Experience one of the most remote villages MAF serves in Kalimantan, Indonesia
There’s an extra seat on a flight to the village of Long Sule (SOO-lay). Care to join us?
You’re strapped into the middle seat on the left side, directly behind pilot Tyler Schmidt. A few minutes after takeoff from the island of Tarakan, you leave the coast behind and head into the interior mountainous region of Kalimantan, Indonesia. You lean over to peer off the wingtip. A dense, pristine jungle carpets the landscape below in every direction.
After an hour of flying you reach the region known as the Apo Kayan. Tyler lowers the flaps of the plane as you approach the Long Sule airstrip, located on a grassy ridge above the village.
Tyler expertly puts the wheels down and the plane rumbles to the top of the airstrip. He shuts off the engine and turns around with a grin, thumbs up. “Welcome to Long Sule!”
You wait for the airstrip agent to put on the tail stand before the doors open and you climb outside. Villagers surround the plane, eager to help offload the cargo. Some step forward, offering you their hand to welcome you.
Everybody—men and women, young and old—helps to remove and transport the boxes and bags stored within the pod of the Kodiak. They heft the heavy cargo onto their backs and begin the steep trek down to the villages below.
You’re curious about the village clinic, so you head off on the trail descending a few hundred feet from the airstrip into the valley.
Passing you on the path is the pastor of a local church, heading up to the airstrip to catch a flight over to another village to attend a church conference. The pastor takes a moment to emphasize gratitude for MAF, explaining it would mean a difficult journey of several weeks through the jungle if not for MAF’s assistance.
The winding trail descends into the village of Long Pipa (PEE-pah). To get to the clinic in Long Sule, you must cross a series of bridges from Long Pipa over the river. The first bridge is missing slats and swings and sways with the slightest movement. Village children traipse effortlessly across it, turning to laugh as you clutch the sides of the bridge in terror, resisting the urge to look down.
You somehow make it across and begin a stroll through Long Sule. Many houses have woven mats in front of them, the recent rice harvest drying in the sun. Most of the villagers are farmers, hunters, and fishermen. Anything else they need – cooking oil, sugar, tea, clothes, medicine, fuel for the generators – is flown in by MAF.
As you pause to get a photo with a group of kids, the sound of the MAF Kodiak roars overhead. Tyler is heading over to the nearby airstrip at Mahak Baru to retrieve another load of cargo and diesel fuel. On an average day he will complete six shuttle flights before the day is done.
With the tropical sun at its zenith, you finally reach the clinic and are greeted by the clinic director and several nurses. They inform you the clinic was built about ten years ago, using materials brought in by MAF.
One of the men with you, Loren, heads into the clinic to have some stitches removed. He invites you to tag along and tells you how he was fishing and got snagged by a hook. He winces as the nurse removes the stitches and covers his finger with a bandage. “It stings!” he says with a laugh.
Before the clinic was built, there had only been a small outpost, perpetually understaffed and neglected. Today it offers midwifery services and immunizations, treats ailments such as tuberculosis and skin diseases, and provides critical wound care.
Nurse Sarip explains how MAF provides a medevac service for the clinic’s more critical patients. “MAF has helped the people here so much,” he says. “Every time we have a patient who needs to be medevac’d out, MAF quickly responds.”
Such was the case with Ripin, a man bitten by a venomous snake a number of years ago while cutting wood in the jungle. Friends carried him to the clinic, but there was nothing more that could be done for him. Struggling to breathe, he watched as his leg swelled to an alarming size. Thankfully, MAF was able to get him to a hospital before it was too late.
“If it hadn’t been for MAF,” he tells you, “I would have already been called home by the Lord!”
Soon it’s time to head back to the airstrip, your head spinning with amazing stories like these. You come to the quick realization that walking up the hill to the airstrip is about a hundred times harder than going down, but with plenty of laughter and encouragement from the locals, you eventually return to the top.
As the plane takes off, you look out the window and see your new friends from the village waving at you. Today you received a gift, a rare glimpse into their day-to-day lives and how MAF is making a permanent, positive impact in one of the most remote corners of the world.