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reed magazine logoAutumn 2007
Sign to village organic garden
Sukadana docks

Health in Harmony’s new organic garden (above) and the busy docks in Sukadana

“The log bosses are the
only ones making money.
We’re hoping that once the
program starts, people will say,
‘We want our incentives.
Stop logging.’”
—Kinari Webb

THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD for Health in Harmony at its new clinic, a converted six-room house about a mile from the beach. On the day of my visit—a bright Thursday afternoon in July—the clinic has been open just six days, but already appointments are booked two weeks out and there’s a busy hum about the place. In one exam room, the clinic’s three Indonesian nurses are cleaning the weeping foot of a diabetic man, while outside on the front porch, villagers pass by in a steady stream to check a dry-erase board that explains the work-for-trade program. In addition to laboring for health-care credit, local people can also earn credit by trading manure, bamboo, eggshells, rice husks, and wood for use in the garden.

Webb, 35, is hard to miss in a crowd here. She’s fair-skinned and blue-eyed with dark wavy hair that she tucks behind her ears. At 5’5” she stands a few inches taller than most of the men in the village. On this morning, she seems downright buoyant. In one way or another, she has been working toward opening this clinic since the day in 1993 when she watched one of her Indonesian research assistants slice his hand open with a machete. He looked up at her in horror, and she realized that what she considered a routine injury—to be treated with a few stitches and a shot—could be dire in a place where health care was virtually nonexistent. “He’d never heard of tetanus or germ theory,” she remembers. “He thought he was going to die.”

After completing her biology degree at Reed in 1995 and marrying Cam Webb, she headed to medical school. She earned her M.D. from Yale, then took a family medicine residency in Contra Costa County, California. That experience—working in a large urban hospital—deepened her desire to provide care in the developing world. “It’s hard working in a system you don’t believe in,” she says, “the richest country in the world not taking care of its people.”

In early 2005, she came back to Indonesia in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami, completing her emergency room rotation as a field doctor in hard-hit Aceh Province. She was hoping to find an international medical organization to work with in Indonesia; instead, she decided to form her own. Backers in the United States, including two old friends from Reed, Julia Riseman ’89 and Preetha Rajaraman ’94, as well as a friend and environmentalist in Indonesia, Toni Gorog, helped get her nonprofit organization off the ground (see sidebar). That summer, when she finished her residency, Health in Harmony was born.

To find the perfect location for her clinic, Webb flew with missionary pilots to the remotest reaches of the country. She was looking for places with large, intact forests and low access to health care, and she ultimately settled on Sukadana, which is two plane rides and two hours’ drive across coconut plantations from Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. Gunung Palung was all the more compelling because Cam, who had set up plots to study tree ecology deep in the rain forest back in 1993, could continue his work there.

Making Health in Harmony fly has meant constant trips back to Jakarta and the United States to raise $95,000 in start-up money—a mix of Indonesian and American grants, plus private donations. Webb and her local staff spent three tedious months earlier this year navigating the permit process in the notoriously sticky Indonesian bureaucracy. The bribe demands got so expensive that Webb cashed in some goodwill she’d curried with a respected elder in town: he successfully shamed local officials into backing off. “We couldn’t have afforded it otherwise,” she says bluntly.

At the clinic, good news has come on another front:  the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to support a plan by Health in Harmony and a local conservation group to offer health care discounts to villagers who work to keep illegal logging operations out of Gunung Palung.

“The log bosses are the only ones making money,” Webb says. “We’re hoping that once the program starts, people will say, ‘We want our incentives. Stop logging.’ And if the incentives are spread over the entire community, the pressure starts to work.

“Of course, this is the first time this has been tried anywhere,” she adds with a sheepish grin.

reed magazine logoAutumn 2007