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“I found my life’s calling when I was in junior high school,” said Sister Adriana Koropung DSY. At the time, her ailing grandmother could only spend her days in bed and later, her mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
“I knew very little about taking care of sick people. I tended to my late grandmother and mother out of love,” Sr. Adriana said.
“Due to our family's financial situation, my mother couldn't continue her treatment, and a year later, she died. "I knew then that I wanted to pursue a career in nursing so I could have the knowledge and the skills to treat the sick."
Now nursing as part of the COVID-19 response in Jayapura, Papua, Sr. Adriana has reflected on how an Australia Awards Short Course before the pandemic helped grow her knowledge and shape her career.
Sr. Adriana was born as Maria Santi Virginia in East Nusa Tenggara’s Maumere in 1985. Graduating from St. Elizabeth Nursing School in 2004, she immediately began working as a nurse in the St. Rafael Cancar General Hospital in Ruteng, a town 300 kilometres away from her hometown.
It was the first time she had practised her skills in the professional world. "Losing my mother broke my heart, but from that experience, I learned that the sick could be bitter and feel lonely. It's my job to respond with love and to comfort them. Every time I feel sad or upset, I channel those emotions by tending the sick,” she said.
Then, a visit from her uncle, a Catholic brother, prompted her to realise what she had longed for. Growing up near the Major Seminary of St. Paul Ledalero and monasteries all around Maumere, she was familiar with the cloistered life. Maria took a new name when she entered a new life as a Catholic nun in 2007. “Adriana is taken from my father’s name, Ardianus,” she said.
She asked her family’s permission to leave her job and begin the postulancy period, a preparation period before entering the religious community, in the Congregation of Dina Santo Yoseph (DSY) in Manado, North Sulawesi. After Sr. Adriana professed her first vow in 2010, she was tasked to serve as a nurse in the Dharma Ibu Hospital in Ternate, North Maluku. A year later, she took an undergraduate program in the Gunung Maria Tomohon Nursing Academy in Manado and returned to Dharma Ibu Hospital in 2014.
“I assisted as a nurse in operating rooms and began to be involved in the integrated management of childhood illness,” she said. “I also participated in a training workshop on malaria, as Ternate experienced a high number of malaria cases at the time.”
In 2018, Sr. Adriana had the chance to participate in the Australia Awards Short Course on Malaria Prevention and Treatment for Infants, Children, and Pregnant Women held at the University of Melbourne. In March, she arrived in the city along with 24 participants from eastern Indonesia.
“Among the daily lectures and learning from other countries that had succeeded in eliminating malaria, what appealed to me the most was we were taught to make a systematic project, equipped with knowledge of strengths, weaknesses, goals and plans,” she said.
Along with fellow North Maluku health workers, Sr. Adriana received guidance to create a project focusing on migration surveillance. "Every day, we worked on the project, and then we brought it home to Ternate," she said.
Collaborating with the city’s health department, they carried out the project in Ternate ports right away. Visitors who returned positive test results were promptly taken to Dharma Ibu Hospital to receive treatment. Within two years, Ternate announced that malaria had been successfully eliminated from the city.
Sr. Adriana said that the experience taught her a valuable lesson that she carries with her today. “Something can only be realised through actual work. We have to be committed, put the words into action, and sure enough, it will pay off," she said.
In October 2020, Sr. Adriana was posted to Dian Harapan Hospital in Jayapura, Papua. With one foot in management, she was also involved in the national program of eliminating tuberculosis (TB) and HIV. Her mornings are spent counselling and treating patients with HIV, while the afternoons and evenings are when she performs her management duties.
She acknowledged the steep challenges of eliminating malaria, TB and HIV in Papua.
"Malaria cases in Papua are still rampant, while there could be 30 new cases of TB in one month," she said. "What we can do for now is provide counselling and treatment. We also collaborate with university students undertaking fieldwork practice to raise awareness about the diseases."
Sr. Adriana was still working at Dharma Ibu Hospital in Ternate when the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic began. “I remember how frightened we all were when the first case was found in the hospital,” she said. “But we did what we’re supposed to do, and we made sure that the health workers were well protected."
She experienced the second wave of the pandemic in July 2021 in Jayapura. She remembered clearly how all beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients and tens of nurses were infected. “We were overwhelmed. We tried to make do by focusing more on COVID-19 patients and reminding ourselves that patients’ wellbeing is our utmost concern,” she said.
When asked how the nurses braved through gruelling days of the pandemic, Sr. Adriana said that they found their strength through praying. She also credited the hospital for ensuring the health workers’ wellbeing was taken care of.
Sr. Adriana recognised how the short course in Australia had helped and influenced her work, from how she contributed to tackling malaria in Ternate to how she tirelessly cared for patients in Jayapura.
“[The course] shaped my sense of responsibility,” she said. “When a purpose is set, I need to achieve it. There is a sense of loyalty to accomplish a goal, and in my job, the goal is the patients' safety and wellbeing.”
Photo courtesy of Sr. Adriana Koropung DSY.
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