• Germany's news in English

'German Mother Theresa' saves lives in Pakistan

The Local · 25 Dec 2010, 10:52

Published: 25 Dec 2010 10:52 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Every morning Ruth Pfau stands short and frail before a tall crucifix in Karachi's St Patrick's Cathedral. She bows her head, shuts her eyes, places her right hand on her heart and prays.

It is the beginning of another long day for the 81-year-old nun known locally as Pakistan's Mother Teresa, who has spent half a century caring for some of the country's poorest and most ostracised people.

Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, where Washington says Al-Qaeda is based. Its northwest mountains border Afghanistan and are subject to US drone strikes and Pakistani military operations.

Bombings have killed 4,000 people in three years, kidnappings are common, Islamist groups violently opposed to all but their extremist interpretation of Islam control significant territory.

Sister Pfau, who needs a stick to walk, admits some disquiet over security, but says nothing would stop her serving people in distress. "I find no difficulties even in the northwestern tribal areas, where most people know me because of my work and never create any hurdle when I go there to serve them," she said, adjusting her white scarf on her silver-hair.

It was after the horrors of World War II in her native Germany that she decided to dedicate her life to serving humanity, become a doctor and join the Daughters of the Heart of Mary order, founded during the French Revolution.

Not required to take the veil or live in seclusion, she ended up in Pakistan by chance. En route to work in India, visa complications forced her to break the journey in Karachi, where she visited a lepers' colony.

That was 1960 and the rest is history. The sub-human misery of what she saw persuaded her to stay in Pakistan to help the cause of leprosy. The living conditions were appalling. The gutters were overflowing and sewer rats feasted on limbs of patients unable to feel the rat bites.

"I felt saddened when I saw people living in caves, crawling like animals. They had compromised with their fate, but it was not their fate, they deserved a much better and happier life," she said.

Sister Pfau's makeshift clinic soon became a two-storey hospital, then the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre with branches across Pakistan. She trained doctors and treated thousands of victims. Her dedication inspired an otherwise hesitant government to establish in 1968 a national programme to bring leprosy under control.

Half a century ago, there were leper colonies across the country but now the programme puts the incidence of the disease at 0.27 people out of 10,000, meeting benchmarks from the World Health Organisation.

At times of natural disaster Sister Pfau was there: Drought in Baluchistan in the southwest in 2000, the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir and this year's floods, the country's worst natural disaster that affected 21 million people.

In Sindh, where more than a million people were affected by the floods, she targets areas mainly populated by Hindus, one of Pakistan's clutch of religious minorities largely neglected by the government and Islamic charities.

She is a frequent visitor to flood-affected areas, largely bone-crunching drives from Karachi, which seem to tire her team more than her. "She still has amazing stamina. She is an amazing person," said Venu Gopal, coordinator of Sister Pfau's charity.

Born in Leipzig, she was just 17 years old when she headed for the border to cross from East into West Germany, braving Soviet soldiers who were ordered to shoot on sight.

She walked two days and nights before she was spotted by a Russian and a German soldier. "The German soldier told the Russian he would deposit me at the detention camp and walked with me a few paces ahead. Then, pointing in one direction, he whispered: 'There lies the West'."

Now, in places like the remote village of Begna in flood-hit Sindh's Thatta district, people look upon the elderly German nun as a mother. "We've lost everything, but Amma (mother) is helping us and we hope to be on our feet soon," said snake-charmer Sanwal Jogi.

Story continues below…

"Thanks to her, I managed to replant some oilseeds and mustard, nobody else apart from her and her team comes down here," said farmer Kaser Hero.

She has provided them with shelter, helped them rebuild their houses, gives them seeds and money to help them cultivate the land again.

"It is not just leprosy. We're doing our share in healing partial blindness and tuberculosis and helping people stricken by disasters. Dr. Pfau commands respect in the West and gets funds for all this," Gopal said.

"One should not compare one great legend with another, but we rightly call her Mother Teresa as she is serving people with the same empathy, dedication and love as Mother Teresa did in India," said Sindh health minister Saghir Ahmed.


The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

12:10 December 25, 2010 by Kanji
Remarkable and hope nobody got jealous and destroy what she's doing to help the needy.
13:15 December 25, 2010 by onemark
Beside this woman, Mother Teresa's work pales into insignificance.
14:44 December 25, 2010 by tallady
onemark,,why discount the great deeds done by mother Teresa"s work in Calcutta,

This lady is also a saint and devotes her life to people that need help..They are both shinning stars in my opinion ......
15:33 December 25, 2010 by KamiZ
I'm from Pakistan and I saw her working with the earthquake survivors once when I was volunteering at a Pakistan Air Force run supply center. She's a legendary human being but I'm surprised so less people in even Pakistan know of her and her work. Another great person helping humanity in Pakistan is Abdul Sattar Edhi. I don't know if anyone has heard of him here or not but he's very well known in my country.

It's people like these who give hope to humanity and fill in us the desire to help others in need just because they are human too.
15:36 December 25, 2010 by look4sheikh
God bless her! What a wonderful person she is.
20:24 December 25, 2010 by maxbrando
She sounds wonderful, and modest! Modesty is the hallmark of all saints. But do not make a saint of her. This is her life, not yours to steal.
09:09 December 26, 2010 by SRaab
I think shes hiding from something, Why run from germany after the war when there was so much human misery here in europe? Was she a Nazi? and running from prosecution?

I´m just wondering, don´t anialate me.

I think that what she´s doing is great, But, Why not where it was needed most right after the war?
10:54 December 26, 2010 by storymann
MY goodness SRaab,,that is a reach....She was cordoned off in East Germany,,then she joined the the Daughters of the Heart",they serve everywhere there is misery,the misery in Europe after the war was under control and moving forward at a good pace,,misery in Pakistan and other 3rd world countries was not,,her order went to these places that the first world were to busy to attend to. Leper colonies,in Trinidad,and the middle east,where many of this order died as a result of the malady they tried to cure...I saw some of their graves first hand..

She had nothing to hide!,only herself to give...
19:24 December 26, 2010 by tallady
Whats your problem,,You got something against the Real Mother Teresa ???

Perhaps she didn"t live up to your standards.
23:39 December 30, 2010 by anecho
Mother Theresa did not save any lives, she just brought people off the streets and let them die in (slightly less) squalid conditions. Rest of the time she hung around with Baby Doc Duvalier and tripped round the world including spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on treatments for herwself when she was ill.

This woman sounds much better.
Today's headlines
Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German town, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd