Nuns offer hope to disabled people in Sumatra

Harapan Jaya Rehabilitation Center helps patients learn new skills while receiving medical treatment
Nuns offer hope to disabled people in Sumatra

Oeslen Tambunan, 45, spends days with a sewing machine at Harapan Jaya Rehabilitation Center run by the nuns of the Congregation of Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in North Sumatra. (Photo by Ryan Dagur/ucanews.com)

Oeslen Tambunan’s life changed dramatically after an accident at work in 1997 damaged his spinal cord and left him unable to walk.

He was left bedridden and in the depths of despair for five years, with no prospects of a better future ahead of him.

Fortunately, things began to change for the 45-year-old when he was admitted to the Harapan Jaya Rehabilitation Center run by Catholic nuns in Pematangsiantar, North Sumatra.

There he received physiotherapy from the Congregation of the Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary nuns.

They also taught him how to sew, which he says he finds therapeutic. "I enjoy it. Probably this is all I will be able to do for the rest of my life,” Tambunan told ucanews.com.

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In another room at the center, Sahat Maruli Sipayung sits at a computer screen doing administrative work. He began working at the center soon after receiving therapy there following surgery on both his legs to fix a deformity.

He said his legs had been crooked since he was a child, which gave him low self-esteem.

“My parents told me that I was given a wrong injection when I had a fever. Two weeks after the injection, my legs turned crooked,” he told ucanews.com.

While still a senior high student, a nun invited him to visit the center in 2002.

“After a few visits, I began to realize I was not the only one trapped in this situation,” he said, adding that the nuns taught him to have more confidence in his own abilities.

Sipayung can walk more freely now, although he has to use a stick.

"I am grateful that the feeling of inferiority that used to exist in me is now gone,” said Sipayung, 32, adding that he has since married another employee at the center and has two healthy children.

Sahat Maruli Sipayung, who underwent surgery in 2002, now manages a canteen at the center. (Photo by Ryan Dagur/ucanews.com)

 

Occupying more than 2.5 hectares of land, the center has been a life-giver for many people with disabilities.

It was founded by a Dutch missionary nun, Sister Jeanette van Paasen, in 1981 due to a scarcity of such places to help disabled people.

It has helped about 7,000 people with various disabilities, according to Sister Leoni Manalu, the director.

Sister Ferdinanda Lumbantoruan, who is in charge of physiotherapy, said in addition to its rehabilitation programs it also facilitates surgical procedures for people at set times during the year, such as bone surgery in February and plastic surgery in September.

The surgery takes place near the center at Harapan Hospital run by Medan Archdiocese.

It is a program jointly run by North Sumatra University’s medical faculty, Adam Malik General Hospital in provincial capital Medan and doctors from the Netherlands.

Among the Dutch doctors is Dr. J.M. Vaandrager, who has visited regularly since 1991 and has operated on 1,510 patients.

Last year 68 patients had bone surgery and 125 people had plastic surgery. Many patients came from far and wide, including some from neighboring Timor-Leste.

Most patients, Sister Lumbantoruan said, return to their families after being treated. "However, some of them spend years at this center, especially those who suffer defects from birth,” she said.

Sabdi Sitanggang, 45, who has worked for 15 years in the therapy division, said many patients needed several years to experience changes.

"It takes perseverance and patience," Sitanggang said as he treated Naisia, a 15-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects muscle movement and coordination. "However, there is a kind of ‘ah ha’ feeling when I see them develop."

Encouraging independence

The center also provides education, especially kindergarten and elementary school, and finances tuition fees for those who continue to high school or college.

It also trains patients to be independent by teaching skills such as making candles and prosthetic limbs, carpentry and sewing. "These skills are enough to help them work independently,” said Sister Lumbantoruan.

Staff member Stefanus Due said patients produce 25 candles per day to serve the needs of churches in Sumatera.

However, the results of the business are not enough to finance their operational cost. "The most important thing is that they can empower themselves and feel useful," Sister Lumbantoruan said.

She said hundreds of ex-patients now have their own businesses and the center provides them with initial capital to start their businesses as soon as they leave the center.

For its contribution to the people of Sumatra over the years, the center received an award from Indonesia’s minister of social affairs in 2016.

It has also won support from local governments, including Simalungun district head J.R. Saragih, who regularly visits the center to support the nuns’ work. He said the nuns’ dedication has been helpful in view of limited government services for disabled people.

Sertauli Simamora, a 27-year-old clerk at the center, said she suffered facial burns at the age of 4 after being doused with cooking oil.

After having plastic surgery at the center, she went to study at university but returned to the center after her graduation. “Here I gain support," she said.

Every day, new patients come to the center. One of them is Julianti Ivon Moruk, 19, who was born with one limb.

"I want to learn sewing here,” she said, adding that previously she could only stay at her home in Atambua, East Nusa Tenggara. “Hopefully, I can have a better future.”

A short video of the center's work is here:

 

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