Indian Nun brings fresh approach to domestic violence to Seattle

Sister Lucy Kurien on a 2011 visit to Tacoma. (Photo via Catherine Place)

Sister Lucy Kurien, founder of a network of homes for battered women and children in India, is in the Northwest preaching her philosophy of creating intentional communities for victims of violence.

Twenty two years ago, Catholic Nun Sister Lucy Kurien was unable to help a woman in need, and it changed the course of her life.

It was 1991, and she was living in a convent in Pune, India. A woman came to her seeking shelter and protection from her alcoholic, abusive husband, but the rules of the convent prevented Sister Lucy from letting the woman stay.

That very night … her husband poured kerosene and set her on fire,” Sister Lucy says.

She recalls running to the nearby slum see what was causing the commotion, and seeing the woman, who was seven months pregnant at the time, running toward her, crying out for help as the fire consumed her hair and body. She took the woman to the nearest hospital, but the doctors were unable to save her or the unborn child.

That night haunted Sister Lucy. The guilt she felt over the death of the woman began to have an emotional effect on her.

“I was becoming a very angry person,” she says. “I was never like that.”

She wanted to help others like the woman, but she had no resources. So she consulted with a local priest who she says told her that the love in her heart would be enough. He also connected her to a European investor who gave her the money to start to build her dream.

“I can say there was some kind of a divine spirit that was…working within me and walking with me,” Sister Lucy says.

She used the money to start a community for women and children who were victims of domestic violence. She named it Maher, which means “mother’s home.”

Since then the Maher community has helped with over 2,400 cases of domestic violence. Currently, they are housing 240 women in more than 30 houses around the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

The Maher community takes in women and children who have been victims of domestic violence and gives them food, shelter, and education. They train the women to be house mothers, so they can take care of children. The women are then employed by Maher to care for their own children and other children without parents.

Sister Lucy says that the most important aspect of Maher is that they give the women and children love and acceptance. This makes her program standout from the many other organizations that also provide food and shelter to domestic violence victims.

“They find a lot of hope, joy, acceptance…They feel loved and taken care of,” she says. “These are women who were not wanted.”

Sister Lucy is currently on a tour of the United States visiting cities, including Seattle, to gather support for her cause. She is traveling with 21-year-old Gaus Sayyad.

Sayyad was six years old and working as a mechanic to make money for his family when Sister Lucy took him in. He’s been with Maher ever since.

“The last 14 years I am with Maher, so now Maher has become my family,” he said.

Sayyad is now a college graduate who will be pursuing his master’s degree next year.

In New Delhi, the recent high-profile cases of violence toward women have given exposure to these issues on an international level, but Lucy says that the attention has only helped the situation slightly.

She hopes to continue to raise awareness and support during her trip in the U.S.

“Whenever I come to this country I feel our work is very much appreciated by the people,” she says. “There is so much empathy towards us, and that gives me a lot of encouragement.”

On Wednesday Sister Lucy will be speaking at the Good Shepard Center in Wallingford from 7 to 9 pm.

On Thursday she’ll attend a Cultural Night at the Good Shepard Center, including music and Bollywood dancing from 7 to 9:30 pm.

On Sunday morning she will be at the Amazing Grace Spiritual Center in Ballard from 10:30 am to 12 noon.

Sam Kenyon is a graduate of the University of Washington and freelance writer in Seattle. He has written for City Living Seattle, the SnoValley Star, myballard.com, and others.

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