Mother of 14, Mala Joseph, rises at 4 am every day and cooks breakfast and lunch for her family and homeless people she took in, does the laundry, tidies up the kitchen and heads off to her job taking care of an elderly person.
Around five she’s back home and preparing dinner for the family again and washing the school uniforms of the younger children and grandchildren. Married at age 17, Joseph’s children are between the ages of 13 and 33. Ten are still at home with her and the families of some of them.
As if she did not have enough to deal with, wherever Joseph, 50, sees a homeless family, she rescues the members and brings them home. Single mom, Reshma Juman, 25, and her four children, between ages one and seven, were sleeping in the pavilion in the village of Chandanagore where Joseph lives. She took them in.
Juman fled an abusive home in Diego Martin with her children and slept in the pavilion at nights and wandered the streets of Chaguanas in the day. She’s now a happy part of Joseph’s family and “has equal rights as everybody else,” Joseph said.
Joseph feeds, counsels and comforts the homeless she brings home and never lets them leave until they are healed. She continually assists the needy wherever she sees them with her own earnings and by “demanding” money from each of her working children. “I don’t ask. I demand a $20 from each and tell them they have to help the less fortunate,” she says.
Joseph is not rich. She once planted rice in Chandanagore for a living, did domestic work, sewed in a garment factory, worked as a sales clerk in a jewelry shop and even has her “papers in woodwork”.
“Up to now I never had a food card or a Government grant. I am not into handouts. I am a parent and must provide for my children,” she explains.
Her compassion for the less fortunate came about because of her own tragic childhood.
“Whenever I look at Reshma, I remember my own childhood,” she said.
Revealing her sad past, Joseph said when she was eight years old she was mother and father to her three younger siblings in a home of alcoholism and poverty. She was also abused by relatives.
She and her siblings ended up on the streets for several weeks when their house was blown down during Hurricane Alma in 1974 and her mother got injured and was hospitalised.
“On evenings after we came from school, I would walk from house-to-house in the neighbourhood with my siblings, holding their uniforms over my arm and begging people to let us stay by them for the night.”
She said her mother was often hospitalised from beatings their father gave her. Joseph said when she was around 12 she begged Jesus to take her out of that life and sought solace in churches in her village.
At 17 she was married off to a man she loved and for the first 15 years lived happily.
Her marriage is now on the rocks. Joseph said problems began to creep in when she committed herself fully to the church at age 28. She stayed with her faith, choosing instead to endure years of marital unhappiness which almost broke her mentally and drove her to attempt suicide several times.
“I stayed with the marriage for my children. I didn’t want anybody to abuse them. I wanted to be around to make sure no one interfered with them,” she said. She said she had all 14 children because she did not believe in abortion.
Joseph became involved in community activities and was a founding member of a women’s group in the village. She empowered herself by taking every course she could in the community centre. She cooks, for free, at weddings and other events and offers to decorate venues with no charge.
“I think God has me where I am. Only He could have brought me out of where I was.”