Sheltering mental patients
At an Indonesian center for mental patients run by the Galuh Foundation, I found Totok. A patient who had just taken his morning shower and shaved. Totok used to be a thug in a market, and was feared for his habit of beating up vendors. One day, the vendors’ anger peaked and they beat Totok up, leaving him with physical injuries and mental damage.
I read about the foundation in a local newspaper, in an article about a wedding between a female patient and an employee of the foundation. The foundation was set up in 1982 by Gendu Mulatif in Bekasi, on the outskirts of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. Mulatif used his money to build a compound to take care of homeless patients who had been taken in from the streets. Once admitted, he treated them with medicinal herbals and changed their diet to vegetarian.
Head nurse Suharyono (L) and Suharyoso (R) bring in a man suffering from mental illness (C) shortly after finding him at a street in East Bekasi, outskirt of Jakarta November 5, 2009. REUTERS/Beawiharta
The conditions at the foundation are a far cry from the centers funded by the government. Only a few walls separate the modest building, which houses a kitchen, a laundry room, the officers and the patients.
Today, some of the patients are shaved and bathed, including Totok, who is still not used to taking baths, despite his three-year treatment at the foundation. With an offer of a puff of a cigarette, Totok voluntarily agrees to be bathed by the nurses, and by bathe, I mean sprayed with a hose. Some other patients who still suffer serious mental disorder must have their legs restrained with chains to prevent them from hurting other patients.
Spending eight hours watching the nurses caring for the patients, while others go out to bring back more people, I am moved by what these people are doing. They have stepped in to fill the void, something that is not in the interest of many people in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country.
After the visit, my colleagues and I in the Reuters bureau chipped in money to build a badminton court for the foundation. Of course we are not expecting they would become the next Olympics gold-medal winner like Taufik Hidayat. We do hope, however, that it could bring a little more joy into their hearts.