August 14, 2021
By Ahmed Saeed
For Naseem Pervez, studying in a country where education has never been a priority was no easy feat. She was not given a privileged life, and so she struggled throughout to self-finance her own education. Today she is associated with one of the biggest and most famed institutions in Punjab, the United Christian Hospital (UCH).
Seventy-four years after Pakistan’s inception, even today several missionary institutions remain standing proudly across the country because of their great contribution to society.
It has always been ironic how the Christian community, whose missionary work has always benefitted Pakistan’s education sector, has itself lagged behind when it comes to gaining education itself. Much of the reason is, as Naseem points out, the lack of government attention to education, creating a non-serious attitude among young people. She believes that with proper education other members of the Christian community can do wonders but it could only be done with complete focus.
“It makes me extremely sad that our community’s youth has lost interest in education,” she laments. “The government for its part has failed us too but I think there is a general lack of interest in the community at large as well.”
Like Naseem, only a handful happen to break the ceiling and push forward to improve their lives.
Education has always been extremely important for the head of Pakistan Christian Evangelical Services and Professor, Dr Saleem Massey as well. He has not only excelled as an academic, he also sent his four children out of the country to gain a better education.
But strangely enough, it is the health sector that he is contributing to today, in his own way.
This August 14, the two prominent members of their community, talk to Voicepk.net about being a minority in Pakistan, and about the role of missionary institutions in the country.
Professor Massey, academic and social activist, takes extreme pride in calling himself a Pakistani. Now in retirement after spending most of his life as a public servant he is working on finalizing a welfare hospital in District Kasur. He says that the hospital is equipped with modern health facilities.
“This hospital is going to serve the poor people of Pakistan regardless of what their religion is,” says Saleem, brimming with pride as he explains his plans. “I went to Kasur around 30 years ago and met some extremely poor people there who really badly needed medical access. I thought I would set up an eye camp for them, and today I am trying to make a big hospital for them there. I really hope that the government can help us out in this work.”
Missionary Institutions after Partition
“Even being just two per cent of the population, Christians have always been part of the social welfare sector and have contributed a lot to society. And today these benefits are being reaped by the mainstream population,” says Massey. “
Naseem has only recently retired from the position of principal of UCH. “I have been part of UCH since 1978, and the hospital used to be replete – we used to have to add extra beds in this 260 bedded hospital.” Most of those who came in were Muslims. “We hope the government takes missionary institutions seriously and gives them some incentives because they do brilliant work for society as a whole, not just for the minority community.”
“No one supports our missionary institutions,” says Naseem. “Even now the maintenance and the restoration that is happening in the hospital, it’s being done because of those who have graduated and the older employees. They are doing it themselves. The government hasn’t supported us one bit.”
It’s unfortunate, says Naseem, that the government has abandoned mission institutions that have played such an important role throughout the history of Pakistan.
For his part, Saleem Massey admires the work that Naseem has done in UCH.
“The UCH was one of the main centres where injured migrants arriving from India were treated at the time of Partition in 1947,” he informs. “Apart from hospitals, Christian missions have long served Pakistan’s health system in the role of nurses as well. Similarly, in the education sector as well look at how much organizations founded by Christians have benefited the population but without any religious discrimination.”
Successful yet Not Owned
Even as they excelled in their professions and were well respected within their community, for Saleem Massey and Naseem Pervez the world outside their own people was very different. Sometimes it became hard for them.
“I used to stand by and watch my Muslim friends drink water, while I waited. I had to drink water from the tap, not the cooler,” says Massey. “This was 40 years ago, but even today, this kind of bigotry is very disturbing. Throughout our lives, we have seen our elders work hard, but doing the lowest, most menial work there is. For those who did not necessarily do menial work, they were never promoted or given opportunities.”
Naseem, whose work has served thousands of people over so many years, feels that if people received an education, things would not be so bad.
“I don’t think educated people have this kind of attitude,” says Naseem. “Only those with small hearts have such thoughts in their minds about the religious minorities.
For Saleem Massey, this kind of ostracization is heartbreaking.
“Minorities should be taken as something that adorns the nation, instead of alienating them,” he says. “Whichever nation has accepted their minorities with open arms, they have succeeded.”
“I have always taught my children that this land is your motherland, and the people in it your brothers and sisters,” says Massey. “In a family, there is always some disagreement or the other, we shouldn’t take it to heart.
When it comes to the safety of their children, Naseem is frank and says she does not feel entirely safe and secure in Pakistan. Still, she clings on to the hope that one day the country will become a better place for minorities – one day when the government will somehow spur to action and make life more secure.
“I really hope that the government has something in store for the youth, something better so that when my son or daughter go out of the house, I know they are safe. It’s not like that right now. When they are outside or happen to be late, for instance, I, as a mother feel extremely anxious.”
Perhaps it is the youth itself that will have to take some responsibility to make social change. At least that is what Saleem believes in.
All four of his children are studying medicine in the United States at present yet he says he has convinced them to return to Pakistan after having completed their studies so that they can contribute towards his plans for a hospital in Kasur.
“I have told them that they should study and return to serve their nation,” he says. “I’ve called all four of my children back and I know they will serve this country in the best way they can.”
But Saleem also believes that since Christian institutions have been serving Pakistan since its inception without any discrimination, the majority must also work to return the favour. Sadly though this is not always the case