Dr. Ruth Pfau – Transformed countless miserable lives

Salman Siddiqui

Let your light shine as an inspiration to humanity and BE THE REASON someone believes in the goodness of people”. ? Germany Kent.
I wonder how CHANGE of an aircraft can craft to CHANGE the fate of countless needy people. Nobodyever knew what nature had in store, both for Pakistan and for this 31 year oldbeautiful German missionary lady; heading to India on a medical mission, having a routine stopover in Karachi, needed to CHANGE planes. But instead of CHANGING the planes, some plans did CHANGE as there was a delay in obtaining Indian visa and this lady wished to utilize this time by seeing the leprosy patients in Karachi. She was taken to Lepers’ Colony near the then McLeod Road, today’s I. I. Chundrigar Road, behind City Railway Station. This visitimmensely touched her heart and she instantlyCHANGED her mind to continue her scheduled travel to India and decided to dedicaterest of her life in treating and caring patients suffering from leprosy,in a little hut. Leprosy being considered as a highly contagious diseaseleft these patients as either abandoned by their families or locked in small rooms for lifetime. Over five decades of her matchless services to humanity, she certainly proved that she was a person who knew no limits, be them cultural, linguistic or religious, through her selfless services for the needy that approached her from any quarter.
She was none other but Dr. Ruth Katherina Martha Pfau, born on September 9, 1929 inLeipzig, Germany. Her home was destroyed during Second World War due to bombing. She moved to West Germany with her family and studied medicineat University of Mainz. During this period Dr. Pfau was highly impressed by a Dutch lady who was a camp survivor and had dedicated her life to “preaching love and forgiveness”. After completing her clinical examination, Dr. Pfau moved to Marburg to carry on her clinical studies.
It might look easier to say, but indeed it’s a herculean ask to convince yourself to spend your life in a country that is far less developed than yours, has a lesser infrastructure,far lesser literacy rate, has a language that you don’t have a clue of, where majority practices a religion that’s not yours, more so when you are in your prime age of early 30’s and when whole world is open in front of you.I have a firmbelief thateven most of the daring men will not step on such a decision rather than a young lady, not only taking it swiftly but proving her decision absolutely right through a dedicated life merely spent in serving the needy ones.
Such was the strength of traits of her character and her burning passion to serve the humanity that prompted me to say that, “She came, she stayed and she won million hearts”.If one has to encapsulatethe enduring services of Dr. Pfau for the humanity, in short space of this document, I must say it would be a real challenge, as it would need countless pages to do so. To be precise, founding an empire in shape of Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre (MALC) and later expanding it for patients suffering from blindness and tuberculosis, embarking on social work and rehabilitation program for the leprosy patients and their family members, collecting donations in Germany and Pakistan and cooperating with hospitals in Karachi and Rawalpindi, are just a few highlights.
Even at her elderly age, she had a long practice of travelling to distant and remote areas of Pakistan where there were no medical facilities for leprosy patients. Her untiring effortseventually resulted in establishing 157 leprosy clinics across Pakistan, benefitting over 60,000 people.It was only due to dedicated efforts of Dr. Pfau that World Health Organization declared Pakistanas one of the first countries in Asia to have controlled leprosy in 1996 as number of leprosy cases had dropped significantly in the country. Such was her deep love with this country of ours that once she said, “If I were to be reincarnated, I would like to be in Pakistan again.”
It was only due to her loving person that under its CSR Initiatives, my organization Sui Southern Gas Company started collaborating with MALC in the year 2005, an association that now proudly spans over 15 years, supporting MALC’s two medical centers, one each in Mirpurkhas and in Gwadar. I often recall with great fondness, all those instances when I got the opportunity to meet this celebrated human being, at SSGC, at MALC and in the social events projecting any healthcare cause. As a firm believer that sports bring people closer, she once wished to stage series of cricket matches between MALC and SSGC that were duly played under a great level of sportsman spirit. For me, her most noticeable memory always remained her smile that used to decorate her graceful face. The only common gist of our conservations remained her wish to love the humans, to care for their problems and to never leave them in despair, especially if you are in a position to facilitate them.
As a responsible state, Pakistan never failed to recognize the laborious efforts of Dr. Pfau and duly honored by decorating her with distinctive medals such as Hilal-e-Pakistan, Hilal-e-Imtiaz, Nishane-Quaid-e-Azam and Sitarae-Quaid-e-Azam. In 1979 Dr. Pfau was appointed as Federal Advisor on Leprosy to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Government of Pakistanand in recognition of her remarkable service to the country, she was conferred with citizenship of Pakistanin 1988.
