Category Archives: Community

Maher Ashram India – Where Women Thrive

Women waiting for the arrival of Pratibha Patil, India’s first woman president, at Maher’s 20th Anniversary

In 2016, I celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) at Maher.  When I made my plans, I had no idea Sr. Lucy Kurien, Maher’s founder and director, and Hirabegum Mulla, chair of the Maher Trust, would be in Delhi.  Sr. Lucy was to receive the prestigious Nari Shakti Puraskar for women’s empowerment from India’s President and to participate in discussions with the Prime Minister.

Sr. Lucy Kurien receiving the Nari Shakti Puraskar for women’s empowerment from President Pranab Mukherjee

Maher is known for its rousing IWD celebrations.  I remember one staff member wondering that morning if women would come since Sr. Lucy and Hira were away.  It wasn’t long before women wearing a rainbow of sari shades began arriving on foot, in bull carts, on the backs of motorbikes, in rickshaws.  The crowd swelled.  The staff member worried they would run out of food. 

Women preparing for a Maher program

Presenters took the stage.  The women clapped, cheered, and rose to their feet.  When the food ran out, we began to hand out bananas.  No one seemed to care.  They were happy to be together and that Sr. Lucy and Maher’s work was being recognized. One of the marks of a true leader is what happens when you are away.  The celebration was a glorious success. 

This jubilant event would be only the first of several such gatherings I would attend in the next few days.  All of them full of women who met a definition Meg Wheatley once shared, “a leader is anyone who is willing to help and ready to take action.”  Through self-help groups Maher and the villagers cultivated, these women were taking action to improve their lives, their families, and their communities while supporting one another.  It was a joy to behold.

Young women raising their voices at Maher’s 27th Anniversary Celebration

Yet, IWD is just one day.  Maher’s model works because the organization weaves women’s well-being and development into its work 365 days a year.  Girls attend school and are educated to their potential just like boys.  Rallies and street plays emphasize the value of the “girl child.”  Girls compete with the boys in the annual sports day, cheered on by Sr. Lucy with as much verve as she encourages the boys.  Young women take the mic at Maher programs, perform street plays and dances, learn and demonstrate Taekwondo with their male counterparts at celebrations, read interfaith scripture passages at ground-breakings and inaugurations, and the list goes on.  Girls and boys are expected to complete household chores. 

After they are settled and have regained their strength, women seeking shelter at Maher are encouraged to build self-sufficiency through career development, education, micro-lending, and employment opportunities. Many eventually return to life outside of Maher.     

Women of all ages performing the Durga Dance at Maher

There are many women role models to look up to at Maher in addition to Sr. Lucy and Hira.  Women play an integral role in managing Maher’s day-to-day operations, often serving as center managers, social workers, teachers, and housemothers. 

Maher celebrates the opening of another new kindergarten

Maher addresses barriers for women through example.  At a recent anniversary celebration, for example, a woman priest appeared on stage with Sr. Lucy and the male religious leaders for the first time.  The honor and dignity of women of all ages is uplifted, as evidenced by the fact that a highlight of the 27th anniversary program was a dance performed by the “Maher grannies,” women residents age 65 and above.

Women religious leaders on the stage with Sr. Lucy and male religious leaders at a recent celebration

Men serve on the Maher Trust Board and on the staff as social workers, program managers, and in other important roles.  As an organization founded to shelter battered and destitute women and children, Maher knows how important it is to have healthy, supportive male role models working to advance the organization’s mission.  When Maher social workers began encountering a growing number of homeless men on the streets, the organization opened homes for men. 

Sr. Lucy Kurien greeting Former Indian President Pratibha Patel on Maher’s 20th Anniversary

What started as a single shelter home for women and children has become a movement of love and smiles with 68 homes in seven Indian states and 25 outreach projects in more than 90 villages.  Maher was a fledgling organization when Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared, “the future of this planet depends on women.”  Today, Maher, which means “Mother’s Home,” is a beacon of hope for all who believe women are key to a building a better, brighter future for all. 

Sr. Lucy will be in the states this IWD. She will be featured in the next few weeks at events in Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Washington, D.C., and Vermont. For details, contact USGIVINGTOMAHER.ORG.             

