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Pakistan Hospice Center Celebrates 50 Years While Struggling to SurviveImran Shera for Salem-News.com
“To work and live at St. Joseph’s Hospice has become my life, and I am grateful for it,” - Sister Margeret Walsh, from Ireland, the hospice administrator, who came in the 1960s when the hospice was founded.
(RAWALPINDI, Pakistan) - St. Joseph’s Hospice, in Rawalpindi, celebrated its 50th anniversary recently. Pakistan has a population of more than 180 million people, including around five million Christians, a few million Hindus and other religious minorities. The word hospice is Spanish, and it means a place where the sick are treated and cared for as long as it takes, till they recover and can go back into active life in the society. In other cases, the hospice becomes the home for patients who need chronic care and have nowhere else to go.
The Catholic sisters, nurses and doctors, who run the home, have made it a life-long commitment to serve the sick and poor.
Sister Margeret Walsh, from Ireland, is the hospice administrator. She came in the 1960s when the hospice was founded.
“To work and live at St. Joseph’s Hospice has become my life, and I am grateful for it,” says Sister Margaret, or Mairead, as everyone calls her.
Except for some help from the Pakistan government, the hospice relies entirely on voluntary donations.
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Today, the donations are not enough. Everyone lives busy lives, and people may not always have the time to think of the poor. Prices and living costs have gone up for everyone, and fewer people may feel that they have money to spare.
“But we are also impressed by all those who do help us; some of them don’t even have much themselves,” says Bakhtiar Ahmed, a Muslim and a retired bank manager, who is now a volunteer at the hospice, helping with the financial matters.
Dr Ayisha Mustafa is a member of the management committee. She explains that the hospice has begun a major exercise of trying to reorganize the way it works. Like any other good organization, the hospice also focuses on capacity building and sustainability, so that the hospice can ensure steady services in the next 50 years, too.
“It is a privilege to be involved with such a good institution and help it become even better,” she says.
Sister Mairead says that the hospice must modernize, yet, also remember that it is a faith-based institution. “We are here to care for the poorest of all,” she says, “Many patients have nobody else to care for them. Some of the handicapped children and old patients will be with us, as long as they live.”
The hospice has beds for 60 long-term patients, or residents, as they are called, in the male and female wards, plus about ten places in the children’s ward. In addition to that, the hospice receives more than one hundred out-patients in the polyclinic section, daily, where the charges are a symbolic fee of twenty rupees per patient.
Of the long-term patients, half are Christians and half are Muslims; of the day-patients, more than ninety percent, are Muslims, and once in a while we also receive a few Hindus.
“I have worked as a doctor with St. Joseph’s since 1971,” says Tooni Munawar. “I began by a coincidence,” she says. “I was on a maternity leave after my daughter was born, living near the hospice, when I was asked if I would be interested in part-time work.”
“Over the years, I have lived in Gilgit, Quetta, and elsewhere in the country, since my husband was a military man, but I have always kept in contact with the hospice. My husband has now retired, and from 1998, I have been able to work with the hospice on a regular basis,” says Dr Munawar, who is a Muslim herself.
“The atmosphere at the hospice is Christian, but religion is not an issue,” she says. “I also feel that our values are universal; to care for others is as important in Islam as in Christianity.”
“In my work, as a doctor, there is no difference at all between the religions, when it comes to professional duty and work ethics. We are all the same,” says Dr. Munawar.
“Often, people in the west think of Pakistan as a conservative Muslim country. That is sometimes true. But it is not possible to paint the people, and the religious life in Pakistan, with one brush and one colour only,” says Father Rahmat Michael Hakim, at Fatima Church in Islamabad. He is the chairman of the management committee of St. Joseph’s Hospice.
He adds that, at times, there is also a need for greater religious openness and tolerance. “Inter-faith dialogue will help all of us, and I believe young people see this more clearly,” he says.
“I am impressed by the important work done by St. Joseph’s,” says Ahsan-ul-Haq Khan, who lives in the F-8 sector.
“I have dealt with the hospice for decades, especially when I was the country manager of Lufthansa in Islamabad. There are a number of large foreign companies in Pakistan, and I hope that they honour their corporate responsibility and support important institutions like St. Joseph’s,” he says.
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