One Nun Army for the Urban Homeless
It was a sweltering day in May, and Patna city was in the throes of the second wave of the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Sister Dorothy Fernandez PBVM , the only Presentation sister in the state of Bihar, was knocking at the doors of the home for the destitute women in Padre ki Haveli. The home is run by the Missionaries of Charity, commonly known as the ‘Mother Teresa Sisters’.
Sister Dorothy sought refuge for an old woman, whose only surviving daughter and support had died. She telephoned the sisters, but was in for a shocking revelation.
“In the course of conversation, I discovered that the sisters had no food-grains, because 12 of the sisters had corona virus,” she says.
The Mother Teresa home in Padri ki Haveli has some 120 inmates – destitute and mentally challenged women, and orphans – in separate wings. The strict lockdown and the sickness and fear all around had dried up whatever local support the nuns could muster.
Sister Dorothy , who is on the advisory board of the social wing of Patna archdiocese, lost no time in addressing the challenge. “I got in touch with Father Amal Raj, [ the diocesan director of social work at the time] and alerted the sub divisional officer, and together they ensured that enough food would be supplied to the home.”
Crisis management is part and parcel of the mission of the 69 year old nun from Orlim, Goa, who made her first profession to the congregation of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (PBVM) on the first of January 1973.
Her love story with Bihar began almost 25 years ago.
“In 1997, at the request of the director of Navjyoti Niketan, the regional pastoral centre of Bihar, I was called to Bihar to teach social justice and women’s empowerment at the institute, she says.
During the three years spent at Navjyoti, Sister Dorothy played an active role in the setting up of an ‘non-formal education’ outreach programme for children of the poor in 25 villages of Maner block, some 30 kilometres west of Patna.
It was in Patna that Sister Dorothy engaged with the urban poor, and felt called to work among the construction workers, the petty vendors, and the homeless communities who lived precariously in makeshift shelters in slums with no amenities and little sanitation.
That was how ‘Aashray Abhiyaan’ a campaign for housing rights for the poor took shape, a constant struggle to empower the workers in the unorganized sector .
Reaching out during the ‘Second Wave’
The challenge of the ‘second wave’, with increased infections, hospitalizations, oxygen shortages, and deaths, brought untold misery to scores of the urban poor.
Sister Dorothy and her team of staff and volunteers linked the poor and destitute with the nearest available ‘food kitchens’.
They network with generous people and civic organizations to help out some who were in dire need of oxygen. They pack and distribute food kits to the urban destitute.
Her team ‘Aashray Abhiyaan’ seeks out the most marginalized of the city. They work in 24 locations, in 10 wards of Patna Municipal Corporation.
The far greater challenge is the way in which the Bihar government has used the cover of the lockdown and the pandemic to systematically evict hundreds of ‘squatters’ from their living units, to get on with the ‘development’ and ‘beautification’ of the proposed ‘smart city’ of Patna.
In mid-June, even as heavy rain lashed the city, some fifty women, children and old people watched helplessly as the administration razed their shanties. Sister Dorothy was at ground zero with a couple of her team members, trying to negotiate.
“The main problem that I face working with these communities is the callousness and insensitivity of the government and the administration. Bihar is riddled with class and class divisions, and the poor are not considered worth looking after,” she observes.
It’s a relentless campaign and an endless journey.
“Many interventions of personal meetings with the Chief Minister, the principal secretary of the Urban and Housing department, the Chief Secretary, the Patna Municipal commissioner. We have tried to raise the issue of housing and livelihood. Unfortunately, what we receive are mere assurances. Yet, like Jesus and like Nano Nagle, I do not give up,” she says with a smile.
The nun closely works with her team of lay people.
“I have a band of very committed young people from Bihar belonging to all faiths. We believe in a secular country and we try to respond to the needs of the people.”
“What inspires me to continue in these difficult times is the cry of the people who are continuously left poor. While my work for advocacy and liaisoning for shelter rights, food rights, and livelihood is the main focus, I draw my inspiration from the person of Jesus, and Venerable Nano Nagle, our foundress, who was at the beck and call of the service of the people thrown on the margins.”
Since 2011, Sister Dorothy is also the Chairperson of the Women’s Commission of Patna Archdiocese.
20 thoughts on “One Nun Army for the Urban Homeless”
All of us are immensely impressed by the way Sr. Doro has been organising a sustained campaign for the poor. She is full of courage and ready to jump in if there is a need to assist the poor.
I am very proud of her courage and availability to serve the helpless…
Congrats dear Dorothy Great indeed is your service. With a promise of prayer
Congratulations dear Dorothy. God bless you in all you do.
My Doro l am proud of you. I am overwhelmed by your passionate love for the marginalised . May Christ light continue to brighten the dark areas of our country as you carry the lantern our founder Venerable Nano Nagle.
Congratulation dear Dorothy. You are courageous like Nano.I am proud of you. May The Lord continue to bless you.
Kudos to U Sr.Dorothy.
I am proud of U being St.Alouysious allumni.
Pray for loads of blessing from Almighty for your noble endeavor.
Congratulations dear Sr Dorothy for taking up such a challenging apostolate and moving forward with courage. You are a true witness of Jesus Christ who has called you to work with and for those who are neglected in the society. May God bless you, your team and your good work.
Congratulations Dorothy.I feel very proud of you. May Jesus and Nano continue to inspire you, and give you strength to carry on the good work. Lisetta.
Congratulations my dearest Doro. May you continue to share God’s love, light and care to the most needy around you. Assuring you of my loving and prayerful support. Take care.
Showers of blessings to you our dear Dorothy.You are a true daughter ofVenerable Nano Nagle our Foundress.
.Thank you and we are proud of you .Sr Roselima
Hello ,the cry of the urban poor are never head by the so called urban councils ,the members of the parliament don’t listen as well to them they want to rub shoulders with the rich so called developers.
Well done , keep standing with the poor and make their voice heard.
Dear Dorothy, May the light of our founder Nano Nagle continue to light your path as you walk with the poor and downtrodden with hope and courage in your heart. Blessings in abundance to you and your team
I am proud to have a sister like you dear Doro.May the Blessings of Christ and Nano Nagle continue to use you to make this world a better place to live.
Love and prayers.
We have always been so proud of Sr.Dorothy.Mau God always be with her on what ever work she does.
Best wishes and loads of happiness.
This marvelous work done by Sr.Dorothy and team needs no applaud or appreciations by we humans but is surely recorded in the heart of the almighty God.
I feel so blessed to be associated with this angel on earth ?
Congratulations dear Sr.Dorothy for you courage to enter the lives of the urban poor & networking with all the possibilities to reach out to the helpers. May the Lord accompany you in your mission ahead
We can only prayer & offer our support to Sister Dorothy & her team od dedicated workers. May God bless & help them to carry on their work for the poorest of the poor in these crucial times.
Doro you are a true witness of the Kindom of God that Jesus calls us to be. It is doing the will of God as Jesus did beginning within you and then going out among the people. You are an apostle sent to bring fulnesd of life to the most deprived. May the Spirit continue to inspire and strengthen you snd your team.
Dear Sr Dorothy ….You are one in a million.we are extremely Proud of u. Not everyone is cut out to do such jobs that u do.
You will be blessed by the Almighty..
These poor people need to cared for and there You are …..You have given your service. God bless you my dear.
After a long time, an article with the FK flavour. Do write more often in the mainstream Press as well.
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