Hope Foundation’s Maureen Forrest attends the canonisation of Mother Teresa, by Charlotte Nagle

I don’t think anyone could have predicted the incredible inspiring outcome that would unfold following a visit by one woman to the poverty stricken countries of Swaziland and Mozambique in 1980.

The remarkable journey of Maureen Forrest began after she witnessed the horrific suffering of the victims during the civil war in Mozambique. There and then, Maureen decided to make a life-long commitment to the poor.

Maureen first volunteered in war-torn Somalia, where she risked her life to volunteer in a centre for 2000 children. Maureen then travelled to Rwanda and volunteered in a centre flooded with refugees from the genocide, and prayed alongside the grim sight of mass graves.

“One of the stories that will always stay with me was when I was in Somalia and a little baby died in my arms for no other reason than us not having access to a bottle to feed it.”
In Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) Maureen had another life-altering experience that would inspire even more change, not only her own life but the lives of tens of thousands of young children and families living in abject poverty on the streets there.

This pivotal point in Maureen’s life arose following a meeting with Mother Teresa, when she was deeply moved by the hopelessness and exploitation of street children there.

Of her many meetings with Mother Teresa, Maureen said that that she was an inspirational woman who did not suffer fools and always spoke of her love for the poor and her sadness at seeing them dying without dignity on the streets.

“You knew, when you were with Mother Teresa that you were in the presence of someone extraordinary; she had an awe inspiring presence”

Following these extraordinary encounters in the early 1990s, Maureen returned to Ireland determined to fundraise for a protection home for girls, and set up The Hope Foundation in 1999. Since then her dedication, passion, drive and commitment has inspired thousands of people all over the world.

The initial goal was to run a home for 25 children and raise €25,000 a year to run it. Today the foundation runs over 60 projects including 12 protection homes and a hospital.
All at Hope continue to be inspired by the works of Mother Teresa and have been working closely with the missionaries of charity through the HOPE healthcare project and hospital, which was set up in 2008 with the help of the Irish Government and Irish Donors.

Maureen sees herself as part of an extended family (herself one of twelve children where she said the caring and sharing starts at home).

She is hugely helped by her sister Jenny Browne. Jenny, a Mercy nun is the HOPE overseas director spending much of her year in Kolkata.

For four months a year, Maureen also works on the ground in Kolkata as a volunteer. The experience of witnessing the very worst of human suffering from the mass graves in Rwanda, to the harrowing daily reality of life for the street children in Kolkata, led Maureen to believe that those living in abject poverty should be loved and embraced as individuals.  

Maureen Forrest turned 70 on September 11th, and her special birthday gift was to attend the canonisation of Mother Teresa on September 4th, at The Vatican.

“Attending the canonisation was just an experience of a lifetime, and one of the most treasured days of my life outside of the births of my children and grandchildren.

“Mother Teresa’s message is a simple one but a global one, one of love and of mercy. You could feel the love all around the Vatican. If more people join us, to help the poorest of the poor, to be a voice for the voiceless, the world will be a better place for us all to live in.

“We are but custodians of our planet, we must hand it over to our children better than we found it.”

Maureen Forrest was born in County Cork and worked for a time with Aer Lingus before settling down on a farm in Mogeely, Co. Cork, with her husband Dick.

“She has three children and six grandchildren. Her passion for the children with whom she works is unwavering.”

If you would like to donate to HOPE, you can do so on www.hopefoundation.ie or through The Hope Foundation office, Silverdale Grove, Ballinlough, Cork.