives.
Alam Sehat Lestari: Health and Everlasting Nature
To provide some background, Health In Harmony is a US-based 501(c)3 non-profit organization that was founded on the vision that global human health depends on recognizing and promoting the link between human health and environmental health at the local level. Health In Harmony’s mission is to integrate essential medical care with environmental protection strategies for the threatened rain forest, through support of the Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) program.
Project ASRI was founded by Dr. Kinari Webb in July 2007 to promote this vision in Indonesia, a developing country where health care needs are desperate. Indonesia is also a place where forests that play a critical role in regulating the global climate are vast but gravely threatened, and abject poverty drives a cycle that links poor health and rain forest destruction.
Alam Sehat Lestari is an Indonesian phrase meaning “healthy and everlasting nature.” The acronym that has become the common name for the program—ASRI—is also an Indonesian word meaning “harmoniously balanced.” These combined references to health, nature, and balance reflect the program’s unique blend of health care and environmental conservation.
Saving Forests, Saving Lives
Project ASRI is based in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo. The clinic is located in a village called Sukadana, north of the regional capital of Ketapang, and at the base of Gunung Palung National Park.
The program’s conservation efforts focus on preserving Gunung Palung, a vast tract of biodiverse rain forest. The park is a critically important stronghold 5-10% of the planet’s total remaining orangutans and a valuable conservation area for other rare and endangered animals and plants. The park is home to a natural, breeding population of orangutans that is estimated to represent 5-10% of the planet’s total remaining orangutans, as well as a wide variety of other rare and endangered animals. Within the boundaries of the protected area lie a rich diversity of habitats; in addition, the park comprises a watershed that is the major source of water for agriculture and human consumption for the 60,000 people in surrounding communities.
Project ASRI integrates three key elements. First, ASRI operates a licensed health clinic in Sukadana that provides high quality, low-cost healthcare to local people and training to Indonesian doctors and nurses. Clinic staff save lives every day; Dr. Webb shared the story of a patient who once suffered from tuberculosis meningitis. Without access to medicine, his life was limited to a darkened room. With treatment, he was able to do something as simple as going to the beach, enjoying life!
Second, ASRI offers health care incentives to communities bordering Gunung Palung National Park to encourage them to protect the park from illegal logging. Dr. Webb shared, with joy, how the people of this area were discovering the value of their environmental surroundings. She said, “We have seen people become so excited about and involved in the conservation efforts. This has been especially true for the reforestation effort we are beginning this Fall.”
And third, ASRI makes available ecologically-friendly and conservation-promoting work opportunities to healthcare patients or their family members as a non-cash means of paying for services at the ASRI clinic. Reforestation will soon become one of these conservation-promoting work opportunities.
Health In Harmony is working to support Project ASRI in expansion of the current clinic, which has grown too small to serve the health care needs of the surrounding communities. They are looking to build a larger teaching hospital/health center. This health center will allow the full impact of the Health In Harmony/ASRI vision to be realized, says Brita Johnson, Health In Harmony’s Executive Director, and will play a role in potential future replication in other parts of the world where human well-being and environmental integrity are in conflict.
The Inspiration of Passion
Photo taken by Erick Danzer, provided by Health in Harmony
If you look at the Health in Harmony website, you’ll most likely be unimpressed, as it is fairly basic. (Any graphic designers/website gurus out there looking for a holiday project?) But more importantly, it reflects the commitment to the mission- serving the people and environment of this Indonesian national park community. What is so fascinating to me and what inspires me to share this with anyone possible, is that this story is one of a woman who had a love for people and a love for the beauty of the earth- and she did something about it. Gosh, my heart is beating fast. Talk about inspiring.