Book: Ruth Pfau by Farhat Jahan

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Rumana Husain

It was a rare opportunity to hear Dr Ruth Pfau talk about her life; her work. She was answering questions put forth to her by well-respected senior journalist Zubeida Mustafa on the occasion of the launch of the book Ruth Pfau at the Children’s Literature Festival held in Karachi.

The book is written in Urdu by Farhat Jahan, and published by Oxford University Press as part of its series known as Roshni kay Minar, which can be translated as minarets of light, but perhaps more appropriately as a light house that directs people in a sea of darkness.

The book begins with a brief foreword by renowned poet Fahmida Riaz who emphasises how a new era begins with new learning and how one candle lights another and can light thousands of other candles. “New eras are always knocking at our doors,” she writes, “it is obligatory that we respect and take pride in those who begin new times; follow in their footsteps to create a better future for mankind”.

The author, Farhat Jahan, has divided this slim biography into eight chapters, each of which is replete with Dr Ruth Pfau’s photographs.

The book traces her life’s journey, as to how she, Ruth Katherina Martha Pfau was born on September 9, 1929 in Leipzig, Germany and how she came to Karachi on 8 March 1960 at the behest of Daughters of the Heart of Mary (the DHM was founded in France in 1790 during the period of turmoil of the French Revolution). A DHM group was headed for social work to India and Ruth was advised to acquire a visa for India from Karachi, hence she travelled to Pakistan.

However, it seemed that fate had other plans for her. On a visit to the leprosy patients’ colony on McLeod Road in Karachi (now known as the I I Chundrigar Road), she was deeply disturbed by the plight of the patients there. She recalls that leprosy patients were living amidst open sewers and the area was heavily infested with rats that gnawed on the lepers’ numb limbs without their realising what was happening. Those moments spent there defined for her and for her friend from the same Catholic order that instead of moving on to India they should remain in Pakistan as health workers. Personal prayer and the sacramental life have an important place in the life of a DHM.

A key decision was therefore made. There was no looking back. The leprosy centre built by Dr Pfau is named as the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre in Saddar, Karachi, after Marie Adleide, one of the founders of the congregation. The hospital has treated over 50,000 families since its inception. Dr Pfau is the driving force behind the hospital. On page 17 of the book there is boxed information about leprosy, which is a good addition.

According to a World Health Organization report, by 1996 leprosy — the widely feared disease, which has tormented entire civilisations throughout recorded history,— was almost rooted out from Pakistan.

Dr Pfau has been called the Mother Teresa of Pakistan, as not only is she the terminator of leprosy but she is also at the forefront for relief work every time a disaster has struck the country. Whether it was the drought in Balochistan in 2000 or the earthquake in Kashmir in 2005 or the devastating floods in 2010, she was there each time, extending a helping hand to the victims.

In recognition of her services to the country, Dr Ruth Pfau was awarded Pakistani citizenship in 1988. She has received several awards and medals. Sister Ruth Pfau was the recipient of civilian awards including Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Azam, Hilal-e-Imtiaz, Hilal-e-Pakistan, Jinnah Award, Doctor of Science, Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam and the prestigious international award from Malaysia, the Ramon Magsaysay Award.

Dr Pfau has kept a low profile and worked selflessly in the country for over half a century, and at age 86 she is still active in the field, but her name and her story may not be a popular one, known to all. Therefore although this series is recommended for students of classes 6, 7 and 8, it should be read by all age groups.

Title: Ruth Pfau
Author: Farhat Jahan
Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2015
Pages: 60
Price: Rs 150

Rumana Husain, “Like a lighthouse,” in The News, April 26, 2015. Accessed on April 26, 2015, at:

The item above written by Rumana Husain and published in The News on April 26, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on April 26, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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