Sister Veronica Indrawati says what elderly people need is some love. (Photo supplied)
Sister Veronica Indrawati who turns 71 this year is not thinking about slowing down.
Despite her advancing years and having to walk with the aid of a stick, she continues to help dozens of lonely elderly people from various religious backgrounds at a home she runs in Purwokerto, in Central Java.
Sister Indrawati of the Daughters of Mary and Joseph established the Panti Wreda Catur Nugraha home more than a decade ago to create some love and help elderly people abandoned by their families.
From just a few people, it now cares for 52 senior citizens from across Indonesia. Most were hardly able to look after themselves.
“The trauma of being rejected by their relatives is a heavy burden to carry through the last stages of their life,” Sister Indrawati said.
“All they need is love.”
She says it's her mission to make them as happy as they can, even though to fulfill their daily needs, she has to knock on people’s doors for support.
“Other people have to help,” she said, saying she actively seeks donations and volunteers to come to the home to provide some of the residents some much-needed company.
Caring for people like them was a goal even before she became a nun, Sister Indrawati says.
“Since joining my congregation in 1971, I have cared for marginalized people, particularly the elderly,” she said.
Prior to setting up the home, Sister Indrawati worked at several care homes run by the Soegijapranata Social Foundation, which was named after the first native-born Indonesian prelate, Jesuit Bishop Albert Soegijapranata.
This gave her invaluable experience in taking care of the elderly and knowing what makes them happy.
To eliminate boredom and loneliness she organizes various group activities, such as sewing, handicrafts, making rosaries and souvenirs, cooking, sports, and praying.
She said it hurts her a lot when people just drop their parents or older relatives at the center and never return — not even to say hello.
“It hurts when residents here keep calling the names of their children, but no one shows up,” she said.
She said since it opened in 2006, 30 people have died at the center.
“Even with their deaths, none of their children bothered coming to take care of matters,” she said.
Besides helping residents at the center, Sister Indrawati, also regularly visits elderly people in their homes, to pray with them.
A woman sews clothes at the Panti Wreda Catur Nugraha home for the elderly in Purwokerto, Central Java, Central Java. (Photo supplied)
Helping widows and disabled people
Sister Indrawati said her commitment to helping elderly people was also sharpened by 15 years of helping widows of the 1965-66 communist purge, in which more that half a million people perished.
She said and other nuns helped 30 widows, left stigmatized as a result of the purge, from 1979 to 1993 in Semarang, Central Java, teaching them basic skills, such as sewing and handicraft making.
The situation the widows found themselves in was not much different from that experienced by people at the center she manages now.
Basically they all were victims of discrimination, she says.
The nun says she helped the widows because at that time they were not only growing old but were also being ostracized by society. They could not get jobs because anything connected to communism at that time was considered taboo, according to Sister Indrawati.
The widows earned money from selling their own handcrafted products. A similar scheme is in operation at the center, however, it does not bring in enough money to make the home self-sufficient.
Her efforts to care for and serve marginalized people regardless of their ethnic or religious background has not gone unrecognized.
In 2015, Sister Indrawati received the Srikandi Pemuda Pancasila Award from Pemuda Pancasila, a non-profit group named after Indonesia’s secular ideology that promotes pluralism and an inclusive society.
The organization said the award was for the nun’s dedication in helping less fortune people.
Father Valentinus Sumanto, the local parish priest said the nun has a special gift of making people feel that they are loved.
He also said Catholics from his parish often help the center financially or donate food.
Mia, 64, a Muslim widow who has been living at the home for three years, said she feels lucky having been accepted into the home.
“It’s amazing how Sister [Indrawati] cares for us, despite the fact she is older than me,” she said.