Dentist offers oral healthcare for orangutan ‘love’

A dentist is on the shortlist to win a prestigious wildlife conservation prize for her work saving the rainforests.

Hotlin Ompusunggu, from Borneo in south east Asia, is trying to sever the links between poverty, ill-health and ecological damage by letting poor communities ‘pay’ for healthcare by becoming guardians of the forests where gibbons and orangutans live.

The quest to find the next winner of the UK’s biggest and best-respected wildlife conservation prize entered its final stages this week when the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) announced the shortlist for its Whitley Gold Award 2011.

Hotlin is among seven men and women – from Argentina, Belize, Borneo, Croatia, India, Russia and Uzbekistan – who remain in the running for the charity’s top accolade, and a share in project grants worth a total £270,000.

Each of the finalists now faces an interview with a panel of experts in London in May, after which the judges will select the 2011 winner of the £60,000 Whitley Gold Award and confer other Whitley Awards worth £30,000 each.

This year’s results will be announced during a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society, London, on Wednesday 11 May at which WFN’s patron, HRH The Princess Royal Princess Anne will present the prizes.

Dr Hotlin Ompusunggu, DDS, Ce.HE, explains her project.

She says: ‘Four years ago, a friend introduced me to Dr Kinari Webb, founder of Health In Harmony, a US-based NGO that supported the creation of Yayasan Alam Sehat Lestari (which means ‘healthy nature everlasting’).

‘I have worked with Kinari since March 2007 to implement her vision of an integrated healthcare-conservation programme. Through my interactions with her, I have developed a firm belief in the need to protect natural resources as the means to better lives locally and globally.

‘I first encountered Gunung Palung National Park four years ago, when I came to work in Sukadana, which borders on the national park. Since then, I have made many trips into the forest and am always amazed by its diversity and natural beauty. Every day, I marvel at the beautiful view of the park’s hills as I bicycle to ASRI’s clinic from my house, and I get to hear the orchestra of animal sounds – including the wonderful duetting of gibbons – coming from the forests that cover those hills.’

She adds: ‘In 2003-2005, I had been working in Sumatra as the manager of – and dentist on – a clinic on a boat that served remote communities along a river. I do love being a dentist but I have always been drawn the bigger picture and was interested in how we can help improve people’s lives in a holistic sense.

‘For that reason, I decided to get more education and went to England to do a one-year certificate course in higher education and community development. When I got back, I wanted to do something more besides seeing patients.’

She adds: ‘At that time, I got a phone call from a friend of a friend who wanted to start a clinic in Kalimantan that would also try to protect the rainforest. I was really drawn to the idea even though, at that time, I did not think that the environment was very important. Mostly I wanted to work on the community development side, but after I came to work with Kinari Webb in mid-2007, slowly I began to see things differently.

‘Now I believe that conservation is something that can not be separated to address a healthy life a healthy planet.’

 


• The Whitley Awards scheme is an annual competition, first held in 1994. In the 18 years since the scheme began, it has given grants worth more than £6m to support the work of inspirational conservation leaders in 65 countries and building a network of more than 100 Whitley alumni.

 

To learn more about the charity, its donors and past winners, visit www.whitleyaward.org.

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