Three Sisters on Kalimantan Island tell their stories

Stories of life on Kalimantan Island

Kalimantan Island is one of the most popular islands in Indonesia. It is also known as Borneo Island and is famous for its rich flora and fauna. The ancient rainforest which has huge trees and many animals has been vulnerable to exploitation.

Story of Sister Theresia Kurniawati

Many people come from the other islands of Indonesia to work in the palm oil plantation and mines. A typical uneducated labourer works from 6am to 1pm and earns $US4-5 per day. Each labourer is also entitled to 25 kg of rice per month, though if they happen to be absent when it is distributed they may miss out for that month. 

The labourers live in lodgings with two or three families to a house. They arrive with nothing, so they have to buy food and other basics on credit from the local shop. When they receive their salary, most of it goes towards paying their debt to the shop and very little remains. Water also poses a problem. The labourers have access to a piped supply nearby, but the water is contaminated and unsafe for drinking and domestic use.

We sisters have begun visiting these labourers, to talk and teach religion to the children. Sometimes we prepare a simple prayer service, which has a deep impact on the people. We are beginning to see signs of change and transformation. Some labourers now grow vegetables in their spare time, and can sell them to supplement their income. They are also more aware of the injustice that they experience, particularly domestic violence.

We are delighted to see these small changes. They remind us of the parable in which Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31)

This encourages us to continue to share with these labourers and to be faithful in this simple ministry.                

Story of Sister Gabriella Mahos

Since 2010, the local government of West Kalimantan requires that all births be registered and a birth certificate be issued for each child. When registering births the parents must present a civil marriage certificate. Church weddings are also registered in a civil office and the couples receive a valid marriage certificate. 

However, some couples marry illegally according to traditional customs, or live together without being married because of problems related to dowries. When children are born and their parents are unable to register the birth, this causes untold anguish. Without a birth certificate the child does not exist legally and therefore cannot be registered for school. 

With the expansion of mines and palm oil plantations on the island, many people choose to come here for work. Some simple people are not aware of their rights to receive food and basic healthcare from their employers. Others who do know their rights are unable to apply for them without a marriage certificate, which is needed to prove that the worker has a family to provide for. 

The diocese offers such people the opportunity to prepare for a Church wedding and thus legalise their marriage. During this preparation couples are taught the basic values of Christian marriage. The Church also assists these couples in applying for birth certificates for their children and works with the government to help them obtain the birth certificates for a reduced, affordable fee. 

This situation touches us Good Shepherd Sisters deeply as we work directly with the people it affects – the girl students in our hostel and the parents of the children in our kindergarten. We sisters work with the local parishes, giving some input during the marriage preparation, in areas such as church teaching, spirituality, gender issues, communication, health and sexuality. We take advantage of the government regulation to educate the people and to help people build their families on good foundations.    

Story of Sister Lila Ambarawati

“Come on! Come on! Come on!” shouts a chorus of cheerful voices as the girls in the Good Shepherd hostel play marbles, their faces radiating joy. However two other girls came to me in tears, and I realised they hadn’t been playing with the group: “Hey, where have you been? And why are you crying?” I asked them. “We have just finished reading a magazine,” replied Riri.  “There was one article that made us feel sad,” said Wanda. “It was a true story of a woman whose husband had been cheating on her for fourteen years and she could find no way to stop it,” Riri told me. “It’s not fair Sister! That is abuse!” they replied indignantly in unison.

"If you were that woman, what would you do?" I was fishing for their reaction. “If I were that woman I would tell my husband to choose between the other woman and me. If he chose the other woman I’d make him leave me,” was Wanda’s response. “I don’t want to be treated badly,” Wanda continued. “Yes, I agree!” Riri supported. “Do you think that man is rich?” I asked? "Yes, indeed," they chorused. “So, would you be able to cope without financial support from him?” I asked. “I am not afraid of that!" they responded. “Then how would you provide for yourself with no income?" “We can sell some food, like we have done in the hostel with the sisters. We know it does not make a lot of money, but if we worked hard we believe we would manage.

From that conversation, I have HOPE in them. They may be simple and young, but I saw the reality that they have formed some values from the tiny seed we had sown in their hearts. I saw that they have HOPE for their future.