What do we imagine we’ll be doing in our fifties or sixties? When our knees may ache when we walk and our back struggle to straighten when getting up. Will we still be buzzing around the city with the same verve we do now in our youth? Or will we have slowed our pace, perhaps choose less work with more days off and turn in earlier in the evening?
Will we have the strength to opt for the path of Ibu* Karsini, a community volunteer in a dusty neighbourhood of North Jakarta, who continues to help those who are ill in her community with tireless zeal?
On most days, Ibu Karsini’s morning would start with the usual commotion that happens in an average household. Awake at dawn, she cleans the house and prepares breakfast for her husband, her six children and their respective spouse, and her grandchildren. Once her family and home are taken care of, she departs from her modest house and goes off to tend to her other families –the ones that may not be related to her by blood, but whom she treats with the same compassion nonetheless.
One of those families is Tika, four years old and HIV positive. Her father has died long before she was born, and her mother passed away just after giving birth. For Tika, her aunt and uncle are her loving parents, and their five children her dearest brothers and sisters.
Like many children living with HIV whose immunity are compromised, Tika is ailed with malnutrition, lung tuberculosis, diarrhea, breathlessness, and a series of other persistent symptoms. Rachel House nurses visit weekly to manage her symptoms and to provide support for her family, to ensure that Tika is able to live with as much joy and dignity that she deserves even with her life-limiting conditions.
However, we cannot work alone. Ibu Kar (as the family calls her) stops by frequently to check on Tika. Ibu Kar has become Rachel House’s eyes and ears on the ground, keeping us updated on Tika’s health in between the nurses’ visits. Her over two decades of experience as a community volunteer has equipped her with the skills and a wealth of information that makes her a solid and reliable support for the family. When Tika develops a new symptom, Ibu Kar calls our nurses for advice. When Tika runs out of milk, she goes and finds someone who could help either donate money or milk supply. When Tika needs immediate medical attention, Ibu Kar swiftly arranges transportation to the hospital, accompanies the family and and help them navigate through the administrative maze; and does not leave until she is certain that Tika gets a bed in the overcrowded hospital. Even if that means waiting with Tika and the family until the wee hours of the morning.
Ibu Kar is not paid for her hard work, nor does she want to be. When asked why she continues to do what she does, she merely says, “It makes me happy.” There may be bags under her eyes from the lack of sleep, but the kindness in her countenance does not falter.
*”Ibu” is Indonesian for Mrs.