28 August 2023
By Tom Collins
Maureen Forrest of the HOPE Foundation has been named Cork Person of the Month. Maureen recently stepped back after 24 years from day to day Hope operations, but continues to work with the organisation as Founding President.
Maureen is best known for establishing the HOPE Foundation in 1999. The Hope Foundation is a registered charity that works with street children in Kolkata, India. The HOPE Foundation’s mission is to improve the lives of the most marginalised street and slum connected children and communities, primarily in India. Ensuring their basic rights and enhancing their dignity of life, through protection, health, education and economic development in a sustainable life cycle approach.
During her work with the charity, Maureen built great relationships with schools across Cork and this has enabled thousands of schoolchildren from Cork to travel to India, volunteering with HOPE Foundation. While the voluntary work done by Cork students helps the people of Kolkata, Maureen argues that it also helps Cork by ensuring our young people are aware of the positive social impact of volunteering.
The remarkable humanitarian 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 and marginalised of our world.
Maureen first volunteered in war-torn Somalia where she risked her life to volunteer in a centre for 2000 children. During the early 90s, she travelled to Rwanda and volunteered in a centre flooded with refugees from the genocide and prayed alongside the grim sight of mass graves. Following more extraordinary encounters with street children in the early 90s in Kolkata, Maureen returned to Ireland to set up The HOPE Foundation in 1999 and has remained an integral & active part of the organisation, spending several months a year overseeing the work on the ground in Kolkata.
Thousands of people, all over the world have united to fundraise for HOPE’s projects and thousands have visited the projects in Kolkata, including up to four hundred Irish Transition Year students annually. The initial goal was to run a residential childcare centre for 25 street children and raise €25,000 a year to run the centre. Today the foundation is celebrated for running 60 projects including 10 Residential Childcare Centres, a life skills training centre and restaurant, and a hospital.
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 respected and embraced as individuals. It is this exceptional outlook and unconditional positive regard for humanity which has been instrumental in influencing others to join HOPE’s mission to lead us towards a world where it should never hurt to be a child.
“I never regard The HOPE Foundation as a charity but as an organisation that invests in the sustainability of human life, affording people with necessary skills and an opportunity to become self-sufficient. Today a quarter of a million street children try to survive in Kolkata against all odds, in squalor, shifting through mountains of refuse in rubbish dumps in order to survive. We cannot forget them, even during our own difficult times, as Ralph Emerson put it, to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded”, said Maureen.
Maureen was born in County Cork. She has been living here for most of her life, settling down on a farm in Mogeely, with her late husband Dick. She has three children and 8 grandchildren.
‘Maureen has spent decades working to better the lives of some of the most impoverished children in India. She is an inspiration to the people of Cork and a shining example of what it means to be a global citizen’, said awards organiser Manus O’Callaghan.
The HOPE Foundation is set to celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2024.
Maureen’s name now goes forward, with the other Cork Persons of the Month selected this year, for possible selection as Cork Person of the Year at a Gala Awards Lunch to be held at The Metropole Hotel in Cork’s City Centre on January 26th next, 2024.