Sister Nirmala is a missionary currently based in Chennai. She runs the Marialaya project, a name which means ‘House of Mary’. Like Mary, Sr Nirmala and her fellow Sisters have said ‘yes’ to God’s call and dedicated themselves to serving his people – our sisters and brothers – through word and action. In a recent interview she told us more about her inspiring life of faith:

‘I am a qualified social worker. I gained my Masters in Social Work and began working with the “street kids” in Chennai, where the children literally live on the streets. We have street schools for them where the children can study.

Our teachers sit on the street to teach them; we come to them. From there, when the child is ready and we’ve prepared them to go to school, we can work to bring them slowly into mainstream schools.

Support Sr Nirmala through our Advent appeal this year. Click here for our Appeal>>

Going where I am called

I worked in this project for five years, but then I was sent to Georgia for three years after the division from Russia. At that time, the country was not yet stabilised.

When I came back to India, I was sent to a rural area where child marriage was happening a lot. I worked with a project to stop child marriages in the Dharmapuri district, which is about 250km from Chennai. Today there are still child marriages, but they are now less in number.

Another challenge in the Dharmapuri district is child labour; the district is known for two things: child labour and child marriage. So, I worked in that area for nearly eight years, creating awareness in all the villages. We stopped some of the child marriages, but it is going on.

Then I was sent to Sri Lanka during the war. When the war finished, we had a group of around 200 children we rescued from the camps there. I worked in a Tamil-speaking area building a rehabilitation centre for them.

Missionaries show incredible faith and bravery in answering God’s call and going wherever the need is greatest. Please join us this Advent to pray for all the missionaries of the world, and in particular those supported by Missio England and Wales. Our online prayerful Advent Calendar is here>>

Returning to Kannagi Nagar

Now I’ve returned to Chennai to work with Internally Displaced People (IDP). Kannagi Nagar has a big IDP centre, because the authorities have demolished around 70 slums and brought all the people here to live in one place, without proper amenities, without water or electricity, and the houses are tiny. It’s just one room, where they sleep, live, cook… and then two houses will share a rest room, so it’s a lot of people sharing the washing facilities and toilet.

This place is very near to the city’s IT hub, but the IT people will never allow the slum people into their IT premises. So, as there is no work, they have to go back to their original home to work. The easiest way to make money is by selling drugs, so Kannagi Nagar has become a drug hub.  All the people here are labelled as criminals because of the drug crime. The men struggle to find any work at all. The women sometimes have more success, but then the whole family is trying to live on the money the women earn. But often the husbands take their money, and it doesn’t reach the families at all, so we have support groups for the women as well.

There are still so many street children. They live on the street with their parents, sleeping in the porticos of the shops at night, using the public toilets for their bathroom. Some of them now have small houses, but there isn’t enough space in them for everyone to sleep so many will still sleep on the streets. Because they have a fixed address, they can now go to school but there is a high dropout rate. So, we keep the street school open so we can help them and keep encouraging them.

Sharing the faith

It is not easy to share our faith directly here. But on Sundays we have an Oratory Children’s club. We show them films about the saints, and those who have been baptised increase their faith by regularly coming to Church and approaching Sacrament of Reconciliation.

There aren’t many Catholics or Christians in Chennai. But 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.’

Four simple ways to get involved this Advent

  • Give: Please consider making a special gift to support missionaries in India and other countries, where there is a great need for the Gospel to be shared with struggling communities.
  • Pray: Please keep Sr Nirmala and many other dedicated missionaries like her in your prayers. Your prayers keep them strong as they continue to care for all God’s children in some of the world’s poorest and most troubled locations. Each day of Advent, through our Advent Calendar, you can pray for a different mission country, which you help to support through your donations to Missio.
  • Fundraise: Lots of little actions can make one big change! Could you join together with your family, friends or community to fundraise for Missio? From bake sales to sponsored events, giving your time to raise money is an incredible gift to communities around the world, and the missionaries making a vital difference to their lives. Get inspired here>>
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