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Daughter's sacrifice brings hope to Indonesian family

Young woman's struggle to care for her mentally ill parents and young siblings tugs many heartstrings

Daughter's sacrifice brings hope to Indonesian family

Kristina Viani Varnilan feeds her shackled father. (Photo supplied)

After graduating from a private school last year, Kristina Viani Varnilan chose to leave her village on the predominantly Catholic Indonesian island of Flores to earn a living in Makassar, South Sulawesi province, to help support her family.

The eldest of four children, Varnilan, 20, became the main breadwinner after her father, Siprianus Judin, 45, started showing signs of mental illness, while her 40-year-old mother, Birgita Gimbul, was already suffering from a mental condition and could not work.

For her to leave, a 17-year-old brother had to quit school to look after their parents along with their two other siblings, aged 13 and 10.

"In Makassar, I worked as a housemaid with a salary of 1.2 million rupiah [US$83] per month, which I sent to my family," she told UCA News.

However, nine months later, she received an urgent call from her family to return home after her father's condition began to worsen. She left her job and returned to her home village of Wuwur in East Nusa Tenggara province in June.

Varnilan said her father's condition was getting worse every day and he would often leave the house and become aggressive and threatening towards other villagers.

It was heartbreaking but had to be done out of safety for our fellow villagers

Earlier this month, the threats turned into violence when he hit a neighbor and killed two of his pigs with a machete. It resulted in her father being placed in what look like medieval stocks in her home, she said.

"It was heartbreaking but had to be done out of safety for our fellow villagers," Varnilan added.

Shackling is a common practice employed to deal with mentally ill people considered a danger to others in rural and remote Indonesian villages. It stems from ignorance about mental health issues, with many people unaware that various conditions can be cured or controlled. People placed in shackles usually remain in them until they die.

In recent years, efforts by activists and groups, including the Catholic Church, to end such practices have met with limited success.

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For Varnilan and her siblings, their situation has forced them into working in the fields to survive and take care of their parents.

"We take turns preparing their food as well as bathing our father," she said.

A ray of hope has appeared, however, after their story was told by a local news website and saw many people donate food and cash. Local authorities have also responded to their plight.

On Aug. 19, Manggarai district chief Herybertus Nabit and his deputy Heribertus Ngabut visited their home and offered to take their parents to the Renceng Mose Rehabilitation Center in Ruteng managed by the Brothers of Charity congregation

“As for the costs, the government will cover all of it," he said.

He also said that starting this year, the government will provide a special budget for the treatment of people suffering from mental illnesses in the district.

It is hoped that with this qualification under her belt, she can be in a better position to care for her family in the future

The following day, another piece of good news reached Varnilan from Ruteng Diocese’s St. Paul's Foundation, which runs the Indonesian Catholic University of St. Paul Ruteng.

The foundation wants to give her a scholarship to study midwifery at the college.

Father Ledobaldus Roling Mujur, the foundation’s head, said all Varnilan's tuition fees will be paid by the foundation.

"It is hoped that with this qualification under her belt, she can be in a better position to care for her family in the future," he said.

Varnilan says it is as if her prayers have been answered.

“I will make the most of this opportunity,” she told UCA News. "I really missed out on going to college when I finished high school last year, but what could I do with my parents in urgent need of help?” 

Now she has to look at her younger siblings continuing their education, she added.

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