May Love Prevail

These inspiring photos were taken on Feb. 1 at the 7th Anniversary of the Interfaith Association for Service to Humanity and Nature (IASHN).  That is a long name for an association founded to foster the development of daily spiritual practice, interfaith respect and harmony, seva or service, wise stewardship of resources, and care for the planet.

I was blessed to be present with 11 women from the U.S. and 160 other people from India and around the world at IASHN’s first gathering.  Sr. Lucy, founder and director of Maher, presided over its creation just steps away from Maher’s first home.  IASHN’s founding took place on an auspicious day.  Twenty years before, Maher Ashram, an interfaith, caste-free organization in India had welcomed the first women and children seeking safe shelter. 

As we processed into the hall at Maher’s National Center, Sr. Lucy and Hirabegum Mulla, chair of the Maher Trust, handed each of us rose petals.  I remember the colorful interfaith mandala, scriptures, passages, songs, and chants, lots of joy, and the smell of spices from the kitchen behind us wafting through the hall.

Unlike most Maher gatherings, the IASHN inauguration was just for adults.  Each of us had made a commitment. We agreed to respect and honor all faith traditions, observe a daily spiritual practice, alleviate human suffering and environmental destruction through seva, or service, and to use natural and monetary resources as carefully as possible so that we might serve as many people in need as possible.  

I was the only person in our group to have qualms about making such a commitment.  Having spent 8 months at Maher, I knew the organization’s integrity.  Could I live up to the pledge?  In the end, perhaps because there was no pressure, I signed the double-spaced document, which fills less than a page.

I often fall short.  However, not a day goes by that I don’t think about the higher standards IASHN calls me to and step toward them.  This experience reminds me of a concept Jillian Pransky shares in her book Deep Listening:  A Healing Practice to Calm Your Body, Clear Your Mind, and Open Your Heart. She writes “a little” + “often” = “a lot.” 

Too often, leaders and citizens choose violence, aggression, and righteousness over compassion, collaboration, and compromise.  I find comfort knowing that those of us who have taken the IASHN pledge are walking together in India, Austria, Brazil, Germany, the UK, the U.S., and other countries toward kindness and care.  IASHN offers proof that the answers to human and societal challenges don’t have to be as complicated as we are often led to believe.  IASHN was founded on the principle that “Love is our Religion.”  I remember Meg Wheatley saying once that, “Love is stronger than law.” 

I am sorry I was not there to celebrate IASHN’s anniversary.  That I didn’t have the opportunity to see women religious leaders join Sr. Lucy and the male religious leaders on stage for the first time.  To hear their voices as they offered prayers and teaching.  That I didn’t get to see the young women perform their beautiful interfaith dance.  That I wasn’t there to carry a candle in the peace rally or sit in meditation with the hundreds who were present. 

In a time when so many feel alone and isolated, I am heartened that I can be connected half a world away through simple daily acts of respect, service, love, and care.  That a small, growing movement that costs nothing to join is helping to make our communities and the planet a safer, healthier, happier place for our children, our grandchildren, their children and all the generations to come.  

To learn more about IASHN and how you can bring its message of interfaith harmony and stewardship to your community, reach out to

Photos published with permission from IASHN.

Moved by Love

Like many around the world, I’ve listened to heart-wrenching NPR and BBC accounts of the suffering, death and sorrow in India caused by COVID.  When the Facebook message below popped up on my Facebook feed, I was heartened and deeply moved by Maher’s loving response to a dire humanitarian crisis.   The most recently initiated acts of love include a quarantine center, short stay care for vulnerable children and adults affected by COVID, as well as food, clothing, masks, sanitizer, transportation and counseling.

Maher offers Care in Times of Quarantine . . .

A Simple Choice

India has been grappling with COVID challenges since the day in March 2020 when an immediate lockdown was adopted to stop the initial spread of the disease. Maher has been walking with the nation’s vulnerable throughout this difficult time.  At Maher, the decision to offer aid is straightforward.  The organization sees a need and addresses it to the best of their ability without hesitation.

