JAKARTA - A year after her close friend died of cancer in 2005, former banker Lynna Chandra set up Rachel House here to care for needy, terminally ill children with conditions such as cancer and HIV.
But paediatric palliative care was largely unknown then. She turned to the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) for advice and help.
Since 2009, doctors, nurses, social workers and psychologists from Singapore have travelled here to train health-care professionals from Rachel House and Dharmais Cancer Hospital. These professionals in turn train their countrymen to help patients live out their lives with dignity and minimal pain.
Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam visited the hospital to meet volunteers and staff yesterday, the third day of his state visit here, and commended them for their work and enthusiasm, which had been an inspiration to others and helped foster closer ties between the two countries.
"I am glad to see Indonesians and Singaporeans working together in a common cause," he said. "It is true that human compassion is not constrained by artificial borders."
Since 1992, more than 700 Singaporeans have volunteered with SIF to work with local partners in Indonesia on a range of educational, medical and social projects.
Dr Tan noted that while Singapore volunteers have shared their know-how with Indonesians, they have also learnt a great deal.
"Community projects like these strengthen the bonds between Singaporeans and Indonesians from all walks of life," he said. "They also promote empathy and understanding between our two peoples."
Singapore, he noted, has been fortunate to have a relatively developed palliative care sector.
"There's a great need in Indonesia, and I hope that SIF will continue to be a strong partner with Rachel House and other Indonesian institutions helping in areas that are important," he added.
Rachel House's nurse coordinator, Ms Susi Susilawati, said the training has helped her and her colleagues ensure that some 100 needy children under 15 can live out their lives with dignity, fortitude and minimal suffering.
Nurses and social workers regularly visit them at their homes in the capital.
Indonesia's National Association of Nurses has endorsed this home-care model as one to be replicated across the country.
Ms Chandra, 45 and a Singaporean, now envisions a day when trained palliative caregivers can be parked at Jakarta's ubiquitous convenience stores. Nurses who benefited from the SIF training are now sharing their skills with others in West Java.
SIF volunteer Dr R. Akhileswaran, 53, who heads Singapore's HCA Hospice Care and has been on six visits here, said he feels humbled that palliative care in Singapore, which was started by volunteers, is taking off in a similarly meaningful way here.
Last night, Dr Tan also met Indonesians who have studied or trained in Singapore, and described them as assets to the bilateral relationship.
"While you had different experiences in Singapore, all of you were wonderful ambassadors for Indonesia. We Singaporeans learnt a great deal from all of you during your time with us," he said.
"We hope that you also developed a better understanding of Singapore and our people. We are happy to call you friends."
Dr Tan hoped they would keep up ties and stay in touch with their Singaporean friends. "The bonds you forge individually will collectively help to enhance the people-to-people ties between our two countries," he said.