Catholic nuns venture out into prostitution areas to serve the vulnerable. It’s a challenge undertaken by the sisters of Congregation of Holy Family of Nazareth (SFN) in the Indian coastal state of Goa.
The nuns opened “Asha Sadan” (a ray of hope) to instill hope and empower Commercial Sex Workers (CSW) with life skills to live with dignity and create better alternatives for their children.
“It’s an opportunity. But it is a challenge with risk to life to eradicate the flesh trade or to rehabilitate the commercial sex workers (CSW) at Baina, Goa – known as Red Light area,” says Sister Lourencia Marques.
Sister Lourencia Marques and companion, Sister Roena Matos, began the path-breaking mission to bring a ray of hope in the hopeless, dejected and vulnerable on June 1, 1992.
Fr. Faustino De Souza Social Service Centre, commonly known as Asha Sadan, is run by the indigenous congregation of the Sisters of Holy Family of Nazareth founded by late Father Faustino De Souza in 1935.
“It was the road less travelled, a journey to pave the way into the hutments of the dirty, muddy, filthy area in disguise,” Sister Marques recalls. The nuns were deeply moved to witness the plight of the CSWs. Nowadays, the nuns can enter the area with their religious attire.
Sister Roena Matos acknowledges that “it was only through a door to door visiting that we noticed that the women were not just busy cooking, but they were busy with flesh trade.”
“We were not easily welcomed in their small huts, sometimes in the presence of their customers, as they considered us as a threat to their business,” Sister Matos said.
The nuns released that deception led the vulnerable in a death-like situation. Besides a mental ordeal, the women could not think of returning to their homes.
“Our hearts moved with compassion and the love of God urged us to take up the cross, come what may and walk through the troubled waters,” Sister Marques says.
When Sister Marques started the ministry, she was a fresh graduate with a Bachelor in Social Work (BSW). Sister Jeya Kodi, with a Masters in Social Work (MSW), was one among the nuns who joined Sister Marques in the apostolate.
Sister Kodi says, “Asha Sadan works to eradicate the flesh trade, poverty, marginalization, ill-treatment by husbands and in-laws, build up family relationships and educate the people regarding the evils of kidnapping, child trafficking and other superstitions, idolatry and cult worship which enslave people.”
The nuns admit that activities like rehabilitation, non-formal education, and counselling bring them a sense of joy as they serve the vulnerable. The nuns assist CSWs in availing government schemes. In addition, the congregation support free tuitions, enrolling CSWs children in boarding schools and conducting HIV/AIDS tests.
Asha Sadan has received several awards for the challenging works; most notable is the National Award for Child Welfare in 1996 at the hands of Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, the then President of India and Goa Sundarop Community Development in the USA. The Rotary club “Motibhai Doshi Foundation” in Kholapur awarded Sr. Lourencia for the yeomen services in literacy promotion.
Sister Marques vows to continue to fulfill the dream of the founder Fr. Faustino De Souza to reach out to the downtrodden– those living on the peripheries of society.
Sister Marques says, “I feel humbled to see my children as many have been employed, settled, doing business while some are pursuing their education in different faculties like hotel management, nursing, teaching, etc. They are freed from the tags of rag-pickers, street children, robbers to dignified citizens.”
Even the pandemic didn’t deter the spirit of Sister Marques and her new companion, Sr Jeryssa Pereira. The nuns dared to venture out distribution essentials to the needy families. The sisters kept their centres open for tailoring classes with the support of benefactors. The nuns also run online courses to create engagement with the unfortunate ones.
During the pandemic, the nuns settled three orphans with the sacrament of matrimony with a sense of honour. Many children of the CSWs had become independent, working as teachers and nurses, and some in different countries.
“We were helped and now it is our turn to reach out,” says Mary, a beneficiary of Asha Sadan.
“We owe a lot to the Sisters who brought us up with dignity and respect. Asha Sadan is radically a house of hope for women, children, boys and girls like me. I am happy and grateful to God."
Sister Molly Fernandes is the member of the congregation of Holy Family of Nazareth (SFN).
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