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Indonesia

Indonesian nun cleans up a social evil in Medan

Sister Flaviana Toedi has helped hundreds of drug addicts kick their habit at her congregation's rehabilitation center

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Indonesian nun cleans up a social evil in Medan

Sister Flaviana Toedi has helped hundreds of drug addicts become clean at the Rumah Kita (Our House) rehabilitation center in Medan (Photo supplied)

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St. Joseph Sister Flaviana Toedi spends most of her time helping drug addicts at a rehabilitation centre in Medan, North Sumatra.

The Rumah Kita (Our House) rehabilitation center was established by her congregation in 2014, and since its inauguration by Capuchin Archbishop Anicetus Bongsu Sinaga of Medan, it has helped hundreds of drug addicts.

Sister Toedi serves as coordinator of the center.

“All return to their families clean,” said Sister Toedi, 48, who hails from Manggarai on Catholic-majority Flores island. “The big hope is that they remain that way.”

The nun, who joined the Sisters of St. Joseph Congregation in 1994, is looking after 21 addicts — one woman and 20 men.

“We can only deal with 24 people at a time, in line with building capacity, and to better their chances of kicking their addiction,” said the nun who took her final vows in 2005.

They come from various backgrounds and ages and even include people active in church work, she added.

Family's love

Sister Toedi said she initially had reservations about working with drug addicts, due to society stereotyping them as being dangerous, but her fellow nuns soon allayed that fear.  

“I came to love the work, and the experience has made me more caring and compassionate,” she said, adding Pope Francis' call to care for drug addicts has also strengthened her will to help them.

“I’m also touched by the care their families display and their pleas to help a husband or a child break free from the grasp of drugs.”   

There is no reason to think ill of addicts, although it is not easy sometimes helping them, the nun said. “It takes time and I must be patient because they often lie, which makes it difficult to give counseling,” she said. 

Each patient is supposed to pay US$285 for the treatment, which is used to pay the staff and for other costs, but many addicts cannot afford to pay.

“We never turn them away, even if they have no money. Our mission is to save them, so the congregation helps sometimes with the financial side,” she said.

She said now the challenge is bigger as more and more people in the province are taking drugs. According to the National Narcotics Agency, North Sumatra is the province with the largest number of addicts in Indonesia with over one million drug users.

“We work with the agency and regularly report on progress of patients,” the nun said, adding that although the agency helps fund the center, the amount it gives is not nearly adequate. 

Full accompaniment  

Sister Toedi said the center runs many activities for the addicts, including seminars on drug prevention, spiritual reflection, social interaction, counseling, sports, worship, mutual assistance, education on the adverse impacts of drugs and the healing of inner wounds. These activities are conducted from 7am to 10pm every day.

“The detoxification programs are designed to last a year. But some people need more than that to recover fully,” she said, adding that some end up coming back after returning to their old habits.

Sister Toedi is assisted at the Rumah Kita center by several other nuns, a laywoman and nine laymen.

This number is insufficient because working with drug addicts requires precautions to be taken. The center must apply strict rules to avoid drugs being smuggled into the facility, she said.

Families who want to visit must follow strict protocols such as being searched and meeting relatives in a designated room. “If a patient needs to see their wife, parents or children, they must go through us,” she said.

Richardo Barus, 47, a former addict, said he underwent the center’s rehabilitation program in 2016.

“The center was extraordinary, particularly the staff who were very patient with me and others,” said Barus, who was an addict from 2006 to 2016.

He said he became clean four years ago, but his friends always try to tempt him to use drugs again. He said he keeps refusing as he remembers the misery he went through that was caused by his addiction.

It was an experience he never wants to go through again, said Barus, who now works in a bank.

“The good thing is that Sister Toedi still monitors and keeps in contact with former addicts. I consider her part of my family,” he said.

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