For some, the city of Chennai in south-east India is a tourist destination. But ‘cleaning up’ the city centre has cost the poorest people dearly.
When Chennai’s leaders decided to build luxury flats, over 100,000 residents were moved to Kannagi Nagar. This huge ‘slum’ resettlement on the city’s outskirts has poor access to utilities, education, and transport, and is plagued with crime. Families cram into tiny, single rooms, with no running water or safe sanitation.
Most children growing up here have little hope for the future. For many, life is harder still. Some families have so little that they have no other option but to live on the pavements beside the busy roads.
Thankfully, the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco set up the Marialaya project – a name which means ‘House of Mary’.
With Missio’s support, they offer hope to families in dire poverty. Sister Nirmala, a trained social worker and the Marialaya project coordinator, explains:
‘There are whole families sleeping on the street… they sleep on the road.’
No address, no school
With no fixed address, children cannot register for school. So Marialaya runs a school for children living on the streets which stays open until 7:30pm. It provides a safe space to play and learn, build confidence, and come to understand that they are loved – by us and by God.
The Sisters are passionate about empowering children to be good citizens. They run a Children’s Parliament, where children learn about their rights and responsibilities as members of their community, and children of God’s global family.
The children learn that they have a legal right to clean water, education, healthcare, and safety – and a responsibility to make sure other people have these things too. They work together to speak out about hardships in the community.
The leaders of tomorrow
Eleven-year-old Arkamesh is the ‘Prime Minister’ of the Children’s Parliament. He shares:
‘If ever there’s a problem in our area… we go to the Council, give them our petitions, and solve the problem… We are proud to be good leaders from now on!’
Watch Arkamesh describe the children’s parliament and the impact it has below:
A ripple effect
While she provides a safe space to learn and grow, Sr Nirmala also encourages children to help others. She explains:
‘We have elderly people living alone, and their mobility is very bad. We take them food regularly so at least they’ll have one meal a day. We can’t leave them when we see people suffering. How can we close our doors?’
Sr Nirmala’s example is lived out by the children Marialaya helps. Janish, who attends the street school, shares:
‘The Sisters explain how God loves and supports us. They explain that we should do the same for others. Every week we visit the homes of the elderly poor near where we live… we save our pocket money and buy food and groceries for them. The joy we see on their faces makes us happy.’
Watch Janish explain in her own words here:
The missionary difference
Seeing these inspiring children take ownership of their future fills us with hope. But none of this would be possible without Sr Nirmala’s faith and energy. She says:
‘Whenever I feel fear, I remember the words of the Good Shepherd: “I know my own and my own know me.” I know the people here; I know the struggles they face… they’re my people and they know me.’
Your support helps missionaries like Sister Nirmala rewrite the future for the world’s poorest children.
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