Indian Catholic News

Nun battles distrust to help disabled in Indonesia

Sister Andre Lemmers' Rainbow Rays Foundation has had to overcome hostility in reaching out to those most in need.

 
A foreign visitor, left, buys handicrafts made by people with physical disabilities, at the Rainbow Rays Foundation in Bekasi, Indonesia. (Photo by Katharina R. Lestari/ucanews.com)
Bekasi: 

Like legions of charity workers the world over Dutch-born sister, Andre Lemmers has dedicated her life to helping the needy.

However, those the Congregation of Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (FCJM) nun has chosen to work with have one major thing in common — they are people other charity workers have struggled to help.

Soon after arriving in Indonesia as a missionary in May 1973, Sister Andre began working for several foundations, which she served for a number of years.

She says she often met people with disabilities who couldn’t get proper assistance from these charities due to their lack of financial resources.

“That was when I thought of doing something. I believed they could get help as long as I could get the money,” said the 76-year-old nun, who is originally from Pumerland, in the Netherlands.

So, in April 1989, Sister Andre — along with another FCJM nun and a Catholic laywoman — set up the Rainbow Rays Foundation to help physically disabled children from poor families.

“Children with physical disabilities often received less attention at that time. They didn’t get much help from charities or from the government,” said the nun, whose given name is Theodora Antonia Maria Lemmers.

She said she rented a house in Jakarta because she needed a place to accommodate patients, who were mainly from out of town, where they could recover in a clean environment after undergoing surgeries.

“I started with children with cleft lips. I helped them get surgery to rectify the problem in several hospitals. The first one was a girl from West Java province,” Sister Andre said.

Numbers steadily grew which inevitably became too many for the rented house to deal with. This forced her to approach the then archbishop of Jakarta, Leo Soekoto, and seek his advice.

The Jesuit prelate suggested she buy a 3.5-hectare plot of land and build a clinic in Bekasi, a town in West Java province, next to where a Catholic church was being built.

Which is what she did with help from FCJM nuns based in the Netherlands. The clinic was completed in 1992 and which has now grown to include a special care unit, physiotherapy room, an operating theater, as well as a handicraft workshop.

Rejection

However, things did not go smoothly during the first 12 years as she struggled to win the trust of local people.

“They never really welcomed us. There was a kind of ‘soft rejection’ even though we helped many of them, most of whom were non-Catholics,” she said.

Worse, when a crowd protested against the construction of St. Leo the Great Church and burned down its new hall next to the foundation’s facility in 1996, the fire spread to the FCJM home.

The situation is now better, but there are still a few people who seem to remain hostile, she says.

“There’s one man who keeps dumping his garbage outside then foundation’s gate. I’ve asked him not to do it but it seems he wants to make me angry.”

Support

Another challenge is the upkeep of the foundation, which costs about 3.5 billion rupiah (about US$250,000) a year to run. Luckily she receives supports from the archdiocese and individual donors.

Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta says Sister Andre’s efforts in serving disadvantaged Indonesians deserves more appreciation.

“I have nothing but gratitude for Sister Andre for her presence here and for her service along with her fellow nuns and partners,” the prelate said.

Sister Andre currently runs the foundation with the help of four other FCJM nuns and several laypeople.

“God sends me to this place. I believe he will provide everything I need,” she says.

A promise

The foundation’s name comes from the story of Noah, when God saved Noah and his family from certain death in the great flood.

God made a covenant with Noah, in which the rainbow was designated as the sign of the Creator’s commitment not to destroy the world.

“Such a situation is similar to one faced by my patients. In general, they often face bad things in life. This foundation offers the promise to turn bad things into good ones,” says Sister Andre, who is now an Indonesian citizen.

Thousands have received help from Sister Andre. Among them is Nova Agustinus Fransiskus, a 15-year-old boy who underwent cleft lip surgery when he was a baby.

“I’m thankful for her help. People treat me normally and don’t look upon me as someone who is ‘different’,” he says.

The main goal the nun wants to achieve is to help people with physical disabilities live with dignity.

“I want them to be self-reliant and to able to work so that they will be seen by others as normal people too.”

Source: UCAN

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