Discover Yourself

The ‘Exotic’ Maya Spalon – Our Love of India

March 11, 2015

Welcome to the Third Story in my series – “Inspirational People – Not Celebrities – People Like You and I”

Maya SpalonIn this story we meet Anne Cathers. I met Anne when I went to High School in the ‘70s. We lost touch over the years as life took us in different directions. We reconnected through Facebook in the last couple of years. It has been wonderful catching up on each other’s lives since we left school and facebook has provided a great medium for us to renew our schoolgirl friendship.

Anne describes herself as ‘normal’, however that is not how I would describe her. Anne is inspirational to me because she and her husband did what most of us think we would like to do but don’t take that extra step.

They stepped out of their comfort zone and gave up their comfortable lifestyle in Sydney and moved to India to help others achieve their dreams.

I hope you enjoy reading Anne’s story, I found it fascinating as well as inspirational.

Anne writes…..

“My name is Anne and I have the privilege of working with urban poor women in Pune India.

How did I get here you may ask? 

Thirty five years ago my husband and I came to India to work through Australian Volunteers Abroad for two years, this is when our love of India started.

My life has been one where I have had great opportunities, been encouraged, allowed to try new ventures, always had someone believing I could do what I was trying to do in my life.

I grew up in a loving caring Christian family, I have an amazing husband , two fabulous children, a great education, a fulfilling work life as an occupational therapist and more recently as a beauty therapist, travel, wonderful friends, amazing country to live in …..and so it goes on.

My husband and I decided that we have been given so much that we wanted to use what we’d been given to help others who haven’t had opportunities.

Six years ago we returned to work in India. We work as volunteers for IID Community College, a Christian organisation which provides low cost job-oriented courses to the urban poor – my husband as director of two new colleges in Pune and myself teaching Beauty Therapy.

beauty salon in indiaBeauty is huge in India, there are beauty salons on every street, and they range from amazingly lavish to those done on the roadside. Eyebrow shaping and hair oiling top the list of ‘must do’ treatments for women from the rich to the poor.

When I arrived, I wrote a three month beauty therapy course, set it up and taught Beauty Therapy at the college and then trained two ex-students who now teach the course. They are doing a wonderful job. The course provides practical skills training in beauty therapy and we try to find the students jobs in good salons on completion of their course. To recruit students for the course we spend time walking through the slums talking to women about the course, the college and work options.

photoThe life of an urban poor woman is hard. They are a voiceless majority who are expected to be on call 24/7 and have no rights or expectations of life outside their confined male dominated world.

All suffer from poverty and the indignities that it brings, most have suffered physical or mental abuse, some have even been trafficked by family members and suffered unimaginable physical mental and sexual abuse. The women who come to college usually start work from 5am doing the family chores and cooking.

They then walk a fair distance to some middle class houses, usually 6-8 homes, as maids and do a range of work from cleaning, cooking, washing, child minding or anything else they are asked to do. In between these jobs they run into college to learn and run out again to get back to work.

At the end of the day they return home to do their own housework. They work 6 often 7 days and usually get 5-6 hours sleep before their day starts again. These women are amazing, they are motivated, determined, accepting and they have aspirations just like you and me.

What I found when trying to find jobs for the women as they finished their course was that some thrived and loved their new profession but others lasted a few days or weeks and were unable to continue. These women found it too hard to leave the safe caring environment of the college. They were the at risk women who needed more help to make the leap from the past to a new beginning. I started to think and pray about how I could help these women who had sacrificed so much to come to college.

photoThe Salon Project was born in January 2014 when we returned home for a few months. I started to ask friends if they would like to donate money to help me set up a commercial salon in Pune. Generosity from friends, an amazingly patient, hard working husband and a wonderful Indian friend who took the risk and signed all the documents and organised the renovations saw Maya Salon open in December 2014.

The aim of the salon is to provide permanent employment for 6 ex-students from particularly hard backgrounds as well as provide a safe caring environment to assist the more at risk ladies learn how to work in a salon for a few months before a permanent job is nails


Maya Spalon

You can check us out on or on our Facebook page Maya Spalon.

It’s early days yet, we are trying to build a client base in a competitive market, the staff are learning how to adjust to a very different work environment, things that seem logical to me are not logical to my co-workers. I have to try and look through their eyes with my western eyes which is not so easy, “yes” doesn’t always mean “yes” … I’m learning and so are they.

It’s been fun, physically exhausting, emotionally draining, satisfying, frustrating, painful, challenging, taken me way outside my comfort zone, lots more to do, but well worth the journey.


I’ve learnt a women’s potential grows enormously when someone believes in her.”

I hope Anne’s story has inspired you to perhaps try something out of your comfort zone and at the same time help others.

You can read more about the salon at or on our Facebook page MayaSpalon. I’m sure Anne would love to hear from you.  Movie of Maya Spalon

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  • Reply Marilyn Murray March 11, 2015 at 09:29

    Congratulations Anne and to your husband also for changing the lives of the poor women of Pune, by helping them gain satisfying work and showing that someone cares about them.

    • Reply AnnE Cathers March 13, 2015 at 08:10

      Thanks for your kind wishes Marilyn

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