ISLAMABAD, Dec 22: “Saima is no more,” wrote Ammar Masood, husband of the visually-impaired activist for the blind people, on his Facebook page on Thursday.
Messages from across the globe poured in expressing condolence and sharing the pain with the bereaved family.
A large number of visually-impaired people, friends and admirers of Saima started turning up at her residence. Saima's father Brig Niaz along with his father-in-law Anwar Masood, a famous Punjabi poet, was seen sharing their grief with the well-wishers.
Syed Ahmed Masud, a family friend of Saima, noted: “Saima's life was truly well lived. She was an inspiration who showed others the true meaning of courage through her trailblazing work. She made the life for blind people throughout Pakistan much easier. She had more vision than people with full light.”
According to a blog - saimaammar.wordpress.com - managed by her husband, Saima was born on Sept 28, 1970. She contributed to improving the lives of the visually-impaired through the Pakistan Foundation Fighting Blindness (PFFB), the organisation which was her claim to fame.
Explaining the cause of her blindness, the blog said: “Saima lost her eyesight at the age of two-and-a-half since her optic nerve was totally damaged following a severe attack of typhoid.”
Since then Saima fought with an enviable perseverance in helping the blind community, especially in the field of education. “You can never doubt the ability of a few citizens to change the destiny of the whole nation,” noted Saima in one of her blog messages to her fans.
Saima had an exceptional childhood. According to the blog, when doctors in Pakistan indicated that there was no treatment for her particular atrophy of the eye, Saima's uncle in London adopted her. She got admission to the Linden Lodge School, and then went to Chorley Wood College, the best college for blind people in England.
After coming back to Pakistan to meet her family at the age of 18, Saima refused to return to London because she loved her people and culture. For a couple of years, she stayed home doing nothing because there were no decent schools for the blind.
Initially, Saima found the lack of facilities for blind in Pakistan shocking. In London, she could do everything such as playing javelin, tandem cycling, swimming, running, ceramics and home management. And here, nothing was possible.
After completing her Masters, Saima joined PFFB. While keeping herself abreast of the latest by listening to recorded cassettes she used to order from a talking newspapers association in UK, she wondered why something similar couldn't be started in Pakistan.
This led to the idea of recording textbooks which was duly implemented and PFFB can now claim producing recorded cassettes of courses in all arts subjects for students from class 5 up to BA of the Punjab, NWFP, AJK and Sindh boards.
These cassettes are being circulated all over the country with over 3,500 people benefiting through free registered mail.
A visually-impaired student and beneficiary of the PFFB education programme, Sadia Hamid, said: “Saima was a legendary figure and I will always miss her. She gave us the eyes of knowledge and today I am only able to study at this level (F.A) because of Saima.”
She emphasised Saima's achievements, adding: “Saima was an inspiration for visually-impaired people across the globe since her education programme will benefit millions of visually-impaired people in years to come.”
People like Saima are born once in a hundred years. These are the ones who achieve greatness in spite of the hurdles they face and become role models for the neglected classes of society.
“Saima will remain alive and will always stay in our memories because she was not an ordinary child. She is an inspiration for thousands of people and especially for special people,” said Maj Afzal Chaudhry, a family member of Brig Niaz.