Jakarta (AsiaNews) - For the majority of Indonesians, mental
illness is still a stigma, a social disgrace, a problem to be kept hidden at
home, in a cage or in a clinic which, in reality, is more like a prison.
Schizophrenia, depression, and disorders resulting from abandonment lead the
subject to a progressive alienation from family, work, and everyday life, which
is then transformed into deprivation, lack of feelings and ties, abandonment.
Struck by the extent of the problem, which even the government purposely
ignores, a Catholic woman with some medical training has decided to open a
"House of Angel", which has now also become a foundation. A place
where people with mental disorders, psychiatric illnesses or abandoned to their
fate, with no one willing to take care of them, can find shelter, a bed, a hot
meal restore their strength.
According to an unofficial report - in this area the numbers
remain uncertain - from April 2009, in Indonesia the people with disorders or
mental illness were more than six million, or about 3% of the total. A number
that surely has grown since then, just as the population has grown, passing
from 200 to the current 250 million. For Dr. Surjo Dharmono, a specialist in psychiatry
at a hospital in central Jakarta, the number of people with problems "has
surpassed six million." The majority of the cases are to be found in the
big cities; stress, social tensions, traffic, crime, unemployment and lack of
green spaces and public services are critical factors that increase the risk of
The psychiatrist confirms that in the capital and in nearby
Bogor, more than 30% of his patients suffer from mental disorders, which often
are not even diagnosed due to the lack of adequate controls. Under the
provisions of the 1945 Constitution, the state has the responsibility to care
for the needy, including the poor, the marginalized and those with mental
disorders. However, the reality is quite different: the cultural heritage,
social problems and the lack of adequate facilities deprive patients of
treatment and care. And in many cases, to this emarginalization are added
violence and abuse, better known as "pasung" in Indonesian. This
practice - common in villages and poor areas - involves confining the patient
in a kind of bamboo cage, with their ankles tied.
To respond to the crisis, private citizens have started
centers or institutions that take care of people with mental health problems.
Among them is the Catholic Dorothea Angelic Dolly Pudjowati, originally from
Purwokerto, central Java, with medical studies - though she never graduated -
and a long experience in social work behind her. She's grown to become the
example of how the Church and its social doctrine can find practical
application in helping one's neighbor. At first she helped the homeless,
providing them with shelter and food. In 2008 she formed a group with whom she
founded the "house of grace", opening the door to poor and
marginalized people. The parish of St. Anthony started a project to assist the
homeless in East Jakarta, focusing on those who had psychiatric disorders, who
were then conveyed to a counseling center called "House of Love"; at
the same time, in a mobile clinic she offered free consultations. Those who
have received aid and assistance have defined the work of the Catholic
volunteer "holy speeches without words."
Her most ambitious project found fulfillment in 2009, with
the birth of the "House of Angel" and of the the foundation of the same
name, in the district of Bekasi, about thirty miles east of Jakarta. According
to the philosophy of "seek and find", the center doesn't expected the
sick or those in need to seek help; the activists are the ones who travel the
streets, among families or in meeting points such as public parks, train or bus
stations, looking for people in need of assistance and help. Like the first
patient Dorothea took care of in 2008, named Ucok, found in a state of
confusion on board a large truck at the depot station. "I want to help
those in need of assistance", the woman told AsiaNews, "as Jesus Christ has always taught us."
Commitment and passion for the other, which have earned her a special
recognition from the government - an award for a Catholic woman in the most
populous Muslim country in the world - because such commitment is based on the
values of altruism and solidarity.