Sister Ruth Lewis, Dal ul Sukun Pakistan special need children
Sister Ruth Lewis, the 'Mother of Pakistan’s special children' and head of Dar ul Sukun organisation, home for special needs children, died of coronavirus on July 20. Image Credit: Dar ul Sukun

Islamabad: The city of Karachi is mourning the loss of Sister Ruth Lewis who dedicated more than 50 years taking care of children with special needs abandoned by their families and overlooked by society.

The “Mother of Pakistan’s special children” and the head of Dar ul Sukun (home for disabled children) died on July 20 at Aga Khan Hospital from complications of the novel coronavirus. She was 77.

At least 21 children at the foundation had been infected with COVID-19 but she continued to serve them. Sister Ruth tested positive on July 8 and was taken to the hospital where she was placed on a ventilator, charity officials said.

Icon of love, care and compassion

“All our children, nuns and staff are heartbroken, as we have lost a huge part of us. Please pray for the children to whom she has been a mother, for the nuns for whom she was a sister and a true inspiration and for all the staff who love her and will each day try to walk in her footsteps,” of Dar ul Sukoon said in a statement shared on Facebook.

Pakistan special needs children Dar ul Sukun Sister Ruth Lewis
Pakistan is mourning the loss of Sister Ruth Lewis who dedicated more than 50 years taking care of children with special needs. Image Credit: Dar ul Sukun

“Her services to humanity” and “to the destitute severely disabled children and elderly, socially displaced girls and boys is remarkable” reads another message by the charity foundation. “She has worked for and loved the special children of Dar ul Sukun from the day it was founded 51 years ago. She was the icon of love, care and true compassion.”

Sister Ruth remembered for her selfless service

Her death sparked a huge outpouring of grief online as many Pakistani shared the impact they felt Sister Ruth left on their lives, describing her as the “angel of Pakistan” and “a loving and devoted soul”.

In a statement, Governor Sindh Imran Ismail, described Sister Ruth as “a true inspiration” saying “Karachi would always remember her selfless services for the differently abled and socially displaced children and elderly.”

Sindh government spokesperson Murtaza Wahab said: “Her selfless contributions to our society will always be remembered and cherished.”

Sister Ruth’s death was a “tragic loss for Dar ul Sukun and the people of Karachi” said Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, daughter of late Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and former President Asif Ali Zardari. “Pakistan has lost a great asset”, she said adding that Sister Ruth had “selflessly dedicated her entire life to those in need.”

Father Nasir William, director of the Commission for Social Communications in Islamabad-Rawalpindi’s Roman Catholic Diocese, extended his deepest condolences to the family and friends and “the friends of Dar ul Sukun who loved her immensely. “You will be missed everyday,” he said.

Special kids need time, love and patience

In a video recorded earlier, Sister Ruth described that “bringing up children with special needs requires immense patience and strength”. When they first arrive at the organization the kids show severe behavioural issues. “It takes a lot of time to teach and groom them.” Sharing the story of one of the kids, the nun said, “He was so aggressive as a child but grew up to be a successful man who won gold medals and is working now. He even went to the United States twice to take part in Special Olympics”. It is a proud moment, she said with a smile, “when they are asked about their mother, these kids reply: Sister Ruth”.

Sister Ruth Lewis karachi Pakistan children special needs
Sister Ruth Lewis was a mother for abandoned and special needs children, sister for the nuns and an inspiration for all. Image Credit: Dar ul Sukun

Beginning of the selfless service

Dar ul Sukun (House of Peace) has been functioning in Karachi for the last 51 years serving as an abode for the abandoned children with disabilities. Sister Ruth has been working at the charity since it was founded on 17th February 1969 by a Dutch nun, Sister Gertrude Lemmens who came to Pakistan as a visitor but was so moved by the pathetic condition of physically and mentally challenged people that she devoted her life to them. “Sister Gertrude was the inspiration and reason that I dedicated 51 years of my life to these children,” Ruth said in a video.

Mother of forgotten ones

All these years, the charity’s dedicated sisters, Sr. Mathilda Pereira, Sr. Ruth Lewis, Sr. Angela, Sr. Immaculate and Sr. Agnes under the guidance of Sr. Gertrude, raised hundreds of children brought in by social workers, police and relatives or found on the streets. Ruth Lewis assumed the charge to carry forward the humanitarian mission of Dar ul Sukun after Sr Gertrude’s demise in October 2000.

“Since then there was no turning back. She took care of such children all her life. The children whom their own family abandoned, children who were called monsters because of deformities and chronic disability, children whose single sight could traumatize a layman ... Sr. Ruth became their mother. They were not objects of misery and charity to her, but her own children,” reads the charity’s statement. “She truly was the Mother of forgotten ones. No one can fill the void she left.”