MALC celebrated Founders’ Day in a small gathering on March 14, 2020 at its HQ. Every year, Founders’ day is celebrated with the sole purpose of recognizing the untiring selfless efforts of the founder members: Sr. Berenice Vargas (1956), Mother Doyle (1956), Dr. Ruth Pfau (1960), Dr. Zarina Fazelbhoy (1962), Sr. Jeannine Geuns (1962), Dr. Grace Warren (1964), Frau Gonschorek (1970) and Dr. Hanna Glodny (2004), made towards the organization and to carry forward their mission of serving humanity with the same spirit.
March was selected to celebrate Founders’ Day for ample reasons: 10th March marks the birthday of Sr. Berenice Vargas and she also arrived in Pakistan in March, 1955; Dr. Ruth Pfau arrived in Pakistan on 8th March, 1960, and played a vital role in the establishment of the Leprosy Control Program; March 12th also marks the birthday of Sr. Jeannine Geuns, the first matron of MALC Hospital, and the only surviving founder member of MALC.
On behalf of the Management, Dr. Ali Murtaza- Director Training expressed the honour of having Sr. Jeannine present amongst us in his welcome address. He also took the opportunity to share the precautionary measures for contracting COVID-19 and not to panic.
Every year, Founders’ Day is dedicated to a Founder Member. This year it was dedicated to Sr. Berenice Vargas, the pioneer of Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre.
Born in Mexico on 10th March 1926, she joined the Daughters of the Heart of Mary Congregation on completion of her studies. In 1955 at the age of 28, she came to Pakistan to serve the migrant population; she was a pharmacist by profession. Around the same time she founded an English medium school named as St. Rita Kindergarten, one of the renowned schools where elite people would have their children enrolled. St. Rita School is still present today and along with primary education is providing secondary education as well.
In 1955, the then Bishop, advised her to visit a colony in Mcleod Road. The colony was inhabited by numerous people affected by Leprosy, who were living in appalling conditions; the sewage water was overflowing reaching knee high and there was unavailability of drinking water, food or health care facility. In 1956, Sr. Vargas with the assistance of people affected by Leprosy built a dispensary out of wooden crates for patients to receive treatment. The dispensary came to be known as Marie Adelaide Dispensary and was an aid to people’s miseries, as it gave them rations in addition to providing medicines. The dispensary moved to a three-storey building which gradually expanded over the years. It was named as Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre, a hospital providing indoor care facility to people affected by Leprosy coming from all over the country. Sr. Vargas was incharge of the Pharmacy at the Centre.
For 50 years, Sr. Vargas took care of the patients. Popularly known as Sr. Subha Shaam among the patients, translated as ‘Morning’ and ‘Evening’ from Urdu to English, these were the only two words she knew to speak in Urdu. She started the work when there was a huge stigma associated around people affected by Leprosy. Despite the challenges she faced, she was happy that she was able to serve the people. On 16th December 2005, she passed away in Pakistan and was later buried at the Christian Cemetery, Karachi.
CEO Mervyn Lobo, in his concluding speech reminisced the times when Sr. Berenice Vargas would hold the staff children’s hands and take them to St. Rita’s School for admissions, he stressed on the importance of the staff to continue investing in their children’s education. He ended his speech by reaffirming that the staff should work with the same spirit as the founder members did, and should be good role models.