When a young pregnant woman was burned by her unfaithful husband just outside Sr. Lucy Kurien’s convent walls in Pune, she took action. In 1997 this Catholic nun moved to a small village in Pune district and founded an interfaith community for women and children in crisis. Maher began with Sr. Lucy, 1 house, 3 residents, and daunting odds. Today, Maher operates 36 houses served by a loving army of doctors/ social workers/ teachers/ trustees/ business people/ volunteers etc, providing homes for over 1,100 full-time residents (850 children, 300 women including 120 mentally ill women and 31 mentally ill/aged destitute men) in addition to the thousands more reached by community programs such as kindergartens, self-help groups, village libraries, and so on. All are welcome at Maher regardless of religion, gender, caste, color, creed, or social status.
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, meditation, artistic programming, and more. They come from tragedy and are met with family, love, and the prospect of a bright future.
The stories brought by the women are as varied as the children. Rural India is an unforgiving place for women facing problems of family violence, unwed pregnancies, widowhood, dowry payment, and the list goes on. With nowhere to go, often women in these situations see no options beyond prostitution or suicide. Arriving seeking refuge, all are welcomed, listened to, and cared for. Each woman is supported individually, whether through reconciliation and reunion with family, self-reliance through job-training or schooling, or jobs within Maher itself. However, for some the trauma of the past is too great. For such men and women suffering from mental illness Maher has two homes, offering medical and psychiatric care.
In addition to helping the victims of abuse and poverty, Maher strives to address the problems that lead to such abuse at a grass-roots level. Community outreach programs impact the lives of thousands in a myriad of ways; a full listing of Maher’s twenty-three current projects can be found on our website: www.maherashram.org
In a country and world split by gender, religion, color, and caste, Maher stands as a working model of a society that rejects such divisions. The need is great, but the success of the last 18 years is a promise of great things to come. Dreams for future growth include expanding the work to Calcutta, a new home for those affected by HIV, a permanent residence for elderly and mentally ill men, and a dozen projects more. All who contribute become a part of the Maher family and the integral ingredient in nurturing this necessary work. The energy and love of the leadership and staff knows no bounds; the continued expansion of Maher is limited only by the concurrent growth of awareness and support from the community, both in India and abroad.