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Indonesia

Camillians tackle the shackling of Indonesia's mentally ill

Priests in East Nusa Tenggara province build homes for sufferers so that they are not chained up by relatives

Camillians tackle the shackling of Indonesia's mentally ill

The 'shackle-free' home built by Camillian priests for Robilius Jerubu. (Photo: Father Cyrelus Suparman Andi)

Robilius Jerubu probably feels just a little bit more free now. The 31-year-old Catholic from East Manggarai district in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province no longer has to stay in a small wooden hut where he was shackled for years due to mental illness.

The unmarried man was forced to live like this by his family after he suddenly began having regular and violent mood swings about six years ago.

Relatives claim they had no choice but to restrain Jerebu by shackling him by the legs to a wooden beam in an old hut near his parents’ house in the village of Golo Loni so that he would not hurt anyone.

Shackling remains a common practice in Indonesia when dealing with mentally ill people considered a threat to others.

According to the Health Ministry, around 19,850 out of 450,000 people registered as mentally ill in Indonesia have been shackled for various reasons, the majority of whom are from rural areas.

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“Actually, we were really worried about him being in the hut as storms occur often during the rainy season, raising the risk of flash floods,” Jerubu’s uncle, Ardianus Abas, told UCA News.

However, one day, the family were told by the village head that Camillian priests could build him a “shackle-free house.”

Construction work on the 12-square-meter home, which came with a bed and toilet, was carried out by two builders and four Camillian seminarians. It took about 14 days.

It was then blessed by Camillian Father Cyrelus Suparman Andi, the rector of St. Camillus Major Seminary in Maumere in the province’s Sikka district, on Jan. 20.

“We can only thank the Camillian priests for what they have done. We cannot repay their kindness,” Abas said, adding that although his nephew is still confined he has more freedom of movement.

The newly built home was the first of its kind in the area on the predominantly Catholic island of Flores.

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Jerubu is one of two people suffering from mental illness in Golo Loni, according to village head Yohanes Berkhmans Okalung. The other is being treated in the Renceng Mose Rehabilitation Center managed by the Brothers of Charity congregation.

The village has a population of 1,375 people.

“The number of people with mental illnesses in this village is thankfully low. Yet Father Andi was well aware of the situation and insisted their living conditions be improved if treatment was unavailable to them,” Okalung said.

“We could not build such homes as we had no money, so Father Andi and other Camillian priests decided to help us.”

All the costs of constructing the new home for Jerubu were covered by the priests, who obtained the money from donations.

“What I can do is allocate a sum of money this year to buy medicine for Jerebu and the other person. I hope to give them jobs, such as raising cattle and farming, so that they can reintegrate with village life if I can,” said Okalung, who was elected village head in 2019.

Kanisius Sandri Geong, one of the seminarians who helped build the home, said the effort was worth it to see someone unchained. “No one should be allowed to live like that.”

He said he visits quite a few people shackled on Flores. He chats with them, prepares meals and even cuts their hair and bathes them.

“I am grateful to be part of this mission to free them from their chains,” he said.

More homes to be built      

Camillian priests, who follow the prophetic spirit of St. Camillus de Lellis, the patron saint of the sick and health workers, arrived in Indonesia in 2009.

Only five such priests are in the country and 72 seminarians are studying at St. Camillus Major Seminary in Maumere.

“In general, our mission is to serve the sick. It is only in Indonesia that we serve people with mental illnesses. Many people here are shackled for mental illnesses in the area where we are based, so this is our focus,” Father Andi said.

Camillian priests have built 51 shackle-free homes in Maumere since 2015. Each house costs 26 million rupiah (about US$2,000).

“The one recently built in East Manggarai district is the 52nd home and the first outside Maumere,” the priest said.

Camillian priests will build four more houses in the Manggarai area this year, with the construction of the first due to take place in March. They also plan to build another one in the province’s Ende district later this month.

“We also want to encourage the families of an occupant to not be afraid and to take an active part in giving them greater care. This will speed up the healing process,” Father Andi said.

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