Saturday, March 31, 2007

Karuna Niwas

Means Home of Compassion. At present I am staying in the guest house of a lady called Celine Mayanai who runs Karuna Niwas, in Bangalore. She is an extraordinary women. I was introduced to her, remotely, by the wife of a college friend of my brother’s, Karina FitzPatrick, who lives in New York. She has been a fundraiser for Celine’s project for the last 20 years.

Celine is an ex-catholic nun from Kerala, who, when she was a Novice in Bombay, was visiting local women with her superiors, when she heard about a Goan girl who was very young, frightened and pregnant. She felt this young girl should be seen immediately to see how they could help, but her superiors were reluctant to break the order in which they had decided to see people. We’ll get to her eventually, don’t worry, another few days only, she can wait her turn. Tragically, when they finally got round to seeing her, they learnt that she had committed suicide. This was when India was even more unforgiving than now and there was nowhere to whom single mothers, ostracised by their communities, could turn. It was at that point that Celine felt her calling was not to be in a Convent, but to set up a home for women in similar circumstances. Her vision was to create a safe, accepting environment where women could repair their lives without judgement. During their stay, they could learn a trade, for example beautician work, computing and ultimately leave Karuna Niwas as independent women, some to jobs, some to new marriages.

In order to realise her dreams, Celine herself went through hardships. Her family felt disgraced by her leaving the convent, partly because it was unacceptable, and partly because they worried about her becoming a burden to them instead of being taken care of in the convent. Luckily, she found a job in America where she earnt some money and found sponsors to help build her first refuge centre. These American sponsors have been the only source of income for the last 20 years.

Now, Karuna Niwas has a beauty parlour, computing centre, hostel as well as the original refuge and the inauguration of the Day Care centre and Creche is on 9th April. It is a very peaceful, happy place housing 10 women and 10 children. Celine’s current worry is the schooling of the children for whom, even if the mothers have left, she retains a continuing responsibility. Good schools are expensive and if these children are to have a future and worthwhile education, they need to go to good schools. Additional costs such as school books, uniforms and transport to and from school make it impossible for the mothers, starting new lives afresh, to afford.

What I found astonishing about Celine is that, despite being extremely religious, she casts no judgement on others’ religions. For her, having a personal relationship with "your God" is most important and whether that is through Christianity, Hinduism, Islam or Judaism is a matter of personal choice. Similarly, she expects no Damascene conversion from the women she helps, all she wants is that they regain their sense of worth and become independent. She is happy and fulfilled doing what she does and does not expect people to feel grateful to her. She said to me that if she expected gratitude from people all the time, she would spend her life unhappy. She attributed her success to God’s will. I attributed it to this amazing woman.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

She sounds amazing, and how exactly are you still managing to have just as good adventures a few days before you leave??
I cant wait til your back though so we can talk over each other for days. Maria xx

However I have just discovered the anonymous facility for people that hve forgotten who they are, so could you write a few more things so I can be published on the internet please.