After 19 years, Holt says goodbye to the executive director of Vathsalya Charitable Trust, Holt’s long-time partner in Bangalore, India.
“If you educate a girl, you educate a generation.”
The world is a better place because of Mary Paul. And it will continue to become better because of her for years into the future. Mary Paul has spent her career in service of others — pouring herself into the children she cared and advocated for, the women she led, the students she taught, the visitors she welcomed with open arms.
The investments Mary Paul has made in the lives of orphaned and vulnerable children will continue to bloom for generations — but especially in the lives of young women and girls. In some version or another, Mary Paul’s most well-known quote has been printed in Holt publications dozens of times — in a magazine story about Holt Christian artist group Newsong’s visit to VCT in 2011, in a 2006 story about breaking ground on VCT’s new building and just this year in a thank you message to child sponsors. “If you educate a girl, you educate a generation,” she has said time and again throughout a career dedicated to empowering women and girls.
Mary Paul began her tenure with Vathsalya Charitable Trust (VCT), Holt’s legacy partner in Bangalore, India, 27 years ago — first serving as executive director of the organization from 1989-1991, and then returning a decade later in 2001. Under her leadership, VCT has cared for orphaned and abandoned children while they wait for adoptive families and has grown and developed their foster care program in partnership with Holt as a more nurturing alternative to institutional care. They also expanded their work in urban and rural communities in and around Bangalore, bringing educational scholarships to girls and creating a special focus on community health and caring for children with profound special needs.
At a time when girls’ education was neither top-of-mind nor well funded, Mary Paul went into local slum communities and talked to parents about the value of keeping their daughters in school. Her advocacy helped delay marriage for many young girls or prevented them from entering the work force early as domestic servants or in other low-paying trades. In 2016, through Holt sponsorship and VCT, more than 1,073 girls attended school on full scholarships at 17 different schools in Bangalore.
From 2005-2014, when adoptions began to decline internationally and India later centralized their child welfare system, many agencies like Vathsalya Charitable Trust closed as orphaned and abandoned children were moved to state-run facilities.
But Mary Paul’s dream to help those in need was already transforming into a new vision.
Several years ago, Mary Paul began to notice an influx of children from migrant families right in her own neighborhood. In the booming metropolis of Bangalore, rapid urbanization has drawn thousands of rural families to migrate to the city in vast numbers. These families often live in temporary camps, usually close to the job sites of high-rise building projects. Many of the children are not enrolled in schools because their stay in any one place may only last a few months.
“We would look around at all the building projects and see kids just laying around,” Mary Paul said of these emerging slum communities.
With adoption no longer a focus of their work, VCT had already begun shifting their resources toward programs aimed at keeping some of India’s most vulnerable and at-risk children and families together. Within these migrant communities, Mary Paul saw an opportunity to serve even more vulnerable children — first opening a daycare in 2014 so children from migrant families wouldn’t be alone during the day. The daycare grew into an informal school, and now a formal school.
In 2016, more than 134 children attend classes each year.
In June 2014, VCT celebrated their 25th anniversary. The event marked a significant milestone in the organization and Mary Paul’s incredible service to children, families, women and girls. For more than two-and-a-half decades, VCT has become a place of hope and refuge for children and families facing incredible hardships. It’s always been a place where those in need are met with open arms. And, it is with great respect to Mary Paul’s tenacity, leadership and dedication that VCT has grown to be a well-respected child welfare leader in India.
Soon, Jessy Job, a social worker with more than 15 years of experience, will take Mary Paul’s place as executive director of VCT. As the current training coordinator for VCT, she has already proven herself to be a visionary leader and compassionate advocate to the children VCT serves. And, like most people who have had the opportunity to learn from Mary Paul, she will continue to invest in women and girls’ education.
From all of us at Holt, and on behalf of all of our adoptive families, adoptees, sponsors and sponsored children, we extend a heartfelt thank you to Mary Paul for being an inspiration to child welfare professionals and people with a heart for children around the world. The time and energy you have invested in children has empowered them to reshape their lives. Truly, your commitment has transformed a generation.
Billie Loewen | Creative Lead