Friday, December 23, 2005

Sr. Francesco urges thinking as essence of being

The Jakarta Post

Sunday, 18 December 2005


Think: Notes of an Educator
Sr. Francesco Marianti
Panekuksanur, December 2005
206 pp.

Thang D. Nguyen, Contributor, Jakarta

The French mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes once uttered: "I think, therefore I am." In other words, thinking defines a person's existence.

This is the premise of Think: Notes of an Educator, the memoirs of Sister Francesco Marianti -- a Catholic nun and one of Indonesia's most respected educators -- which was launched last week in its English version.

In 1974, shortly after Sr. Francesco took up her post as the principal of her alma mater, Jakarta's Santa Ursula High School, some of her students gave her a gift: a wooden board with the word Fikir, or think, on it. They did this because the question she often asked her students was: "Have you thought about it carefully?"

But the most important question for Sr. Francesco has been, and still is: "How can I make my students think?"
Sr. Francesco believes that this is the ultimate responsibility of a teacher, and that education is not just about enhancing one's knowledge; rather, it is about learning how to think, to reason and to be a human being -- a free one, that is.

"The ability to think is God's gift to mankind," Sr. Francesco writes. "Thinking symbolizes the fundamental freedom of a human being, as predicted by favorite poet, Kahlil Gibran: You may chain my hands and shackle my feet/You may even throw me into a dark prison/But you shall not enslave my thinking/Because it is free."

Thus, whether it's science, writing, or otherwise, Sr. Francesco puts emphasis on training her students how to think critically and how to reason.

"Out of the four lessons I learned in this school, the word THINK is number one. Through Sister Francesco, I came to realize how powerful this word is. Thinking forces us to act in the right way. Thinking helps us to consider what is, or is not, appropriate behavior towards fellow human beings. Thinking helps us to be better human beings, to progress more than others," said Reda Gaudiamo, a Santa Ursula alumnus and deputy editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine.

But Sr. Francesco's does more than teach; she touches lives, those of her students and of many others who have come to know her. As a nun and principal of Santa Ursula -- whose motto is Serviam (I serve) -- she has reached out to the poor, the sick and the weak.

While she may not have food, water, or clothes to give them, she speaks for them so they can be heard, and is with them in their hour of need, whether it is a campaign on violence against women and children at the Hotel Indonesia roundabout, a trip to Aceh, Timor Leste or Kalimantan to help victims of conflicts or a sabbatical to places as far as Calcutta, India, to help unfortunate villagers.

What is most touching in this book, however, is the story of how Francesco Marianti, originally a non-believer, followed her calling to become a nun.

While studying at Santa Ursula, then 15-year-old Francesco Marianti asked her father for his permission to convert to Catholicism.

"After you're baptized, be a Catholic 100 percent. Not halfway. If you are not able to do this, you'd better cancel your decision," he said.

But answering her calling two years later to become a nun -- instead of a doctor, as her parents wished -- didn't come easily.

"(My parents) were shocked, angry and finally refused to speak to me again," she writes.

Her parents also stopped providing for her senior year at Santa Ursula, but Francesco still managed to graduate. Next, with encouragement from her confessor, she enrolled in Engineering at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) -- also against her parents' will.

While at ITB, she met a man, and four years later, they were to be married -- but this time, she had her parents' blessing.

For once, life seemed to be going smoothly, but then Francesco was diagnosed with lung disease and had to endure a life-threatening operation.

"God showed his power at the most depressing moment for my family. When I realized I was receiving the sacrament for the sick, I vaguely remembered my promise, to give myself 100 percent to the Lord. I don't know exactly what happened, but amidst all the confusion, I managed to say `I will, and You've got to take care of everything.' After that, I felt myself making a rapid recovery," she writes.

As though her lung operation was not enough to confirm her faith in and readiness for God, her fiance called off their wedding plans. With a broken heart, Francesco Marianti headed for the convent to fulfill her calling.
Francesco tells her life as a Catholic nun and an educator in a warm, gentle and honest way that allows a reader to listen, understand and empathize.

But most importantly, this book makes you think. Whatever your position, you will realize after reading this book that teaching others to think and therefore, to be, is not easy to do, whether at school, home, work or elsewhere.

The writer is program director of the United in Diversity Forum, His writing can be read at

Friday, December 02, 2005

Australia and immigrants

The Jakart Post
2 December 2005

Your Letters

I refer to a letter entitled On Insight Program by Irene Fraser in The Jakarta Post on Nov. 10. It was correct of Fraser to point out that Arthur Calwell, the Australian former minister of immigration, made the comment "Two Wongs don't make a white" in the 1940s. Like many other Australians, however, Fraser is in denial of the fact that certain racist attitudes still remain in Australia -- despite how the nation has become more multi-racial, thanks to immigrants from Asia and other parts of the world.

Just because Australia has now become a multi-racial, or multi-cultural, society, that does not make it a tolerant place where immigrants or Australian citizens of non-white origins are treated with fairness, equality, or for that matter, dignity.

The reason, Professor Geoffrey Blainey points out, is that "The more emphasis that is placed on the rights of minorities and the need for affirmative action to enhance those rights, the more is the concept of democracy -- and the rights of the majority-- in danger of being weakened. But most importantly, however, Fraser was so wrong when she declared that, like Calwell, the White Australia Policy is dead.

Let me remind her of (or give her, rather) a brief history of Australia's racism. We needn't go as far back as the 1970s, when the White Australia policy officially ended, or even to the 1960s, when the masthead of the Bulletin, Australia's leading magazine, carried the slogan "Australia for the White Man"; we certainly need not go as far back as The Magic Pudding, the famous Australian children's book, that includes insults such as "you unmitigated Jew!"

