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Indonesian Catholic woman dreams to transform society through education

Agnes D. Butar Butar was very young when her father left her with her mother and elder brother.

After the father’s abandonment, the mother took the children back to his grandmother's house in the village in the North Sumatra province of Indonesia.

Since then, Agnes and her entire family have embraced the Catholic faith back from being previously Protestant.

The young girl grew up in a tough situation, away from city life in a remote village.

“My mother is just a simple farmer. The family income was not enough to pay for my monthly school fee,” she says.

The mother is so passionate about children's education in her village. Since their place is in an isolated place, pre-school and proper education services was absent then. Thus, she started simple a pre-school for the local children.

Her mother's struggle as a single parent who took care of her two children enthuses Agnes. The mother’s courage to help children motivates Agnes to participate in an international youth summit together with other 150 delegations from Indonesia from different universities.

The 5th Istanbul Youth Summit (IYS), an international event organized by Youth Break the Boundaries, focuses on development and empowerment. It prepares excellent future leaders by promoting strong identity and character providing noble values for the youth.

The four-day-long summit took place in Istanbul, Turkey last February 14-17, 2022.

In this event, the organizing team challenged the participants to create a project that could be presented and implemented when they return to their respective countries.

Along with eight other colleagues representing various Indonesian universities, Agnes won the group project with the theme of education called "Edutas Indonesia.”

Agnes and her peers after winning the group project in Turkey. (Photo supplied)

In the project, Agnes and her colleagues invite and embrace young Indonesians to become volunteers who will be deployed to remote areas of the country, especially in Nias and Papua. These two areas are very poor, and people from the region struggle to access education. Consequently, many school-age children are illiterate.

Hailing from North Sumatra province, Agnes is currently studying at Musi Catholic University, Palembang (South Sumatra province). She is in her 6th semester majoring in accounting.

She went to Istanbul of her own free will. Her determination to gain international exposure and learn from this program was another reason she signed up and was selected to be one of the delegates from Indonesia.

To go to Istanbul, the 22-year-old student must find her sponsorship as she comes from a simple family.

Making proposals and distributing them to various institutions and private sectors was challenging that she went through.

"Thank God, many helped and sponsored me," says Agnes. "I got much support from friends and seniors from the Indonesian Catholic Student Union (PMKRI).”

As a young Indonesian Catholic, Agnes feels proud to be one of the delegates, because one of her dreams in life is to be involved in international activity.

Economic limitations have not diminished her dream. Strong determination is her key amid the obstacles. Agnes believes that opportunity will not come twice. Hence, she uses the prospects that God gives her.

Confidence and determination are Agnes' attributes in facing all challenges that come from institutions, friends, and even family.

"I am not a brilliant student at school; therefore, they doubted and questioned my disposition to attend this program," said Agnes.

From this international experience, Agnes learned where she was reminded of the early childhood education her mother founded seven years ago.

Her mother's early childhood education was simple, with bamboo walls and with an empty floor. The children study there and bow as there are no study tables, and the teachers are volunteers without salary.

"Mama is old, I just want to continue the works and services that she has started, by giving the best to this country through the children who need to be educated," she explained.

“My mother's experience prompted me to create projects in the field of education, especially in remote areas. Education is what children in remote areas need,” she explained. “I used to judge my father for abandoning us, but now I realize that when I was a child, educational facilities were very poor and limited. My mother wanted to change that. She provided the children to get better educational facilities.”

Apart from being at school, Agnes has also been actively involved in various activities of the PMKRI Palembang in the past 2.5 years ago. She currently serves as the president of community activities (GERAS) in this organization.

As a young Indonesian woman, she is called to be actively involved in church and community. For her, young women must be independent and tough, and not waste their abilities, thoughts, and education but contribute to society positively.

While involved in PMKRI, Agnes was active in social service activities, seminars, human rights awareness, active discussions on the topic of nationalism and tolerance, as well as other activities that helped her to be more valuable to the community.

"I want to be a blessing to others while I am young. I want to be involved in the international programs to contribute my ideas so that they can be useful for many people," she said.


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.