|Our less-forested front yard, and Gunung Palung National Park rising across the street. (note the lawn service, in the foreground)|
I developed a cynical side at some point in my 33 years. So when I opened Health in Harmony's redesigned website a few months ago and read its new tag line - "Saving Lives, Saving Rain Forest," I scoffed and considered it idealistic embellishment and maybe an extra reach for a little fund raising. At that point in time, paperwork and politics in the US healthcare system left me with less and less time to spend with patients and with diminishing hope of helping to improve, much less save, anyone's life. Lofty goals like saving forests that are thousands of miles away fell farther and farther on the priority list, even as it was becoming more and more obvious that weather and coastlines very close to home will increase their rate of change.
The past week has brought more experiences that have quieted that cynical side and are restoring my capacity for hope. On Wednesday a man came in with two infected fingers after getting them stuck a week prior in a diesel engine. A bone fragment remained, swelling had increased, and sensation was disappearing even after two encounters at other health facilities. We removed the bone fragment, cleaned the wound, started an IV antibiotic, and asked him to return the next day. On Thursday, it was obvious that the infection had taken the life from his distal middle finger was climbing up the bone. After some quick and thorough reading and a call to a hand surgeon in the US, we turned one of the clinic rooms into an operating room and removed the infected part. Yesterday both fingers continued to improve without any sign of further infection.
Earlier in the week, ASRI hosted a meeting of stakeholders involved in and affected by the illegal logging trade, which is the greatest local threat to the surrounding rain forest. It would have been unheard of just a few years ago for villagers, many of whom are loggers or benefit from the industry, to come together with town officials and police, national park administrators, and local and international conservation organizations to discuss the present and future state of Gunung Palung's forests. But under ASRI's facilitation and community-based approach, these meetings are common and carrying greater strength. A number of attendees who spoke up were former loggers, who realized the harm they were causing to their land and their families, and warned others of the fate that awaited them once the forest disappeared. The government has reported now that no more logging contracts will be approved, that the current concessions will expire within a year, and that any logging thereafter will be obviously illegal and more easily enforceable.
So it is that my cynical side is silenced, and each day I walk home from clinic in awe of the accomplishments being made here. Long-term, sustainable solutions for quality health care and rainf orest conservation will not, and should not, come overnight. A lot of listening and a lot of learning must happen for development to proceed in a healthy, harmonious manner. In the meantime, it's good to have a place like Sukadana and an organization like ASRI that are doing this work on a small scale, seeing daily success, and demonstrating that lives and rain forests can indeed be saved.