People line up to be seen during a free treatment session in Tasitolu, Dili. (Photo by Thomas Ora/ucanews.com)
Nuns in Timor-Leste offered free health care and distributed basic household needs such as rice, cooking oil and sugar to hundreds of poor families in Tasitolu, Dili over a recent weekend in mid-March to help offset the struggling nation's overstretched medical facilities and supplies in rural areas.
Tasitolu is a protected coastal area about eight kilometers west of Dili, the Timor-Leste capital where Pope John Paul II — now St. John Paul — celebrated Mass when he visited in October 1989.
The nun's charitable activities from March 17-18 were part of a Lenten program organized by the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of St. Charles Borromeo.
The outreach program, one of several in Timor-Leste, also marked the fast-approaching 100th-year anniversary of the congregation's presence in neighboring Indonesia, which will officially be celebrated on Oct. 7.
Next year, the congregation will honor its 40th year in the country.
Over 600 patients of all ages received free medical care over the weekend, a service many described as "timely" due to the high rates of malnutrition in the region.
Sister Imelda, who coordinated the latest program, said it was a joint mission under taken with sisters in Indonesia.
"It's part of the way we care for the people here, to show the passion of the crucified Jesus," Sister Imelda told ucanews.com.
The project was also carried out in coordination with the Ministry of Health, which sent 25 doctors from Cuba to work at the Guido Valadares National Hospital in Dili.
Medicine and equipment were provided by the hospital. Extra funding came courtesy of the congregation's partners, parents, alumni and local pharmacies and banks.
Juliao da Cunha, 72, traveled from his village in Bobonaro district about 100 kilometers west of Dili to receive treatment for a list of ailments: asthma, rheumatism, respiratory problems, back pain and issues with his eyes.
"Once a month I go to a public hospital in Bobonaro. I have to walk about 3 kilometers. But there has not been any improvement in my condition," Da Cunha told ucanews.com.
"I hope the free medical service offered by the nuns brings me new hope and good blessings," the farmer added.
He said he manages to survive because his son, who works in South Korea, sends him money regularly.
Juliao da Cunha, 72, waits his turn to receive free medical treatment from the temporary mobile clinic. (Photo by Thomas Ora/ucanews.com)
Beneditos Besin, 44, brought his nine-month-old toddler to see the doctors.
"This service is great because it means I don't have to go to a clinic and pay for a pediatrician," he said. "I hope they will organize more programs like this in the future."
Manuel Carceres Coreira, a community leader in Tasitolu, said the government must pay more attention to the plight of over 700 impoverished families in his community.
"It's not just about providing health care, but also giving people clean, potable water. That's our biggest problem. During the dry season, people have to walk two kilometers to fetch a pail of water just to get by," he said.
"We thank the nuns for giving us rice, vegetables, cooking oil and other basic necessities. That means the people may have a little spare money to buy things in celebration of Easter," he added.
Agostinha da Costa Saldanha Segurado, head of the health department for Dili, said her agency must continue to cooperate with church groups to keep positively impacting local people at a grassroots level.
Dili and its surrounding areas have a total population of 277,000 people. There are 18 major health centers in the district and more small clinics in the villages.
"Most people here suffer from respiratory infections, diarrhea, skin diseases, dengue fever or tuberculosis at some point," she said.
The Congregation of Sisters of Charity of St. Charles Borromeo arrived in Timor-Leste on June 7, 1979. It now boasts 12 nuns, half of whom are locals, working in various missions ranging from health care to education.