I met Loweza in the village named Mundiala Virka many years ago when I was on mission in Sheikhupura Parish in Punjab Province. She arrived at their simple village home carrying a heavy load of green fodder for their few buffaloes, goats and sheep. Loweza, like the majority of the girls in her village did not attend school. She worked as a young shepherdess. “Early in the morning I milked the buffalo and then took out the sheep and goats for grazing. I would then return with them before the sun set. I enjoyed this life very much, with the freedom of roaming here and there with the animals, finding grass and branches of trees for them to eat near the canal and country tracks. Some of the goats and sheep belonged to a blind couple whom I also cared for.”
When I went to the village for visitation and Mass I was very impressed with Loweza’s pro-active presence. She had learnt much from the example of her elder sister who sadly had died as a young woman. Loweza, with the help of the children, had put another layer of soil on the church’s floor as well as cleaned the church and small compound. Then she would, with loud joyful voice, do the rounds of the Christian families and call them to come to the church. She would also, at harvest time, gather a share of the wheat and rice harvest from the families as their contribution to the parish. I also noted her as a girl bargaining with the Tonga Wallas, (horse and cart taxis), about a just fare in travelling to her village.
This all from a girl in a male dominated society inspired me. Some Mercy Sisters from Australia had recently opened a hostel for girls whose situation was similar to Loweza, in not having attended school. It was a place where they could learn to read and write as well as receive much formation in faith and life skills. “It was a big change in life style for me. The sisters frowned on us eating food with our hands. There was much new discipline which we were not aware of. Sister would tell us to say “sorry” but I did not know the meaning of the word and I felt that I had done nothing wrong. Overall I enjoyed the life there with the friends I made, as well as that I learnt so much from the sisters, which has been a great help throughout my life.”
The sisters found Loweza to be an exceptional young woman and asked me to send her back for another year. On returning home to her village Loweza also became an active member of the parish women’s group which was facilitated by a former Columban Lay Missionary, Gloria Canama who had served on mission in Pakistan from 1990-2013. Over these years Loweza graduated as a ‘village bible leader’ and also went on a mission exchange program to the Columban Mission in Sindh Province. Over this time Loweza’s family were making plans to find a suitable man so that Loweza could be married as she was about 18 years old. “My heart tells me that I do not want to be married,” she stated. Her mother, Bashiran said to me. “What to do, Loweza is refusing to be married and so now Fr. Dan she is your responsibility.”
I had heard of a girls’ hostel and school in Karachi which was run by a Sister Janine. Karachi is about a 20 hour train journey from Lahore. Loweza made this journey by herself to check it out and on her return stated to me. “I will go and live in Karachi. The hostel and school is good. The arrangement is that the girls work in the mornings to cover some of the costs of the food and education, and then attend school in the afternoons.” At a later date when I visited her I was impressed with the rapport that she had with the leprosy patients that she was caring for and the happiness that she brought to their lives. – “A Muslim woman, named Zakia, was stricken by this terrible disease. She had lost her feet and hands and had little sight left in her eyes. People had fear seeing her situation and did not want to care for her. I was able to bath her and dress her wounds.” There was some anxiety when some black spots appeared on Loweza’s body. She was then taken off this work and treated. Thank God that it was not leprosy and the black spots went away. “When I started attending the school I felt some embarrassment as I had to sit in the class with the young girls,” she told me.
Over many years Loweza has journeyed with the sick and poor who require medical care. She cares for, and facilitates, many Tribal people from Interior Sindh that Columbans send to her. Life in the big city of Karachi with its 20 million plus population is so very different to life in their villages. Loweza has many contacts in the hospitals with doctors and nurses who have great admiration and respect for her. She is able to obtain medical care for operations and medical needs as well as obtaining discounts for medicines, blood etc. These poor patients, Christians, Muslims and Hindus would be at a loss without the competent and compassionate care of Loweza. She also has a sharp awareness about issues and speaks up for truth and justice when this is required. Many people get her to obtain Identity Cards and other matters to attend to which they are unable to do. This can save them from paying bribes which can be an added burden on them. Loweza was able to obtain a large financial grant for a patient who was stricken with bone marrow cancer. “I will bring back some fresh fish for you when I return from my village,” he told her. Sadly Alim’s health while home deteriorated and he never returned.
A Hindu girl from a village had a leg amputated. The girl was afraid yet with Loweza’s love and compassion, she and her parents obtained consolation. After the operation Loweza took the leg in a rickshaw to an area where there is a cemetery where unclaimed bodies are buried. She was able to have it buried there, with respect….. Ratin, from a far away village near the Indian border said to her. “Baji (dear sister), we remember you so much. We have never met a person as you and I have a goat to give you.” On another occasion a woman started crying. “I am crying because you give me so much care. I am poor and all that I can give you is some lentils that I got from my share of the work in the fields”. People comment to Loweza that they could not do what she does.
“I learnt much from two former CLM from The Philippines, Gloria Canama and Marilyn (Bebing) Semborio, when I was in Sheikhupura. God has given me gifts and this call to serve the poor and sick. I am touched by the Gospel where two men pass by the injured man and then the Good Samaritan came along and took care of him. God helps me in the many difficulties and I am very happy in this vocation. I feel called to take up the Cross, especially of others who have crosses to bear with no one to help them.”
Loweza has experienced many sad times. e.g., when people she had cared for die or when they run away from the hospital where they are being nursed. She has also suffered deep sadness when her sister died, though a young woman. Also, a brother while returning from work to their village, was shot dead when firing broke out between two Muslim groups over a land dispute. Then in Karachi two guards at the hostel /school where she has a room, were shot dead while on day duty. When that happened everyone had to flee from the hostel/school for some months until the situation ‘cooled down’. It has been a long and winding road since Loweza was a shepherdess caring for her sheep and goats on the edges of the canals and village tracks. That prepared her for caring for people who are on the edges of other tracks in society. Loweza is a woman of prayer and action. One who does not make excuses, who stands confidently on her own feet. She possesses courage, a deep commitment, a lifestyle of simplicity, with much sacrifice and an infectious joy which heralds hope, light and love as a prophetic lay woman missionary bearing much light in Karachi, which is also called ‘The City of Lights’.