Gaus Said was 6 and working as a mechanic in India when a social worker spotted him and connected him with Sister Lucy Kurien.
“Didi told me, 'You want to go to school?'” he said, using the affectionate name for an older sister in India. “And I was very happy. And I came to Maher. Didi took me with her that night.” Fourteen years later, Said said that night changed his life.
Kurien, who used to live in a convent in India, is the founder of Maher, a community of homes based near Pune, India for women and children in abusive relationships and dismal living conditions. Kurien started the homes after a traumatic event.
One night, while living in the convent a woman, seven months pregnant, came and asked for shelter. Kurien was unable to help because the convent was closed for the night.
“She told me that her husband is in love with another woman, and that also he was an alcoholic and a very hot-tempered person,” Kurien said. When the woman returned to her home, her husband asked her to leave, but she had nowhere to go. He then poured kerosene on her and set her on fire.
Shortly after denying her shelter, Kurien heard screaming outside the convent, and realized it was the same woman. She took her to the hospital, but the doctor told Kurien that the woman had already been 90 percent burned.
Kurien asked the doctor if anything could be done to save the baby. When the doctor took her to the operating theater, he revealed a fully burned baby.
After that night, Kurien knew she had to do something to help other people. She decided to leave the convent, but with very little money or education she wasn't sure what to do. She recalled that she did have one important thing though. “I can say that divine strength was there, and it walked with me and worked within me, and I found really, really good people to help me out,” she said.
In 1997, Kurien opened up her first home in the Maher community. After some time though, she realized that along with women came children. So she started opening homes for children.
Kurien started taking in the children who came with the women, and she also reached out to children of prostitutes, beggars and impoverished families like Said’s. “My family condition was very poor,” Said said. “I wanted to go to school but I didn’t have enough money to buy a uniform.”
Kurien teaches the children about values and love. Everyone is from different castes and religions but those things don’t matter to Kurien. She does what she can to make each Maher home feel like a real home, instead of an institution. In every children's home, there are two house mothers for 20 children.
Currently there are 31 homes throughout India in the Maher community. But Kurien said she doesn’t want homes like Maher to always exist.
“At present it is a big need in India to have homes like Maher,” she said, “but in the future what I see is not to have homes like Maher. The children should be in their homes.”