01/22/2013, 00.00
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Salesian nuns help enslaved girls in Tamil Nadu

by Santosh Digal
In Chennai, the St. Joseph's Special Care Home feeds, clothes and educates orphaned, abandoned and abused girls, from 4 to 18 in age. Rashmi is one of them. Sold at the age of six, she was beaten and abused by her employer. The home offers sports, games and singing to complete the girls' education and give them the "best possible future."

Chennai (AsiaNews) - A group of nuns from the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (also known as the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco) are providing a home, food, clothing, care, education as well as leisure and sport to a group of girls and young women who survived abuse, child labour or the loss of their parents. They are preparing them to fight the future exploitation of Indian women.

At the St Joseph's Special Care Home in Chennai (Tamil Nadu), eight nuns are responsible for 150 girls and young women, between the ages of 4 and 18, who come from families that are too poor to raise them, wards of the state brought to the facility by the police or sent by court order. St Joseph is recognised by the government.

Over the years, girls and young women of different backgrounds with different stories found a place of refuge at the home. One of them is Rashmi, who arrived in 2009.

"Rashmi," Sr Clara told AsiaNews, "was only six when she was forced into slavery. Her mother could not raise her ten children so she sold her daughter to a businessman from Chennai who took her in to work as a maid. For two years, the girl cooked, washed and cleaned the man's house. Every time she made a mistake, he would beat her. One day, neighbours heard her cries and realised that Rashmi was being mistreated and abused, and so they called police."

The police and the nuns saved the girl, taking her to St Joseph. The man was arrested.

"In six months, Rashmi blossomed," Sr Clara explained. "She learnt to speak Tamil (originally from Rajasthan, she spoke only Hindi), made friends, began going to school and follow a healthy diet. Now more than anything else, she is getting the love and care she deserves."

Girls living at the home attend nearby schools. Some 56 go to St. Anne's High School. Another 15 go to St. Agnes Middle School. Two girls are going to college and six are getting private tutoring. Whenever they have problems, the nuns help them do their homework.

"All of our efforts are geared towards giving them the best possible future," Sr Clara said. "For this reason, the home is also a place for games and fun: singing competitions, dancing and painting. As for physical activities, the girls do everything from running to shot-put. Some girls are also learning needle work and tailoring."

Another important aspect of their education is learning about human rights, as well as child trafficking and sexual violence so that they know what they are and how to fight them.

For Sr Clara, "St Joseph is one family because we take care of the young women with love and compassion. Thanks to outside contributions, we can raise them in dignity, helping them to grow fully."

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