Sister Lucy Kurien started working as a Catholic nun in Mumbai. In 1991, a pregnant woman from a nearby slum knocked on her convent doors, asking for shelter because her husband was threatening to kill her as he wanted to bring another woman.
She asked the woman to come back the next day when her superior would return. That very night her prayers were suddenly interrupted by horrific shouting outside. She saw a woman totally engulfed in flames screaming for help. Sister Lucy recognized with horror that she was the very woman who had come to her earlier that afternoon. Her husband had set her on fire. She then took her to the hospital, but it was too late; she was 90 per cent burnt. Unfortunately, both mother and child could not be saved.
Sister Lucy was absolutely devastated. For six years she struggled to come to terms with this heinous incident. She realized that she had to do something for such women and the result was the founding of Maher in 1997 in Pune, Maharashtra. She had to single-handedly start Maher as she did not receive the backing of the convent to start a non-Christian organization.
Being a woman in a completely male dominated society was a huge challenge for her, being an unmarried woman and working as the Director was a bigger one. She used to get anonymous phone calls asking to stop the work or they would kill her.
Undeterred, Sister Lucy continued her efforts and today Maher has 43 homes for the needy – in Maharashtra, Kerala and Jharkhand. It is home to 300 women, 860 children and 72 men, all over India. Maher till date has had more than 7,000 women and children at its ‘Karunalaya’ home.
Maher has started 13 kindergartens, 11 tuition classes and 552 self-help groups, all of which it uses as a medium to spread awareness in villages regarding pertinent issues facing the country like female infanticide, AIDS awareness, gender bias etc.
ln March 2016, Sister Lucy received the “Nari Shakti Puraskar” at the hands of the then President of lndia, Shri Pranab Mukherjee. She received a personal congratulatory note from the former US President, Bill Clinton. In 2918, Maher was granted a “special consultative status” at the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Sister Lucy is a Neerja Bhanot Awardee.