The nuns run the Fatima Hospital in Ketapang, six rural clinics and several colleges scattered in the remote territory. They can reach the farthest villages only on motorbikes along long muddy roads, carrying basic items and equipment. The region’s child mortality is three times the national average, ten time in the case of infant mortality.
Ketapang (AsiaNews) – Child mortality in West Kalimantan is three times the national average. Infant mortality is ten times higher, whilst the maternal death rate is a hundred times higher than in developed countries. For this reason, Augustinian nuns (OSA) have decided to focus in helping local women to deliver their babies.
For decades, the Sisters have taught youth from local tribal communities in various schools and colleges scattered across the province.
Some of the nuns reach remote villages only on motorboats or motorbikes, carrying basic items and equipment, along long rivers or muddy roads, travelling for several hours.
The Sisters work in the Dioceses of Ketapang, Sanggau, Sintang and Pontianak (West Kalimantan). Mgr Pius Riana Prapdi, bishop of Ketapang, calls them "pioneers of the Church's apostolate in the field of education and healthcare".
"Their service is exceptional,” notes the prelate. “The nuns have succeeded in educating many young people in rural areas, allowing them to learn and acquire many skills."
The presence of the Augustinian nuns in Indonesia dates back to 1949, when some Dutch missionaries settled in the vast Diocese of Ketapang. In 1972, the nuns set up an autonomous province and last year celebrated their 25th anniversary.
Currently, their health services include a hospital in Ketapang, the Fatima Hospital, and six rural clinics in as many villages.
One of the most active nuns is Sister Elisa Petra (picture 1), a young woman from Muntilan (Central Java). Although she has a different background than local Sisters, who are ethnic Dayak, Sr Elisa has shown great skills and a sense of adaptation in her work as a midwife.
One of the rural communities served by the nuns is the parish of St Maria Assumpta in Tanjung, five hours from Ketapang.
On the back of her motorbike, Sister Elisa regularly tackles the journey on her own, bearing witness to the dedication and sacrifices that distinguish the work of Augustinian nuns.
Sister Theresia, 80, is the first Indonesian to have joined the religious community. She was born in Menyambung, on the banks of the Bihak River. Her remote hometown can only be reached by motorboat, along the river for three hours.
Frequent contacts with Passionist missionary priests in Menyumbung motivated her to continue her studies in Ketapang, boarding at a college run by the order.
The decision to become a nun at first met strong opposition from her family, but they later accepted and supported her mission. Sister Theresia is now enjoying a happy retirement, devoting herself to raising poultry.
A car accident on 8 December 2005 forced Sister Prudentia Lipa, 38, into a wheelchair. Serious injuries to the spinal cord and skull made her a paraplegic, radically changing her life.
Despite the disability, she exercises her talent in liturgical music and keeps busy by carrying out some administrative tasks.
Sister Regina, 76, is now retired as well. She is the granddaughter of the first missionary from China and spent her childhood in Ketapang.
Her grandfather was part of a group of five missionaries, who arrived in the city in 1910, after doing evangelisation work in Penang (Malaysia) and Singapore. After he decided to continue his work in Serengkak, he married a local woman.
Sister Regina took her first vows in 1965 followed by perpetual vows in 1972. During her training, she found joy in spiritual exercises and in the values of obedience and modesty.
In 2016, she celebrated her golden jubilee.