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Nearly all of the disabled here require assistance to dress, bathe and eat. Doctors make regular visits, yet for most of the patients there is little hope for permanent improvement.

But a few, like 5-year-old Manikandan, may not need such close attention for long. “I want to go to school and learn, and I am sure that the sisters will send me,” he said. Though he has minor physical disabilities, Manikandan is one of the few residents who can speak cogently. But for now, he prefers to stay at Anugraha Sadan.

“I don’t want to go home because this place is very nice to me. I have friends and food; I sing songs and watch television.”

The accommodations are clean but sparse. Beds are the only furniture, and there is a single television. The sisters are used to the simplicity — they take vows of poverty. But for the lay staff, the demands of the job can be daunting.

“When I first came here, I cried and didn’t want to do all that was required to help these children out,” said Sreeja, a young assistant. “But after two days, I jumped in. And getting love from these children is now the joy of my life.”

There are several other Nirmala Dasi houses nearby, including the motherhouse. In the nearby village of Edakalathur, a Nirmala Dasi home serves both the impoverished elderly and, like Anugraha Sadan, mentally and physically disabled children. At yet another house in the area, the Pope Paul Mercy Home, sisters tend to the mentally disabled and people with H.I.V. and AIDS.

“We are badly in need of more space to accommodate more patients,” said Sister Mercy Thattil, Mother General of the Nirmala Dasi Sisters.

While most of the society’s houses are in Kerala, the Nirmala Dasi Sisters operate throughout India. They also have opened houses in Kenya and Hungary.

“We are getting invitations to open houses in Germany, Italy and other European countries,” Msgr. Vilangadan said.

“But our congregation of sisters is devoted to the poorest and neediest of peoples. We prefer working in underdeveloped countries.”

In India, he said, much work remains to be done.

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A photojournalist, Mercy Sister Christian Molidor is special assistant to CNEWA’s secretary general. Jomi Thomas is a staff writer for CNEWA’s Ernakulam office.

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Tags: Children Sisters Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Disabilities