Columban missionary Fr Liam O’Callaghan speaks about the Health Welfare Project in Lahore (Pakistan) and the role of health worker George Taj whom Fr Liam has collaborated with for many years.
Fr Liam writes:
The Health Welfare Project takes place at the Pakistan Society for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled (PSRD) Trust hospital in Lahore. Since 2004 we have been taking patients for treatment there. The terrible earthquake of 8th October 2005 and our relief work at the hospital in the aftermath of that cemented the relationship between the project and the hospital. That collaboration has continued for over 17 years.
For the six months or so that we were bringing earthquake victims there for treatment, the hospital had decided that they would offer free treatment to any patient injured in the earthquake that we brought in.
A number of top orthopaedic surgeons work in Pakistan Society for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled (PSRD) and had different days for consultation.
We had already established a relationship with Dr Afzal Hussain, one of the top orthopaedic surgeons in the country, the year or two before the earthquake and it was to him and his assistants that we took almost all of the patients.
Looking back, I think Dr Afzal and the authorities at PSRD were amazed at us, Christians, continually bringing Muslims for treatment over those months; their admiration for that effort has been the foundation on which our relationship and this health project has been built on.
In April 2020, Dr Afzal retired from PSRD after 20 years of service, he is a wonderful doctor and a wonderful human being, we (and countless patients!) have been so blessed in knowing him and working with him over all those years.
Once the work with earthquake victims ended, we continued to take patients, mainly Christian but also Muslims, every Tuesday and Friday. I would estimate that over 90% of the poor people we brought for treatment were granted ‘category E’ status; again, a sense of admiration from the clerical staff, especially social welfare officers, for the work we were doing was instrumental in this.
‘Category E’ has enabled us to get enormous value for money for a relatively small financial outlay every year and led to countless patients being able to receive quality health care.
George Taj is the full-time health worker for the Health Welfare Project in Lahore. I have deep admiration for him, from our first meeting him in 1995 and then working closely with him from 1999 to the present day – in parish work, earthquake relief work and health work.
He is a man of deep faith and that is the motivation for his work. I have rarely seen such commitment. He often goes above and beyond the call of duty; we seem to be kindred spirits and together we have managed to do many significant things, with the help of countless others. His friendship is a constant blessing in my life and I feel like part of his family.
The HWP takes place in an atmosphere of respect and mutual admiration at the PSRD; the doctors and administration are Muslim, most of the nurses are Christian, including the matron. One of the most pleasing things about the project is that the poor get top quality treatment.
This is rare as the poor are invariably poorly treated in government hospitals and institutions. In the PSRD, it is heartening to witness top doctors giving quality time and care to the poor, including Christian sweepers and cleaners, who rarely if ever experience that.
Dr Saleem Bashir, who replaced Dr Afzal, is equally good and we have an excellent relationship with him also. Apart from the doctors, we have wonderful relationships with all staff whose cooperation is vital to the project. We celebrate Eid and Christmas with gifts.
The HWP is a gem of a project and the jewel in the crown of my efforts in Christian-Muslim dialogue. It is all you would dream about for dialogue efforts; mutual respect and appreciation, working together in harmony and cooperation to achieve incredible results. It is a really good example of the dialogue of life working well and what is possible.
If you would like to support Fr Liam O’Callaghan’s work, please send your donation to the Far East Office, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co Meath C15 AY2Y. Alternatively, you can donate online at www.columbans.ie or call 00353 46 909 8275.