Let's just take a trip to the period between the 1980s and the 1990s, when Arthur Tunstall, Australia's infamous senior sports official, made racist jokes and comments about disabled athletes; it was the same decade that saw a string of aboriginal deaths in police custody (not many white ones); and the same decade saw the rise of the One-Nation party led by Pauline Hanson, who all but called for those of Asian descent to be ejected from the country, displaying her profound international knowledge by sayingthe 2.5 billion Asians to the north "have their own language and culture."

Whatever motivated Fraser to write her letter in response to my comments on the Insight program, she needs to know better about her own people's history and realize the reality that Australia is not a racism-free society.


The Jakarta Post
10 November 2005

On Insight Program

Recently I saw on TV the SBS "Insight" Program from Jakarta and I would like to make some comments to both you, your readers and the others involved in the Insight Program.

Thang Nguyen's argument that Australians are racists referring [sic] to Arthur Calwell's quote "Two songs don't make a white." This was a bad joke; many of our politicians have been known to offend while trying to be funny.

Your audience as well as a large percentage of our population would not be familiar with the name Calwell. Nguyen implied that this was a recent comment and representative of Australian thinking in this time.

Calwell is long dead and that comment was made when he was minister of immigration, which was back in 1945-1949. He was a strong supporter of the White Australia Policy, and it, like Calwell, is also dead.

We have come a long way since then and as the world knows we have embraced many cultures and religions. Nguyen with his knowledge of our past [sic] history could have commented.

In spite of the White Australia policy, in 1909 the people elected to our upper house and parliament a Chinese man with Chinese values.

Referring to the reaction of so much support by Australians for Schapele Corby, it is not, as some on the program claimed, because "she is young and pretty"--there have been other and pretty Australians who have been charged with drug crimes but whom the Australian public have [sic] not supported. The difference is we can identify with Corby's case.

We have a history of corrupt police, politicians and criminals along with a drug trade which flourishes. Airport baggage handlers have been shown on surveillance cameras intercepting passengers' luggage.

We ask, is it beyond reasonable doubt that Corby's unlocked luggage could have easily had drugs planted in it that were meant to be off-loaded at Sydney International Airport? Certainly people in the highly paid drug trade will exploit any person and any situation for their benefit. Unfortunately there is no proof.

There was also [sic] no proof for the ordinary couple who reported after arriving at their hotel in Bali that they found an addition to their luggage. A parcel containing what they presumed was a drug.

The Australian Embassy then advised them not to report it to the police and to instead flush it down the toilet. There was no proof they would have been able to offer, therefore, they could have been accused of being drug dealers.

Ryde NSW, Australia

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Another terror for Indonesia to fight

TODAY, Singapore

Misconceptions about the disease, lack of awareness major obstacles

Friday • December 2, 2005

Thang D Nguyen

Of all the places in the world that he could be yesterday for World Aids Day, Mr Peter Piot, the head of UNAids, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids, chose to be in Jakarta, Indonesia.

This is because as South-east Asia's largest country, with the world's fourth-largest population, Indonesia has become "the new frontline of an Aids epidemic", he said.

As of September this year, the Ministry of Health showed that about 8,251 Indonesians have HIV/Aids.

According to experts from both Indonesia and abroad, however, the real figure can be from 90,000 to 250,000.

Whatever the real figure is, the Indonesian government has realised that HIV/Aids is yet another war — like those against terrorism and poverty — it has to fight. As part of its campaign against HIV/Aids, the government has promoted the use of condoms and sterile needles as unsafe sex and needle-sharing are major ways through which Aids is transmitted.

This campaign is not altogether successful, however. The use of condoms must be accompanied by sex education and public awareness of Aids but many young Indonesians either do not receive sex education or receive it too late.

According to a Durex-sponsored global sex survey this year, Indonesians start to receive sex education at 14.4 years of age, compared to a global average of 13.2 years. The poll also shows that 40 per cent of Indonesians have unsafe sex without knowing their partners' sexual history.

Second, many Indonesians don't use condoms because their leaders — religious or otherwise — advise them not to do so.

Take Mr Adhyaksa Dault, Indonesia's State Minister for Youth and Sports Affairs, for example.

"I don't agree that we should promote condom use as a way of preventing HIV/Aids. That's not the way. It's more about how to steer our young people away from promiscuity," he was quoted by Antara as saying.

Messages like this are counterproductive to Indonesia's campaign against Aids. If anything, they beget a myth that sex with different partners — promiscuity — is the root cause of Aids and that monogamy can prevent it.

What if one of the spouses in a polygamous marriage, which is allowed under Islamic law, happens to be HIV-positive and transmits the virus to other partners through unprotected sex? And what happens to people who have unsafe sex with different partners? Do they all get Aids?

To be sure, the use of condoms doesn't guarantee absolute protection from Aids, but they are the most effective and affordable tool for prevention available now.

Third, Aids victims are stigmatised in Indonesia, making the fight against Aids difficult. Aids victims dare not speak out and educate others about the disease, its causes, and how to protect themselves against it.

If Indonesia is to make progress in its campaign against HIV/Aids, everyone must be involved. This includes not only the medical authorities, international and local non-governmental organisations, and the government, but also parents, teachers, religious and community leaders and Aids activists, including gays.

As there is no cure for Aids yet, the best cure we have is to prevent it. And Indonesia will do better in its campaign against HIV/Aids by providing more education on Aids and sex; correcting the misperceptions (or myths) Indonesian leaders and citizens have of Aids; and stopping the stigmatisation of its victims.

Otherwise, the campaign will be in vain.

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist. His writing can be read at