Maher, lives up to its name and offers the warmth of a home to battered, exploited and destitute women and children
It now seems a long time ago, but this is how it all started. A young pregnant woman was set on fire by her unfaithful husband just outside the walls of the convent where Sister Lucy Kurien lived. On hearing her screams, Sister Lucy ran out, smothered the flames and rushed the woman to a hospital. But it was too late. Not only the young mother, but her baby also died that night. Utterly devastated, Sister Lucy spent the next six years in a determined struggle to find a practical solution to the appalling lives of poor women in India. Finally, in 1997, Sister Lucy moved to a small village in Pune district (Maharashtra) and founded an inter-faith community for women and children in crisis. Maher, which means parental home in Marathi, opened with just Sister Lucy, one house, three residents and daunting odds.
The children of Maher come from the streets and slums, from begging communities, from parents unable to care for them, from other institutions that have rejected them. They come for short- or long-term stays, and for as long as they live at Maher, they receive schooling, tutoring, excellent nutrition and medication.
Today, Maher operates 36 houses served by a veritable army of loving doctors, social workers, teachers, trustees, business people and volunteers, providing homes for close to 1, 200 full-time residents (860 children, 300 women—including 120 mentally ill women and 31 mentally ill or aged and destitute men). Thousands more are reached by Maher’s community outreach programmes such as self-help groups, kindergarten schools, village libraries, street theatre performances and health and education initiatives. All are welcome at Maher—regardless of religion, gender, caste, colour, creed, or social status.
Sister Lucy says, “Maher believes in giving equal opportunity for all and, with this purpose, Maher sends children to private English-medium schools. We cannot afford to send all 860 children to English-medium schools, so the ones who show some promise and interest in studies are sent to English-medium schools. The remaining children go to Hindi, Marathi, or Malayalam-medium schools.”
Maher also conducts extensive community service programmes. These include kindergarten schools and day-care centres for small children, adult literacy programmes, implementation of community funded micro-loan programmes, and conducting seminars against superstitions, counselling, transportation of poor children to school, administering study group for children, job placement for men and women and supply of food grains to poor families.
For readers with a feel for numbers, Sister Lucy sums up, “Over the past 19 years, Maher has benefited 2,874 women and 2,915 children and 140 mentally ill/aged destitute men. These numbers continue to grow as fast as our resources allow.” Maher works in three states of India—Maharashtra, Kerala and Jharkhand—and volunteers are always welcome.
Maher plans to purchase 12 khattas of land (1 khatta = 720sq ft) for the construction of homes in Kolkata. It will be a children’s home for 25 girls and boys.
Sister Lucy says, “Every donation is welcome and urgently required. Sponsorship includes food, clothing, education and shelter.” Donations are entitled to tax exemption under Section 80G of the Income-Tax Act, 1961.
Finally, Maher wants to branch out to areas where it will have no day-to-day operations. “There is a great need to expand this into a vibrant training programme which would not only serve our trainees, but would also help Maher to meet some of the demand for our services in areas where we cannot commit to a full project. By training qualified professional and service staff who come to us from other areas, and mentoring them to start their own projects, Maher can steward other much-needed projects in other regions of India without having to take on the entire financial and organisational burden,” says Sister Lucy. You can do your bit to make her realise her vision and to help those less fortunate than you are.
Vadhu Budruk, Koregaon Bhima,
District: Pune - 412 216,
Telephone: (020) 27033421