by LUCY O’DONOGHUE
I am on the board of a charity in Pakistan called St Joseph’s Hospice. They
provide holistic long term rehabilitative care, free of charge, for severely disabled
people of all ages or even, in some cases, people who have been abandoned on the steps
of the hospice.
This is a unique institution in Pakistan, a country where those who are disabled are often considered useless and giving them proper care is considered a waste of resources. This is complete Mother Teresa territory.
Wherever possible, patients are rehabilitated into their families. This is always the ideal, but it’s often not possible. Every day they receive several requests for more to be admitted.
It is not a hospice as we know in New Zealand where people “come to die” — some residents have been there for decades!
The hospice also serves 100 or more people a day from the surrounding community through its outpatient department that includes lab and x-ray facilities.
They charge a nominal fee that is much more affordable than other nearby health centres. A consultation costs about 20c.
Just to give you an idea of some of those living at the hospice. One young woman,
Ayesha, was shot in the neck by a militant in northwest Pakistan and was paralysed from the neck down; the bullet is still in her neck.
Nisha is about 7 years old and has a spinal cord condition that leaves her in a wheelchair. She is eighth out of nine children to parents who are literally slaves.
She recently went home to visit her family and came back malnourished because her parents are even deeper into debt after two family weddings, so that they’re not even paid their meagre
income in cash, but in wheat.
Shamshad fell down a well trying to rescue a goat that had also fallen in, and the injury left her confined to a wheelchair — but she’s also trying to make a life for herself by studying computer science.
Martha is 33 years old and first came to the hospice as a teenager. She has never moved out of the children’s ward because she became like a mother to all the other children that have come
When they built a new room for the young boys of the children’s ward, the boys were too scared to sleep there without her.
Sahil is 8 years old and was admitted after continued cases of rickets. He used to
be unable to walk. Now he can sprint around the garden … and he recently came top
in his class at school. The hospice wants to send him back to his family, but if they
do he will not get to continue going to school so he is staying until he gets at least a
These are the kinds of stories — every one of them is heartwrenching.
We’ve got a great Facebook page, too, where people who are interested can see photos of the patients, staff and what’s going on at the hospice.
More than anything, this is a place of hope and love … which is so rare in this country. The family atmosphere is palpable and the example that the hospice provides of what it means to
care for each other with love, to serve truly the most vulnerable in our midst, to serve
each other no matter race or religion, is both a beacon of the light of Christ in Pakistan
and to those who pass through the hospice from all over the world. The hospice epitomises Pope Francis’s missionary call.
Despite all this, the hospice is close to closing its doors after 50 years of serving
the most vulnerable — because the money is running out. Forty-five severely disabled residents would be homeless. Thousands of locals who go there for outpatient services would no longer be able to afford basic healthcare. Sixty staff would lose their jobs — that’s 60 families, some of which have been working at St Joseph’s for up to 25 years.
And, perhaps most importantly, St Joseph’s witness to God’s mercy, compassion and love, in a place so filled with violence and neglect, would come to an end.
I joined the board a few months ago and we’re working around the clock to find solutions. We have some promising changes and things in the pipeline. But we need to buy time. We need
an “angel” donation(s) to the value of tens of thousands of dollars — to allow us to make
these changes that will make the place more sustainable financially.
Before all else, and remembering that God’s ways are beyond ours, Bev McDonald (from Auckland), who is my spiritual director, pressed upon me the need to relinquish the fate of the hospice completely into God’s hands and storm the heavens.
I know the sisters who run the place already have a lot of prayer ongoing, of course, but it wouldn’t hurt to do even more.
Can you help with your network? Could we get Mass said every day somewhere? Novenas? Perpetual adoration? Secular Franciscans? Carmelites?
Of all the places I have seen in my work and travels, of all the poverty and assistance,
misery and hope, St Joseph’s is one of those rare places that heals everyone who it touches, not just physically, but spiritually. Not just patients, but all those who come in contact with this incredible community.
— Lucy O’Donoghue is a New Zealander who studied medicine in London and now lives in
Bangkok.Visit St Joseph’s website: www.stjosephshospice.com.pk