The 31-year-old mother of four lived in a slum and did not go to school. She was raised with love by the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians at Marialaya (Mary House). The nuns’ goal is "to restore human dignity” to street kids. Up to 18 million children live in the streets of India. The Catholic Church runs about 14,500 schools, high schools and universities.
New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Gloria Karthik (picture 2) went from a painful life in a slum to the satisfying work of a seamstress thanks to Salesian nuns in Chennai (Tamil Nadu).
The 31-year-old mother of four was eight when a social worker gave her poor parents a chance to send their daughter to study at the Marialaya (Mary House), an institute run by the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, known as the Salesians Sisters of Don Bosco. It was her salvation.
“I'm happy and content now, thanks to the sisters,” Gloria said. “They prepared me for a decent and dignified life. Otherwise, I would have continued my miserable life in the slum.”
Marialaya operates from a four-storey building in the George Town district. Created in 1990, it caters to girls aged 6 to 18. About a hundred live with the nuns, who have raised and educated more than 2,000 girls since the institute was created.
Programme coordinator Sr Sebastiar Caroline (picture 1) explains that the facility teaches communication skills, English, problem solving and time and money management.
"We also teach them how to work as a team and encourage them to foster relationships, accepting others without prejudice. We nurture leadership by encouraging their talents in singing, dance and other talents," Caroline said.
For Marialaya director Sr Soosai Muthu Arul, human dignity is at the basis of everything. The institute’s objective "is to create a homely atmosphere here to restore human dignity in them.” Most of the students lived on the streets. All come from economically poor backgrounds or slums.
According to UNICEF, between 15 and 18 million children live on the streets of India. Because of extreme poverty, they are deprived of basic human rights, such as access to an education, as well as the possibility of playing and receiving medical care. Most of them barely eat a meal a day. To survive, many get into petty crime or are subject to economic and sexual exploitation.
The Indian Catholic Church helps millions of poor children and adults. In total, it runs almost 14,500 schools, high schools and universities, over 1,000 training institutes, 704 hospitals, more than 1,000 orphanages and 1,700 hostels, almost 2,500 dispensaries, leprosaria and seniors homes.
For Brittila Machado, a street educator with more than 20 years of experience, healing the wounds of the soul is the institute’s most difficult task. Girls have developed a form of self-defence, turning inward. They “come to Marialaya as people with no experience of love or care.”
One of the girls is Kanmani, who arrived in Marialaya in 2016 when she was six. She didn’t speak for months. Eventually, she told the nuns that her stepfather had raped her, with the silent complicity of her mother.
The facility also runs a home for 50 children, who can stay three months, as well as 18 evening centres in different parts of Chennai for poor girls unable to go to regular schools.
Some of them have now found work and help their parents, many of whom did not think it was important for their daughters to study.