A different perception of life and living, which was the reason why I left Indonesia so much richer for the experience. First written 9 years ago:

About six years ago, I met Achmad Mediana. He was one of the most experienced, popular and well-loved gynecologists in jakarta. The simplicity and humility of this man struck me from the moment I met him. Though a few years older than I, Achmad had the enthusiasm and idealism of an idealistic first year medical student. He was very keen to learn and to improve, and he was equally keen to make good maternity care available to all Indonesian women, especially poor women. In his career, he saw no difference between the poor who do not pay him, and the paying customers who arrive in SUVs chauffeured by uniformed drivers. Achmad needed serious help to drive his practice forward and to deliver his target of reaching more women. But I did not have the time to give to his service back then.

In 2013, I returned to Jakarta. Nothing changed. It was as if I never went away. Over the years, his devoted wife Yayu also became a dear friend to me. Soon, the three of us fell into our old, easy way of being with each other. Achmad still has his old zeal for improving the lives of his countrywomen. He believes passionately that the children are Indonesia’s future, and their lives start in their mothers’ wombs. He believes passionately that healthcare should not be selective, that all women should receive equality in maternity care. Currently, 40% of the patients on his books are charity cases; Achmad plans to increase that number to 80%. I don’t see how the sums according to Achmad’s Ambition would ever balance in the real world.

One day, Achmad said to me, “Jacqueline, let’s go to Alang-alang.”

Alang-alang means weeds in Indonesian. Strong, hardy, indigenous plants that dance in the wind thriving in conditions that pampered varieties would have no hope in surviving. Alang-alang is also the beloved project of Achmad Mediana and his wife, Yayu. As a Muslim, his religion requires him to pledge 20% of his income to charity (in reality, this man pledges a lot more), and with his zakat, Alang-alang was born.

Early one morning in February, we set off for Ciawi, about an hour and a half’s drive outside Jakarta. In the car was Achmad and myself, and another doctor called Made. Yayu and her friend Hennie came along as well. We talked, we laughed and we slept on the journey to Ciawi. Soon, we were there. As we walked through the rough path through the fields of alang-alang, Achmad pointed out a simple shack to me.

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“This was my first clinic, Jacqueline,” Achmad informed me. I did know whether he was joking or not, but he continued in the same serious tone, “Fourteen years ago, I used to drive the ultrasound machine here every week. But when it rained, the whole roof sometimes collapsed.”

He then waved his hand expansively at the sunny, cheerful building on the other side of the patch of ground, overgrown with alang-alang. “And now, we have Rumah Kait. Kait means tight.” He locked the second fingers of his two hands tightly together. “Like this.”

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Rumah Kait now provides free medical check-ups (including ultrasound scans and prenatal tests) for expectant mothers and children of the village. The doctors in Achmad Mediana’s team are expected to contribute their time to serving this community. There are two interns from Germany living with host families at the moment, who contribute to the richness of Alang-alang.

Apart from medical check-ups, women and children have access to books in a library, computers and exciting programmes such as Sun Yoga Prenatal Yoga. It was truly an honour and a privilege for me to be a part of this.

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As we sat down for a simple meal with the team, I counted my blessings for having Achmad Mediana as my boss, my mentor, my teacher and my friend.

A song for you from the children of Alang-alang: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfmC7SFJiTU