Irish nun honoured for 50 years of helping street children of India

 

AN IRISH nun who has spent 50 years working among India’s poor has been honoured in Carlow for her lifelong commitment to education. Sr Cyril Mooney (72) from Bray, Co Wicklow, runs a number of programmes in Calcutta, which have involved an estimated 450,000 dispossessed children and adults.

She is one of the few foreigners to have received one of India’s highest honours – the Padma Shree – for her service to the country’s poor.

The Friends of Calcutta group organised a This is Your Life tribute last Saturday night. It was attended by more than 200 people, including the Indian ambassador, PS Raghavan, who paid tribute to Sr Mooney’s lifelong dedication to India. Sr Mooney thanked those in Ireland who had been supporting her work from afar for so long.

Friends of Calcutta co-founder Mike Hopkins told the gathering that Sr Cyril was “one in a billion.”

An appearance on Gay Byrne’s radio show in 1983 first brought her campaign to public attention; she is still receiving donations from people who heard that programme.

The nun was aged 20 when she moved to India. She became principal of a Loreto school and encouraged its pupils to engage in outreach work. Girls in the school started teaching regular classes for street children who had dropped out of education. Every child in her school must do this work with street children.

“It is a compulsory programme like maths or any other programme,” she said. “We teach compassion, with hands-on experience, like we teach computers.”

Sr Mooney has also created a system whereby street children who are at risk of abuse at night can sleep at Calcutta’s five Loreto schools. Her Rainbow programme provides shelter, care and education to about 1,000 street girls.

The nun also runs “barefoot” schooling for children in the deep slums who are more difficult to reach.

Informal teachers – paid 1,800 rupees (about €26) a month – instruct classes of up to 50 children “under a tree or on the corner of a veranda or anywhere they can find a bit of space”, she said.

Sr Mooney, who returns to India today, said her dream was that every child, by the age of five, had enough to eat and a proper school to go to.