Feature: Ona Nabila's experience serving unreached communities
Dr. Ona: A Doctor For All Communities
|by ICCS Team||Thursday, 2 February 2023|
For many delegates and speakers, ICCS 2022 was a remarkable experience that introduced new approaches to fostering social cohesion within our communities. There were horizons broadened, friendships forged and experiences gained. One of our delegates was Dr. Ona Nabila, a doctor and clinic coordinator serving in remote and under-served regions in Indonesia with doctorSHARE. She shares more about her personal journey and her takeaways from ICCS 2022:
Tell us more about doctorSHARE, as well as your experience as a doctor serving unreached communities.
Dr. Ona Nabila (standing) working with youths in the community. (Picture courtesy of Ona Nabila)
I’m a women and children’s health specialist, based on Kei Island in the Southeast Maluku islands and have served with doctorSHARE since 2021. Officially established in 2009, doctorSHARE is a non-profit organisation focusing on medical healthcare services and humanitarian aid for unreached communities across Indonesia’s vast archipelago.
Since its inception, we have served almost 70,000 patients with a diverse range of medical needs.
We also have a floating hospital; a tuberculosis clinic in Sentani Lake, Papua; a women and children’s clinic in Kei Island, Southeast Maluku; and a new clinic under construction in Nias Island, North Sumatra.
My time with doctorSHARE has impressed upon me the existing challenges that many communities face. A recent memory was having to send a patient with dengue fever to a hospital in another island 2 hours away by boat. We had to brave choppy waters! Thankfully, we managed to get the patient over there in time to receive medical attention.
As some of these villages have long-standing rivalries among themselves, there have been violent skirmishes with machetes and arrows between them, with some causing terrible casualties. I remember us doctors almost being caught in between one of these skirmishes, if not for the protection of the Indonesian Armed Forces stationed close by.
What are some of the most challenging aspects about your work on the field? Have there been tough moments?
A significant challenge are the geographical and material issues that affect these communities. We serve in remote areas, which means that these areas tend to be difficult to travel to and lack proper healthcare facilities.
There are also challenges arising from socioeconomic factors such as long-held traditions as well as the low wages received by rural residents. While villagers generally receive our medical services enthusiastically, it is not as easy to get communities to adopt new habits that might need significant relearning.
A case in point is when villagers practice subsistence farming of crops with low nutritional value. While there was initial reluctance to embrace new approaches, we managed to introduce a new garden with low-cost and high-nutrition crops, and shared ideas on how to maintain this garden with the villagers.
What compelled you to go forth and serve with underserved communities in far-away locales?
I come from a humble background, and my tuition fees for medical school were exorbitant. It was tough for my family to scrimp and save to put me through university, so I believe my graduation is indeed God’s grace. It is indeed a calling for me to serve those who have been left behind or are cut off from much-needed healthcare.
As someone who also shares humble roots with these communities, I am keenly aware that not all people live in cities with access to healthcare facilities, while some live from hand to mouth without adequate funds to tend to their wellbeing. If I can do as much as I can to move the needle just a little, I believe I should.
Dr. Ona Nabila (right) on a home visit in Tanimbar Kei, an island in a group of islands in southeastern Indonesia called the Kei Islands (also known as Kai Islands). (Picture courtesy of Ona Nabila)
From your experience at the ICCS 2022 Young Leaders Programme (YLP) segment, what are some lessons and observations you picked up? How do you think you can apply these lessons to your work with DoctorShare?
As a doctor, I seek to improve the wellbeing of all of my patients regardless of race, language or faith, while also learning from their diverse experiences. In fact, my work on Kei Island, a Hindu community that has been around for centuries, has allowed me to learn about their cultural practices and norms as well as their cultural resilience and their sense of communal togetherness.
My experience at YLP has further imbued in me the need for greater understanding and respect across diverse faiths and communities. As much as I seek to serve all regardless of background, I feel that I have also gained from learning from other cultures and experiences.
Dr. Ona Nabila (left) with her colleagues from doctorSHARE, Dr. Edith Irenne Marlissa (centre) and Dr. Gaby Venera (right) at ICCS 2022. (Picture courtesy of Ona Nabila)
I also picked up the idea of servant leadership, that to lead requires great sacrifice beyond just giving out orders to those under you. Indeed, as I continue my work with doctorSHARE, these lessons will continue to hold me in good stead.