By Patricia Andersson
Twelve adventurous DFW travelers, loaded down with extra suitcases full of medical donations that we had readily agreed to transport, met up in Singapore to start a whirlwind trip to visit Borneo and Bali, two of the 17,000 islands that make up the country of Indonesia.
We flew first to Borneo, and after a 5-hour boat ride (running out of gas twice), we arrived in the small town of Sukadana. Borneo, being right on the equator, was as hot and humid as you would imagine, and Sukadana was not exactly a tourist destination. This gave us a true glimpse of real life in this developing country, with all its power outages and endless rutted roads. Some of my favorite memories were strolling down the streets in town early in the morning, before the day became hot, as people rode their motorbikes to work and the children played in the schoolyards before classes began. We turned heads everywhere we went, as a group of white women was not a common sight. Everyone was extremely friendly, and our tiny smatterings of Indonesian came in handy to say hello and good morning. And of course, smiles are understood in every language.
Our main objective was to meet with the in-country branch of Health in Harmony (supported September 2012), called ASRI. DFW had donated to their program, Goats for Widows, which provides an income for some of the poorest women in the region through the raising of goats and collecting the goats’ manure for use in the organic gardens. We were fortunate to be in town during a time that goats were being distributed, and took part in a ceremony to place 10 goats with 10 local widows. We were paired up — one or two DFW travelers per widow – and with plenty of smiles and hugs, helped as best we could to get the right goat to the right woman. Some of the widows were surprisingly young, but all were very happy to meet us and thankful to receive the goats that would significantly improve their lives. After the ceremony, we split into smaller groups to visit some of the recipients in their homes, speaking with them through an interpreter.
As the days passed, we also learned about other programs that ASRI offers for the communities in the nearby area, visiting their health clinic, an organic farming initiative, a reforestation site having a “Green Day” celebration, and meeting with the children who participate in “ASRI Kids,” learning about the environment and preservation of the remaining rain forest.
Preserving the Rain Forest
Rain Forest preservation is the underlying goal of all of ASRI’s activities, and we flew to the south of Borneo to go visit the rain forest in person. A three-day boat trip took us deep into one of the last virgin forests where orangutans (which means “man of the forest” in Indonesian) still roam free. We visited reserves where orangutans that had been rescued from captivity were relocated to live on their own in the forest again. Daily food provided by the reserve’s rangers supplements their wild diet, and also provides a chance for visitors to get an up-close look at these amazing creatures at feeding time.
From there, we flew to Bali, and spent a day relaxing after the jammed-packed schedule in Borneo. Although the ocean was just a short hop away, many of our travelers never left the hotel’s swim-up bar, luxuriating in the cool water, frosty drinks, and developing friendships.
Visit with a women’s clinic
After visiting a cliffside temple and watching a traditional fire dance, we left the following day to meet with the staff at an innovative women’s health clinic called Yayasan Rama Sesana, in the capital city of Denpasar. They gave us a presentation on their mission of providing exams and reaching out to low-income workers in the traditional markets with sexual health information. Although they don’t meet DFW’s funding criteria, we were able to leave them with a donation and a promise to connect them with other organizations doing similar work.
We then drove to the town of Ubud, where we based ourselves for the remainder of our journey. Our days were spent visiting the markets, enjoying a superb cooking class, and seeing some of the local sites and cultural experiences. We also visited a birthing center, Bumi Sehat, run by Robin Lim, an American woman who won the CNN Hero Award in 2011 for her work with gentle birthing. Just after we arrived, an amazing reunion occurred between Robin Lim and one of our travelers, Susan Allman, who had been Robin’s high school teacher back in Michigan! Their reunion was joyful and full of bear hugs as neither expected the other to be there.
Walking in the footsteps of village women
Our last adventure was a day hike with a Swiss organization through a remote area on the eastern side of Bali to visit villages where tourist dollars have not reached and poverty is still endemic. This organization has helped the villages begin to find their way out of poverty with many different programs, a main one being by creating water catchment systems that allow for year-round water. This eliminates the need for women to obtain their daily water bymaking the same 5-mile trek that we took. We were all exhausted after literally walking in the footsteps of these women – and we didn’t have the 40-pound container of water on our heads that the local women used to carry!
Our hearts were full and our spirits were thankful as we completed our time together with a special dinner, sharing our favorite memories and how the trip had affected us. We all felt – as I do – that it was a privilege and an honor to have been a part of this unique and amazing journey.Read the trip diaries