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December 23, 2011

Saima Ammar leaves while her scent stays


December 23, 2011

Revered for being a symbol of courage and dignity; cherished for being a role model for people suffering from any form of disability; and adored for being an exceptional human being which this world was so badly in need of, Saima Ammar — the chief executive officer of the Pakistan Foundation Fighting Blindness (PFFB)-breathed her last at the age of 41 here early Thursday morning.
Having lost her eyesight to a typhoid attack at the tender age of two-and-a-half years, Saima accepted her impairment without any regrets and never permitted her disability to stand in way of her resolve to transform the lives of disabled people who were not fortunate enough to have been brought up, groomed and educated like her. Saima converted her disability into a mental and spiritual strength, and accomplished in her short lifetime, what people blessed with all senses seldom do.
In August last year, Saima was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a nervous disorder which paralysed her body, neck-down. With her family member and husband Ammar Masood by her side, Saima braved three months of hospitalisation on a ventilator before stabilizing enough to be shifted home. At home, a mini-ICU laced with all necessary equipment was installed to keep her going in an infection-free environment. Saima struggled with the disease for almost a year. “She was a lovely child. Not once did she utter a word of complaint. She remained as peaceful and calm throughout the period of her illness, as she appears today,” sobbed her father Brigadier (r) Niaz Ahmed, as he caressed her lifeless being.
Talking to this scribe over the last few days, Ammar shared that Saima was always thankful for not having any reminiscences of vision because she always said that she doesn’t know what to miss. “I am yet to come across someone with as much resilience and willpower as Saima,” said Ammar who, throughout the period of her illness, maintained constant liaison with leading doctors worldwide, updating

them with her condition in the hope that they would find a cure.
Saima’s first meeting with Ammar took place at Audio World, a PFFB project which records books of all genres for visually impaired people. An avid radio listener, Saima was particularly fond of a late night ‘Ghazal Time’ show, which Ammar used to host. They met each other through a mutual friend; just like Saima was impressed by his voice, so too was he impressed with her work and persona. Ammar offered voluntary services to Audio World and started recording cassettes for it. Their bond gained strength with time, and eventually on October 30, 1997, they entered into wedlock.
Saima travelled to numerous countries, attending international conferences on disability issues. She attended the UN Women Conference in Beijing, the Retina International Conference in Japan, and the13th World Congress of Retina International in Netherlands. She was also instrumental in organizing the first International Seminar on Retinitis Pigmentosa and Allied Retinal Dystrophies by PFFB in June 2006. In 2008, she became the first blind person from Pakistan to have been nominated to attend the International Visitor Program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, USA. Her last trip was to Italy where she addressed an International Retina Conference. She was so pained by the plight of visually impaired persons in Pakistan that she broke into tears.
Saima was chosen CEO of PFFB three years ago, following the death of Dr. Salma Maqbool, who was another beacon of hope for the disabled. She worked on five different projects for the blind namely, Audio World, Darakhshan (resource training centre for disabled women), medical research project, first internet café for the blind, and data collection of blind persons.
“Unlike Saima, most people with disabilities are not fortunate enough to have led a ‘pampered life,’ as she used to describe it,” Ammar said. When she lost her eyesight, her parents knew that she would have no future in Pakistan so they sent her to London, where she studied up to A-levels. On return, she completed her Masters in International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University and was hoping to appear for the CSS exam until her eligibility was challenged on medical grounds. Disheartened, she dedicated her life in the service of blind people.
Saima’s life is an example of courage, hope and determination. Hers was an amazing struggle, which inspired the young and old, and the able and disabled alike. (May Allah rest her soul in peace).

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