Tag Archives: Women Lead

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.