By Lydia O'Kane
Pope Francis knows Sr Lucy Kurien; they have met before in the Vatican because of her work to provide love, care and shelter to battered, exploited women, destitute men and street children.
Sr. Lucy is the Director and founder of Maher which she set up in Pune, the second largest city in the Indian state of Maharashtra in 1997.
The organization was born out of a terrible event which left an indelible mark on the Catholic nun's life. Some years earlier a pregnant woman came to her seeking shelter from a violent husband. Sr. Lucy promised to find her somewhere to stay the following day, but in the meantime, the woman returned to her abusive husband. That very evening, the man set his wife on fire, killing both the woman and her unborn baby.
Fast forward to 2019 and this community and interfaith organization has grown dramatically and now has a number of short-stay and long-stay homes in the Indian states of Jharkhand, Kerala, and Maharashtra.
Maher’s mission is to “create secure and loving homes for women, men and children and enable women to discover their power within and develop self-reliance”.
Shelter and loving care
“Most of the women and children who come to our door, they come with a lot of pain…so naturally we have to make them feel they are very comfortable with us,” Sr. Lucy says.
She explains, that many of the women that are in the shelter are picked up off the streets. Many of them she adds, are mentally ill or old so nobody wants them.
It is not just women and children who are provided with care, Maher also has several homes for men which helps them to become valued members of the community.
Under Sr Lucy’s motherly care, the women at the shelter receive medical attention. As their mental and physical wounds start to heal they can also avail of training programmes in order to provide them with a fresh start. Children too are housed, fed, educated and above all loved.
Women and society
Sr Lucy points out, that for women in India it is still very difficult. “Among the educated lot in the city, life has changed, but when I am talking about women in India I am talking about women who are in the remote villages of India, because I work with them.” Giving (women) equal rights, she adds, is still not there in their psyche because there is the belief that they will get married and go away, so why educate them.
Since the Maher founder established the community in 1997 she says, that a lot of change has taken place, but much of the change is happening in the cities. Even on issues such as exploitation and segregation, Sr. Lucy notes that there is still more to do.
Maher is an interfaith organization and Sr. Lucy emphasizes that she works with people of all faiths because as she says, “when I pick up a woman from the street I don’t know what religion or class she belongs to. She underlines that in Maher what they are trying to do is say “people matter” not the religion, not the caste, not the class, so everyone is treated equally.
In this regard, she feels a very strong connection with Pope Francis and his care for the poor and the downtrodden. “Sometimes I used to feel very alone in my work and when the Pope started talking I became very strong and courageous to continue”, she says.
For those staying at the centre, Sr Lucy explains that they need the tools in order to face the world again. “We have to walk with them”, she says because there is a lot of fear. In some cases accompanying them can mean helping them to find a job. Ultimately, Maher’s goal is to see these people leave with hope in their eyes.
Importance of Education
As Sr. Lucy looks to the future, she stresses that “education will change the situation in India and towards that we are working a lot; insisting that a girl child should go to school. So for that we have a lot of programmes…”
Education, she adds, “is the answer to all the problems that are existing in India; not only when I say education, it’s not only the academic education, but giving them all around education; the value based education.”