After her demise, the thenPresident of Pakistan Mr. Mamnoon Hussain stated that “Dr.Pfau’s services to end leprosy in Pakistan can never be forgotten. She left her homeland and made Pakistan her new home to serve the humanity. Pakistani nation salutes Dr. Pfau and her great tradition to serve humanity shall continue”.The then Prime Minister Mr. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said, “Dr. Ruth Pfau may have been born in Germany, but her heart was always in Pakistan. She came here at the dawn of a young nation looking to make lives better for those afflicted by disease and in doing so, found herself a home. We will remember her for her courage, her loyalty, her service to eradicate leprosy and most of all for her patriotism”.
Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Bajwa referred Dr. Pfau as an “Ambassador of humanity” whereasthe then Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Amaan named a medical collegethat was being built at a Karachi airbase at that time in her name.Chief Minister of Sindh, Syed Murad Ali Shah paying rich tributes to Dr. Pfau renamed of Karachi’s Civil Hospital Karachi to Dr. Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital as an acknowledgment of “Selfless services of the late social servant”.After the founder of nation, Quaid-e-Azam and the legendary Abdul Sattar Edhi, Dr. Ruth Pfau is only the third civilian to have received a state funeral that she truly deserved. She also remains till date as the first non-Muslim and first woman to be honored with a state funeral.To record its homage for this exemplary individual, Pakistan Mint issued 50,000 commemorative coins worth Rs. 50/-each,whereas Pakistan Post issued a memorial postage stamp of Rs. 8/-.
In 2015, Dr. Pfau was conferred with Staufer Medal, the highest award of the German state of Baden-Württemberg whereas in 2019, Google honoured her with a Google Doodle of her treating a patient. She also was awarded Germany’s Order of Merit in 1969. Dr. Ruth Pfau wrote four books in German language about her work in Pakistan, including “To Light a Candle”, which has been translated in English.”Not all of us can prevent a war; but most of us can help ease sufferings, of the body and the soul”, said the legendary Dr. Ruth Pfau.
On August 10, 2017, Dr. Pfau bid a farewell to this materialistic world after suffering from respiratory problems. As her condition worsened, she was advised by doctors to be put on a ventilator,but she refused this life support as she wished for “living a natural life”.She commanded high respect from all, especially Muslims who remained the majority of her patients and were there in large numbers to say good bye to her on her last journey.
I will always live with the unforgettable memories of the state funeral that was duly accorded toDr. Pfau at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral under high security alert.Despite of these security checks, I somehow sneaked my way to pay my last respects to this distinguished servant of mankind. I saw ournational flagalong withVatican City’s flag, flying at half mast. Arch Bishop Joseph Coutts presided over the requiem with Pakistani flag draped over her coffin. I had felt a high level of grief and respect from everyone, present there as a19-gun salute was offered by all 3 wings of the our armed forces, as she was laid to rest at Gora Qabrustancemetery with many a notables in attendance. All these ceremonies were broadcasted LIVE on the television.
I relieved her memories when along with my senior I was invited to witness her personal small residence, right in the heart of MALC that has been converted into a museum, showcasing her personal belongings, reflecting her love for the humanity.
Likes of Dr. Ruth Pfau are rare in this materialistic world, as she not only lived for the happiness of needy ones but also lead a highly simple life, demanding no protocols and recognitions. In the 55 years of her distinctive services for the lesser privileged ones in Pakistan, Dr. Ruth Pfau not only touched countless hearts but continues to live in them.Our nation owes a lot to Dr. Pfau that needs to be repaid. If one has to pay truly deserving tribute to this ardent servant of humanity, then it is too simple. Keep following her legacy, by loving fellow humans and by helping the needy ones.If you really love and respect Dr. Pfau, then do try to facilitate her creationthat was too close to her heart, MALC, serving countless needy patients across the country. The show must go ON through your generous contributions and MALC shall not be deprived of your kind attention, the unfortunate way Edhi Foundation suffered, after the demise of legendary Abdul Sattar Edhi saheb.
No one stays here forever, but yes selfless legendary servants of humanity who have passed away, such asAbdul Sattar Edhi, Sister Gertrude Lemmens, Sister Ruth Lewis and Dr. Ruth Pfau, will certainly remain immortal through their kind deeds and history will always share their name in golden words with great respect.
— Relishing my fond memories of legendary Dr. Ruth Pfau, — Salman A. Siddiqui

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