Leena Xavier walks confidently through the corridors of Surya hospital in Pune. She is a staff nurse from Veliyanad village in Kerala who has made it big in the city. She had to face all kinds of problems in her long journey to success including a lack of funding for her education. Asked about her journey she cannot stop talking about one individual who made it all possible. Leena met Sr. Flower Mary for the first time when she joined St Joseph’s at the age of 12.
From there the nun has taken care of all her needs including education which is quite a costly affair in the South Indian state. Leena’s sister, Lincy is also a beneficiary who is pursuing B.Sc. Nursing course in Akshaya College of nursing, Tumkur. Along with her, five other students have also been sent by Sr. Flower to the same institution. They belong to a group of over hundred students who have received professional education thanks to the dedicated services of Sr. Flower who is currently the director of St. Joseph’s Balabhavan and After Care.
St Joseph’s Balabhavan in the village of Pulincunnoo in Kerala has been home to hundreds of girls over the past 50 years. Sr. Flower Mary has been involved in the activities of the destitute home almost since its inception serving in different capacities. What began as a simple abode for girls who are not safe in their homes, now provides education and livelihood to hundreds of girls. Unlike other institutions on catering to destitute students, St Joseph’s has the unique distinction of looking after the students until they find a livelihood or get married.
Asked about the commendable service she has done over the years, she says everything became possible because of the generosity of people inside and outside the country who helped her in providing quality accommodation, food and education to her children. She gratefully remembers the assistance that she has received from Catholic Near East Welfare Association over the years. “They have been a great source of support. We met many individuals who made great contributions to our institution through the CNEWA. We can never thank them enough” she says.
The 50 children who stay at the institution call Sr. Flower “Amma” (mother). There is a reason behind this practice. Children who come to the institution at a very young age find out very quickly that they are in better hands than their parents. Sr. Flower is far more capable of meeting their educational and other needs. Left to themselves many of these girls wouldn’t have completed primary education. But at the institution they feel comfortable. They have ample opportunities to study as well as engage in other activities that promote their overall development.
Once the students complete higher secondary education they are provided admission to professional courses like nursing which help them to find jobs without much delay. Many of these courses are financially demanding, yet Sr. Flower finds ways to fund their education. Part of the fee is directly paid by the institution and the rest is arranged through bank loans. Many of these students have completed their education and our now working in India and abroad. Some of them find it difficult to get married which is quite an expensive affair in Kerala. However with the help of sponsors and well-wishers within and outside the country Sr. Flower has ensured that all of her wards are in safe hands.
Seena, a B.Sc. Nursing student says that she cannot imagine what would have become of her had she not met Sr. Flower. “She gave me a purpose in life. Without her I would never have made it this far”, says the girl who is also a talented dancer. “We never felt that we were away from home. We received so much love. She always took care to nurture our talents and passions”, says her classmate Merlin who is also a talented artist. Titty who is working in Seven Hills Hospital in Mumbai says her life at the institution helped her to face all the challenges in her life including living alone in the big city.
Many of the children who come to the institution do not have proper homes. With the help of generous volunteers Sr. Flower has built homes for some of them. However things are not going very well for the institution at the moment. The Juvenile Justice Act passed in 2015 demands these institutions to satisfy impossible conditions to get the approval and funds from the government. Every student receives a sum of 1000 rupees per month from the government. But this amount is insufficient to meet the demands that the government places on the institutions. Thus many of the institutions had to change status from destitute homes to hostels solely dependent on monetary aid from benefactors. Sr. Flower, who is now 74, however hopes that she can raise many more daughters surpassing the difficulties that lie ahead.