Indonesia: Sister Cecilia

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

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.

During a field visit to Atapupu near the border between East and West Timor, Sister Cecilia saw hundreds of East Timorese refugees scattered in the woods. Many of them were in a poor condition, very sick and traumatized. In 1999, she sought permission from the head of her order to move to Atambua town in Belu district where she devoted her life to helping the refugees. "I felt that our assistance was nothing compared to that given by the UN High Commission on Refugees and other international agencies, so I attended counselling training," she relates. She decided to help traumatized women refugees, especially victims of domestic violence in the camps. Cecilia visited one camp after another, listening to heartbreaking stories of survivors and helping them to stand on their own feet. Initially, her work did not have any support. "Even the head of my order never provided me with any resources to help me continue my work, although we survived anyway." Sister Cecilia started with a staff of two; now she has six women working in the office. In 2000, she joined the West Timor Humanitarian Team, founded by the Eastern Indonesia Women’s Health Network (JKPIT), whose work is focused on documenting and investigating violence against women in West Timor camps. Cecilia’s involvement with the JKPIT network helped her sharpen her perspective on women’s rights issues in conflict areas. The network funded trauma counseling training for trainers in a program to help Atambua women. The network is sponsored by Pikul, which is a Kupang-based group supported by Oxfam Autralia that offers support to West Timor local NGOs. After this training, the group founded the Forum Peduli Perempuan Atambua (FPPA). "Every year, violence against women in Atambua continues to increase," observes Cecilia. "But people now know where to go. Women come from all sub-districts of Atambua."

Forum Peduli Perempuan Atambua (FPPA) Sisters of the Holy Spirit (SSPS)