(Upon reception of the Indo Australian Award, Helen Mahoney OAM made a speech about Mithra Rehabilitation Centre and its future.)

Distinguished guests ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you. This is a bit like winning an Oscar for Best Movie!  Lots of congratulations and commendations and I thank you all.

For me it is a bit like a movie – a bit of a dream – where each scene is a new step for Mithra and those who work and live there.

The movie is one written and produced by Sister Mary Theodore, OAM. The dream is her dream and the conclusion of the movie is ours.

I believe we are within Sister’s dream with what is now progressing at Mithra in the form of new programs, new enrolments, new qualified teachers, dedicated doctors and allied health professionals, and the main actors in this great movie – the angels from heaven – Sisters of the Servite Order.

There are always ‘extras’ to any movie, and this one is no different. They have quietly worked alongside the main cast and keep the movie alive. Some of those ‘extras” are here tonight: Adeline, Monica and Ravi.

Sometimes movies have a number of locations where the scenes take place – and these can be in all parts of the world. This movie is no different. Sister Mary Theodore’s strong and continuing links with – I was going to say homeland – but this is her home and it will always be so.

But the links she held with Australia throughout her 61 years in India have, to this day, remained at the forefront of much that happens at Mithra. She strived to make those links and today we are passionate about not only keeping the connections, but strengthening them too.

Presently we have connected almost a dozen Australian schools to Mithra, brought Principals of nine schools from across Australia to the campus and planted the seeds for many more to make a connection.

Each February a new scene is added to the movie when Mark Krasenstein arrives from Australia’s west coast to tend the gardens, dig bores for water and maintain the buildings. Mark first came when Sister acquired Mithra in the 1970s, and then returned again after sister died – and he told me he saved his money in a sock until he had enough to come across and ‘blitz’ the grounds. Blitz is the only suitable word for what Mark does.

But, as with all blockbuster movies, the movie could never have been produced without funding. Friends of Mithra has reached out to Australians everywhere – both in Australia and overseas – to walk with us – but it is not only Australians who have come to help. Many Indians who have heard of Mithra and the extraordinary work being done there, have come too and shown exceptional generosity.

But no film with Australian content would be complete without mentioning the blockbuster supporter – the Australian Consulate. And the High Commission in India. Such has been the relationship with you that we have been able to build the main school, install much need awnings from the weather, and set in place solar energy over more than half of the campus.

But what will be the next piece of screenplay for the movie?

We need to make provision for those students who were once children, but who have now been at Mithra much of their lives, and are adults.   A new lifeskills program has been introduced to the curriculum and when students “graduate” from lifeskills – what then?

The movie now sets a different pace. It is about to tell us a story that was not written nor produced by Sr Mary Theodore.

It is about finding employment for those students who may be mentally and physically abled enough to do routine, unskilled work; back-of-house type work. This is where I would love to dream that Mithra could partner with a business or organisation here in Chennai.

It is possible, because I have seen it happen in Australia and Indian young adults who are differently abled are no different from Australian young adults who are challenged.

And so the movie attaches a sideline to life-skills and employment – let’s build independent living quarters.   As they say in Australia – “watch this space!”

This is an exciting end to this movie, the title of which is “the best 40 years of Mithra”, and there is a sequel – our next movie will be titled “The Next Best 40 Years Of Mithra”.

To be differently abled is to be truly on the fringe of our society. To some, there is a fear that they will taint our own little worlds. Unconsciously we put differently abled people on the fringe because they are in someway “different” – but we have the power, the ability and if we look hard enough, the opportunity to make them part of our society.

Sometimes it only takes the simplest acts of kindness and respect to show we care, and strangely, this is quite often the hardest thing for us to do for someone who is differently abled.

“In our weekly meetings, we were challenged to start reflecting on our hopes and expectations for our time in  India – a task that was quite hard considering I had no exposure to this foreign land apart from what is depicted in movies and television. To my surprise, once I had arrived, I discovered that some of these depictions were accurate; India’s population density, condensed traffic, poverty levels and the reality that cows in fact do walk down the centre of highways is true! However, the one thing that escapes Hollywood’s portrayal of India and thus my preconceived expectations were the beautiful people that fill this land. Their levels of selflessness, perseverance, and love are the qualities of a person that God would be proud of.”

This was the reflection of a young Australian university student who recently visited India.

What a wonderful story we have! What a great movie it is – a true blockbuster, but it is not finished yet.

Come to Mithra.

Don’t make this the hardest thing you have ever done

“I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

This is the inscription on Sr Mary Theodore’s tomb.

Come strangers and we will welcome you too.

– Helen Mahoney OAM

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