Maher’s Humanity Kitchen

In March 2020, Sr. Lucy Kurien, founder and director of Maher which means “Mother’s Home” in India, watched as hundreds of people began passing Maher’s gate.   They looked hungry, worn and frightened.  Without hesitation, she dialed Maher’s National Center and ordered 500 meals prepared.  And, so with a single phone call and lots of meal preparation, Maher’s Humanity Kitchen was born.  Between March and May, Maher’s kitchen would provide 30,000 meals to displaced workers returning on foot to their home villages.  The non-governmental organization founded in 1997 would do this while caring for the 1,500 women, children and men living in the community.

Sustaining Workers Returning on Foot to their Home Villages . . .


Shortly after that, Maher identified and responded to the food insecurity of the suddenly unemployed workers by expanding its ration program to 50,000 individuals with the realistic expectation the program would continue until people were able to return to work.

Mobile Food Delivery
Rations offer Food Security

Masks, Sanitizer, Tarps, & Blankets

The organization’s production unit quickly shifted to making masks for local distribution.  Approximately 10,000 masks were distributed along with hand sanitizer and information on their use before the current situation.  Social distancing is far more challenging in a country with 1.4 billion people that occupies about one-third of the land mass of the United States.

Maher’s Production Unit Stitches Masks Appropriate for 100-degree Heat . . .

During the monsoon, plastic tarps were delivered to shelter neighbors in need from the elements. Diwali marked the annual food and blanket distribution to Maher’s vulnerable neighbors. 

Rapid Response to Growing Needs

Maher Opens First Home in Kolkata in Jan. 2021 . . .

In the midst of a pandemic that has lasted longer than most of us ever imagined and caused an uptick in family violence and poverty, Maher stepped up and carefully opened four homes in three Indian states.  Since the pandemic began, Maher has welcomed 249 women, 63 men and 111 children. For Maher staff opening homes, that can mean everything from clearing the property of snakes to dealing with administrative requirements all while welcoming the neediest, and often outcast, in the community.

Weddings, Births, Memorials

Celebrations Keep the Community Strong . . .

Even in the time of COVID, life in Maher’s 54 homes goes on.  So far during the pandemic, eight socially-distanced weddings were celebrated and ten babies were born. Two more are expected later this month.  Recently, when a beloved Maher volunteer died suddenly, an international Memorial Service was conducted on Facebook Live to allow the community and friends everywhere to grieve.

Academic & Values Education

Homeschooling, which can be a challenge for families everywhere, was initiated for all of Maher’s 1,000 children of school age.  Computers were donated by companies to aid the effort, yet even so maintaining the interest of so many children who are the first in their families to attend school has been a challenge. 

Learning Together . . .

Maher staff and youth who completed the Second Standard (high school) and college pitched in to help.  The effort continued even after local schools resumed because of the communal nature of the Maher homes, which each care and shelter between 20 and 30 children.

Tending to the Mind, Body, Spirit, Emotional Needs of the Community . . .

Throughout this time of sheltering in place, Maher youth have continued and expanded their practices of yoga, dance, singing, and drawing all the while learning and assisting as the community’s staff and adults aid in values-based relief efforts to help those in even greater need.

Caring Actions

Caring for the Earth & Faith in the Future . . .

Maher, an interfaith organization where all are welcome, holds regular days of prayer and meditation for India and the world in addition to daily morning and evening meditations.  Monthly Zoom calls connect, inform and uplift volunteers, donors, friends, and the staff and community members at Maher who are buoyed by the love and care of people around the world.

Maher Combines Prayer with Compassionate Action. . .

Sr. Lucy and a handful of senior staff members have received doses of India’s scarce vaccines.  A recent update indicates that work is underway to secure vaccines for all at Maher. Here is a recent message from Sr. Lucy, “Life has become very tough for all. We are working day and night as we give more and more people shelter and food. Poverty and sorrow is everywhere. The death rate continues to increase.”

It is said that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  Maher has been going strong since its founding in 1997, however, perhaps never stronger than during the last 15 months.

To make a financial contribution to support Maher’s vital work during this time, please visit  100% of US Maher Friends contributions go directly to Maher. No amount is too small or large. To learn more about Maher, visit Thank you ~