Franciscan priest steps in to fill government's shoes

Unhappy with failure of state clinics, priest builds health center in Papua parish
Franciscan priest steps in to fill government's shoes

Franciscan Father Ivan Simamora stands outside a small shelter for pregnant mothers in Musatfak, Papua. The shelter will increase in size when more funding becomes available (Photo by Flori Geong)

 

Since his posting to Papua four years ago, Franciscan Father Ivan Simamora has witnessed a gaping hole in health and education services particularly in Musatfak, an area in Jayawijaya district.

Father Simamora, who hails from Sumatra in western Indonesia, serves as the priest of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Musatfak, about 25 kilometers from Wamena, the district capital. The priest said that he has witnessed a lack of schoolteachers and seen health clinics abandoned because there were no medical workers.

Last year, when he was invited to speak during a workshop to promote education and opportunities for young people in Jayawijaya, Father Simamora spoke about the need to improve education and health care in the area.

"We are very concerned about health and education services," Father Simamora told ucanews.com. "These are the two basic needs of the people here … many state-employed teachers do not show up at schools, and medical workers are nowhere to be found.

"As a result, many children cannot read or write, and sick people have to travel for hours to Wamena to get treatment," the priest added.

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Community members once complained to him that hospital bureaucracy in Wamena requires a referral letter from a local clinic. But there were no doctors at the local clinics or medical workers to provide such letters.

"Because of these difficulties faced by the community, I have opened a health center in the parish," the priest explained. More and more people are going there to receive medication.

According to Liza Mitriani Salu, a volunteer worker at the community health center in Musatfak, the government-run clinic had been in effect closed for months after its director was accused of embezzling public funds and he went into hiding.

"Since then, the staff haven’t bothered turning up at the clinic," she said.

Mully Wetipo, coordinator of a Jayawijaya community forum, said local people were angry that doctors and medical workers abandoned their duties and ignored the difficulties faced by people.

"Worst is that the government does not punish staff who neglect their responsibilities," said Wetipo

The people, he said, are grateful for the help the church-run clinic offers. However, it is not right that Father Simamora and his medical team have had to take over health services. That should be the responsibility of the government.

"But we highly appreciate what Father Ivan and his staff have done for the people here in Musatfak," he said.

Apart from running the church clinic, Father Simamora also takes medical teams to visit remote villages, even though they have to travel for hours crossing flooded rivers and treacherous roads.

 

Transient house for pregnant mothers

According to Father Simamora, pregnant women and children are the most vulnerable group and need immediate care. Recently he built a shelter for mothers about to give birth and cannot afford to go to the district hospital.

"It serves as transient house for pregnant mothers," said Father Simamora. "They can stay here three weeks before the birth and can stay another three weeks until the medical team declares its safe to return home."

The transient house is about 50 meters from the clinic, and has only two rooms available at the moment but more will be added later when there is sufficient funding, the priest said.

Roslina Walilo, a volunteer at the church clinic said the shelter helps women, particularly those from far away villages, to better prepare themselves for birth. "It is also a good place for us to learn," she said.

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