She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
Sister Cecilia (born 1958) is a courageous nun who hails from Bali. Since conflict broke out on Timor Island in 1999, she has been working tirelessly to help women refugees in West Timor. She offers free counselling for women seeking shelter in refugee camps, which can be hostile to women. She founded the Forum Peduli Perempuan Atambua FPPA, a Women’s Concern Forum in the refugee town Atambua. Sister Cecilia is also a critical commentator on local policies concerning refugees. She says: “I felt very touched by the survivors I counseled everyday. They suffered very complicated lives and were traumatized and unhappy. I could feel their fever under my skin”.
Sister Cecilia – Indonesia
Sister Cecilia (born 1958) was brought up in a Balinese Hindu family but was educated in a Catholic boarding school, where she made friends with Christian students and came to appreciate Catholicism.
She became a Catholic in 1976. In 1980, she decided to enter the convent and become a nun. Her first assignment was to East Java, where she handled issues of children and youth in matters related to religion. She was sent to West Timor in 1990. She now lives in Atambua, near the border of East Timor.
Atambua is a small town of approximately 70,000 people where some 24,000 East Timor refugees live in the 41 refugee camps in Atambua (Source: Center of IDP Service and Oxfam Great Britain, West Timor Program, 2004). A nearby district, Betun, is also accommodating a large number of refugees in 75 refugee camps.
One day, on a working trip, Cecilia visited the Atapupu area on a border of East Timor, where she saw hundreds of East Timor refugees living in the forest, many of them very poor, sick and traumatized.
“I couldn’t just sit and do nothing after witnessing this condition.
A voice somewhere in my heart told me I needed do something,” she recalls. In 1999, after getting approval from the head of her order, she moved to Atambua, the capital of Belu District, to devote her life to helping the refugees.
”I felt that our assistance was nothing compared to that given by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees UNHCR and other agencies, so I joined a training on counselling to expand my capacities,” she says.
During the emergency phase, big international aid agencies delivered aid directly to all the camps. Only one or two foreign agencies worked with local NGOs on joint humanitarian operations. In the beginning, foreign aid agencies were the dominant actors in the humanitarian activities in West Timor.
But after September 2000, when an angry mob attacked the United Nations office in Atambua and killed three UNHCR officers, everything changed. All foreign aid agencies pulled out from West Timor, leaving the refugees without help. With only a few exceptions, local organizations were hardly prepared to fill the vacuum, since they were not involved in humanitarian activities in the first place.
But the unfortunate event did not affect Sister Cecilia’s work. She continued to visit the camps, this time focusing on traumatized refugee women who were victimized by the violence in the camps, offering counselling services. Initially, she received little support for her efforts. “Even the head of my order never provided me with any resources to help me continue my work. But we survived anyway.”
Sister Cecilia started with a two-person office. Now, she has a staff of six women. In 2000, she joined the West Timor Humanitarian Team founded by the network of Eastern Indonesia Women’s Health Network JKPIT, whose work is focused on documenting and investigating cases of violence against women in West Timor camps.
Through the JKPIT trauma-counselling training for trainers for Atambua women. The training resulted in the Atambua Women’s Concerns Forum or FPPA. The Forum receives reports and complaints about domestic violence in Atambua from the survivors themselves. “Community awareness has increased rapidly, they know where to go,” she says.
In 2004, the provincial government gave FPPA funding to continue the counselling program for women survivors of violence. Other organizations emerged, inspired by FPPA’s idea of a community forum.
They include the Asosiasi Pemberdayaan Perempuan (Women Empowerment Association) and the Human Rights Monitoring Committee. Cecilia plans to open a more comprehensive trauma center in coordination with the police department, the hospitals and the court, to provide better services for women.
Cecilia says her concern for the survivors grows everyday. “I an touched by the survivors I counsel everyday. They suffer a very complicated life, traumatized and unhappy. I can feel their fever under my skin.” Meanwhile, the situation in Atambua has changed.
There is no more aid coming in for the refugees from the provincial government. The refugees have been living in resettlement areas for almost a year. They work as laborers in other people’s fields and the city market or as housemaids to sustain their daily needs. “There is also prostitution, which is a negative effect of refugee camps. Many children do not go to school. Some get scholarships and some are just left with nothing to do. The men drink and get themselves into trouble.” But the civil society movement has increased significantly in her area and Cecilia and her FPPA continue their work regardless of the many obstacles and heartaches that they meet along the way. (1000peacewomen).
There are worldwide many Texts in the internet with the key word ’sister Cecilia’, but no one seems to apply to our personality.
Eastern Indonesia Women’s Health Network JKPIT
(named in 16 DÍAS DE ACTIVISMO
CONTRA LA VIOLENCIA HACIA LAS MUJERES, on Center for Women Global Leadership);
Humanitarian Coordinator’s Situation Report, East Timor Crisis, 9 October 1999;
Eastern Indonesia Women’s Health Network JKPIT, REPORT OF ACTIVITIES, AUGUST 2002;
Some (worldwide) links with ‘trauma-counselling training‘:
Somali Civil Society: 1. Awareness-building about all key issues of civil society and its relationships;