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Caritas looks to free mentally disadvantaged in Indonesian diocese

BORONG (UCAN): It was 10 long years ago when Aleksius Dugis was shackled and locked in a tiny filthy hut by his family in East Manggarai district on the island of Flores, Indonesia.
 
His legs were tied to a heavy wooden post, which means he could hardly move about. During the rainy season, the hut leaked and he ended up covered in mud mixed with his own faeces. During the dry season, he had to endure extreme heat.
 
People were concerned, but did not venture inside the hut because of the foul smell.
 
His mother, Kornelia Daghe, could not do much to help him. At her 80-years-old, she only hoped that some Good Samaritan would come to rescue her son.
 
Her prayers were answered when Divine Word Father Avent Saur, and Father Yuvensius Rugi, who heads Caritas in the Diocese of Ruteng visited her home recently and offered her assistance.
 
“They helped my son and it gave me the strength to continue to try and seek help for him,” Daghe said.
 
Dugis is just one of many mentally disadvantaged Catholics in Ruteng shackled by their relatives to prevent them from hurting themselves or other people, according to Father Rugi.
 
“I cannot stand seeing people shackled, without clothes and for many years living in a filthy place,” he said.
 
Crowing concern about the welfare of people like Dugis, despite government claims that the situation is improving, has prompted the Caritas to try and do something to help them and their families.
 
Since Caritas is new to this venture, Father Rugi and his team have found themselves having to learn more about how to handle people with psychological difficulties. That means consulting medical workers, government officials and Church people like Father Saur, who heads a charity working with mentally disadvantaged people.
 
Caritas’ new project kicked off in February and in its early phase, the team will visit about 86 parishes throughout Ruteng—Indonesia’s largest Catholic diocese with more than 790,000 Catholics—to get information about parishioners who might be in a similar situation.
 
St. Joseph Parish, in East Manggarai district, was the starting point after Dugis’ case was highlighted by local media reports.
 
“During our first visit we handed over a mattress, pillow, rice and milk to Dugis’ mother,” he said.
 
They also handed over construction materials that were used by parishioners to build a new shelter for Dugis, as well as another villager who was in a similar situation.
 
This was only the beginning Father Rugi said.
 
“However, our problem is that we don’t have exact data on how many mentally disadvantaged people there are in this diocese,” he said.
 
“Also, we don’t yet have the skilled people to deal with them,” he said.
 
According to Father Saur, who has provided Father Rugi with some advice after starting a similar project in the neighbouring Archdiocese of Ende several years ago, he has come across nearly 100 people in Ruteng that Caritas can help.  
 
He said the in Ende, there are at least 720 mentally disadvantaged people, many of whom are shackled by their families.
 
Throughout East Nusa Tenggara province—which consists of several islands, including Flores—there are at least 1,200 shackled people.
 
Caritas, he said, will have to expand its mission to look after these people.
 
Despite the Indonesian government having banned this practice—called pasung—in 1977, families continue to do so often citing a lack of mental health services to look after people with psychological problems.
 
Throughout Indonesia as a whole, an estimated 12,800 people are kept tethered by their families, according to Human Rights Watch.
 
Regina Malon, a health official in East Manggara district, said that stopping the practice is not easy especially in more remote areas, but the Health Ministry is doing all it can to offer assistance to people with mental illnesses and that more people are starting to benefit from these efforts.
 
According to Malon, in the past several years her office has helped 193 mentally disadvantaged people in the district.
 
“Most have recovered and only 10 are still shackled,” she said.
 
Likewise, Ronald Susilo, a physician who works in Manggarai district, says access to medication could make a huge difference for many people affected psychological problems.
 
“Many of them recover after taking prescribed medicines,” he said.
 
He said many of the 650 mentally disadvantaged people he and his colleagues have treated in Manggarai district have recovered but there were still 48 people chained by their relatives.
 
But to Father Rugi, one person shackled is one too many.
 
“It’s extremely inhumane and a huge responsibility for Caritas to try and address,” he said.

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