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Indian nun gets results in work with migrants, domestic workers

The result came after six months of lobbying the Iranian government, but it was worth the trouble, Sister Valarmathi said. “I could bring happiness to many people at last.”

Making others happy was what attracted her to Jesus, whom she first learned about when she studied in a Catholic high school in Tamil Nadu.

“I was so much attracted by the spirit of Christian love, charity and service to people. I wanted to become Christian and a sister to serve people and experience the living Christ in them,” she said.

She overcame stiff opposition from her Hindu family to become a Christian in 1990. After nine years, she joined the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters. Later, she studied for a bachelor's degree in commerce and master’s in social work.

Since 2003, she has handled scores of migrant worker cases.

One involved Shanti Mary, a 52-year-old woman who worked in Saudi Arabia. The trained English teacher paid about $1,500 to a recruitment agent for a job in Kuwait. The agent, however, sent her to Saudi Arabia. In Riyadh, the Saudi capital, the agent’s people took her to a house. Only then did she realize she was employed as a maid. She wanted to leave but could not.

She then remembered a phone number that an immigration official in Tamil Nadu gave her to call in case she faced problems in her new country. It was Sister Valarmathi’s number. After Mary explained her predicament, Sister Valarmathi quickly contacted an agent in Riyadh and organized Mary’s return ticket. Within a week, Mary flew back home.

Mary described Sister Valarmathi as a “Godsend savior,” calling her “genuine, humane and committed.”

Sister Valarmathi made Chennai her base in 2006, when she began her efforts for domestic workers in Tamil Nadu. Currently, she coordinates the Tamil Nadu branch of the National Domestic Workers’ Movement founded by Belgium-born Immaculate Heart Sister Jeanne Devos in 1985 in Mumbai.

The movement fights for just wages and humane working conditions for domestic workers and supports them through education, capacity-building and campaigning.

The movement’s Tamil Nadu unit is registered as a trade union and now has some 3,000 paid members. It holds monthly meetings to educate the members about the basic rights, duties and responsibilities of a domestic worker.

Sister Valarmathi also works with the Child Rights Movement, a national subsidiary of the domestic workers movement. Although India has banned child labor, thousands of children are seen working in restaurants, workshops and factories in Tamil Nadu, neighboring Kerala state, and other parts of India.

The movement targets former and potential child domestic workers and children of domestic workers. It serves as a platform for children to develop their potential and capacities to become change agents in society, the nun explained.

Sister Valarmathi says her faith in Jesus gives her the strength to work for others.

“I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me,” she says.

She believes in the maxim that “God has a plan, trust it, live it, enjoy it.”

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