By Laura Lynott
AN Irish charity founder inspired by Saint Teresa – has welcomed the new regulation system introduced earlier this week – to stamp out charity fraud, after attending the canonisation of her heroine in Rome.
Maureen Forrest – who has turned 70 on September 11 – founded the Hope Foundation in 1999 and made an oath not to take a salary from that day forward, as she helped rescue abused and abandoned children from the slums of Kolkata, India.
Maureen, from Mogeely, west Cork, enjoyed a “treasured day” at the canonisation of Mother Teresa in the Vatican on Sunday – this was a woman she had met several times before the saint passed away in 1997.
And today she says she supports the new powers to enable the Charities Regulator to investigate financial mismanagement in charities.
“People are angry and rightly so,” Maureen said. “It has been a total abuse of the generosity of the people of Ireland,” she added, referring to recent scandals in the Irish charity sector.
“At the end of the day the ones who will suffer as a result of this fallout are the most vulnerable in our society – those who need us most. These are the children, the homeless, the old, the sick, people affected by suicide and the most underprivileged in our society.
“In our case, the street and slum children of Kolkata who are the forgotten children of the world.”
Maureen, who started out in aid work during the civil war in Mozambique, went on to help charity, Goal during a period of genocide in Rwanda and Somalia.
She witnessed the horrific suffering of the victims of war and suffering and from then on made a commitment to help the poor, going on to risk her life working in a centre for children in 2000, as war raged in Somalia.
But perhaps Maureen’s view of how the Irish charity sector should be was born from her seeing the very worst humanity has to offer and the very best, in her heroine St Teresa – canonised by Pope Francis on Sunday.
“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,” Maureen said from Rome.
“For me, it really brought sainthood to life because I had met Mother Teresa several times in person. It was a privilege to meet so many people who she had inspired and continues to inspire to reach out to those in need.
“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 on Sunday.
“If more people join the mission 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.”
Maureen’s world view is a simple one – that the Irish, along with everyone across the world, are “custodians of our planet.”
“We must hand it over to our children better than we found it. The work of St Teresa of Calcutta embodies a global message of love for all humanity. ”
But even a woman inspired by holiness – though without doubt Mother Teresa did live through scandals, including the fact she took charity money without caring where it came from, has to admit she understands the “anger” of the Irish public after the a number of scandals have hit the Irish charity sector in recent years.
In July, a criminal investigation was opened in to the dealings of the suicide support charity, Console. And last month, a number of leading children’s charities admitted they feared the scandal would hit public confidence in the sector once again.
Maureen said: “It will take time to heal and to regain the trust of the public and this will only be done by adhering to the utmost good governance, transparency and full compliance with the regulations of the Charities Act.
“We welcome any rules to implement the regulation of the charity sector. It is important and necessary. We are compliant with the Governance Code and with the Statement of Guiding Principles for Fundraising and our audited accounts over the past number of years are available to the public on our website.”
However, Maureen doesn’t feel any public backlash has affected Hope and she is confident people will go on to support the charity.
Hope was “fortunate” to weather the crash thanks to the commitments of staff working on projects to help children most in need.
The charity now helped more than 400 transition year students from Ireland travel to Kolkata last year.
She said it was important that young Irish people got the chance to see on the ground where the funding of the Irish public went to help poor children and their families.
And perhaps the fact that she says she doesn’t put value on wealth herself, is one of Maureen’s motivations to help those in need.
“It’s true that I don’t take a salary from the organisation but this was a choice that I made when The Hope Foundation was set up back in 1999. I was in the fortunate position that my family had been almost reared and did not have the burden of a mortgage.
“I’m extremely lucky and grateful for the fantastic support of my husband, Dick, who has supported me over the years. All of us have been given talents and we have a choice on how we use them, I chose this life. But I do agree that people working in the charity sector should get fair salaries.
“Most of these young people are driven by a passion for their work but they also have families and mortgages and are entitled to a fair wage in order to live.
“I also believe that the sector needs really qualified employees to ensure that money is spent effectively, efficiently and is being maximised for the benefit of its intended recipients.”