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PESHAWAR: Celebrated British social worker and environmentalist Maureen P. Lines, known for her work on the Kalasha people, passed away in Peshawar on Saturday. She was 79.

Born in 1937 in England, Ms Lines first visited Pakistan in 1980. She lived among the Kalasha, learning their language and ways. Her love for them braved all odds and she was a recipient of the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz (Pakistan’s civil medal award) for extraordinary services rendered in the preservation and promotion of Kalasha culture.

She studied international affairs at the New York University (NYU) and journalism at the New School for Social Research (NSSR) in New York.

She was earlier trained as an ambulatory emergency technician in the US and worked as a ‘barefoot doctor’ going door-to-door providing medicine to the Kalasha people.

Ms Lines was the founder of the Kalasha Environmental Protection Society and the Hindukush Conservation Association. She was also a columnist for Dawn, and The Friday Times, and author of several books, including Beyond the North-West Frontier, A Guide to the Kalasha People, and The Kalasha of the Hindu Kush. Her last publication is a pictorial coffee-table book that captures rare glimpses of everyday life of the Kalasha who are fighting for their cultural survival amid growing commercialisation and modernity as the dwellers of the last mountain enclave of pagan tribal people in one of the remotest parts of Pakistan.

Ms Lines was an extraordinary and inspirational figure who had devoted her life to the service of others. She had recently adopted some Kalasha orphan children who she had desired to educate at schools in Peshawar. After her passing, many of her ongoing projects and beneficiaries of her welfare schemes face an uncertain future.

She was laid to rest at the Peshawar Christian Cemetery and Father Joseph conducted the funeral service in which several of her friends and admirers participated.

Ejaz Rahim, one of her friends, said she was a great human being who knew how to fight for the underprivileged. “She gave all her energy and resources to those she cared for. I count her among the heroes of this land. I last saw her some months ago when I visited her to inquire about her health. Her body was indeed failing but her spirit was as bright as ever. The news of her passing has saddened me, although I believe she has gone to a well-deserved rest,” he said.

Sirajul Mulk from the royal family of Chitral was all praise for Ms Lines. He recalled that she had given up the UK for Pakistan and had gone through an endless struggle to get herself a Pakistani passport. “She then took it upon herself to save the environment of our country from getting spoiled by the hands of our own people,” Mr Mulk said. He said her prolonged ill health had not prevented her from slowing down the struggle that she had waged for a better Pakistan. “Her demise will be a loss for Peshawar and particularly for Chitral and more so for the Kalasha valleys. What a great fighter she was. Rest in peace, dear Maureen. God in heaven will certainly reward you for what you have done on earth,” Mr Mulk said.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2017