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Saturday, May 16, 2009
For Ali Hasan Mangi, poverty and deprivation were deeply personal. He was born in Khairo Dero, a village near the city of Larkana in Pakistan's southern province of Sindh. Orphaned at the age of five and left with three siblings to care for, he struggled to get an education, walking for miles to get to school each day. He matriculated from Bombay University and was determined to pass civil service exams and get work at a government school. As a young teacher, he was known for giving away his meager salary to students who couldn't afford books or clothes. He was soon promoted to become inspector of schools and as he traveled throughout the region for the first time, he became acutely aware of how widespread the starvation and despair was.
The government then posted him to the city of Sukkur. In his early thirties, he came into contact with a prominent politician and soon realized that no matter how hard he worked at jobs, he wouldn't make enough to help all the people he saw mired in poverty around him. He set his sights high.
He started by opening a small Public Complaint Office where ordinary citizens could bring their problems. He became well acquainted with people, their needs and their aspirations. During the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, he set up a refugee camp in Sukkur's famous Lucas Park, providing immigrating people food, shelter and clothing. Eventually, he opened factories making wool, silk, hardware, fans and carpets. He started business involved in ship breaking and the export of commodities. That way he was able to give thousands of people jobs in Larkana, Rohri, Sukkur and Karachi.
Even that wasn't enough to satisfy him. Ali Hasan Mangi opened a home for destitute women in Karachi where they were taught vocations to help them earn a living. He gave scores of students scholarships, sent hundreds on holy pilgrimages every year, had the sick treated wherever he could find them and ran the monthly household budgets for an uncountable number of families.
When he moved to Karachi in the sixties, he allocated eight rooms in an outhouse at his home. There he would house travelers who came seeking his help. He always ensured they were fed, had a warm place to sleep and fare to travel back home after he had sorted out their problems. He went on to enter politics. And those very people elected him to Parliament time and again for over forty years. That way he was able to influence policy and get rural and urban dwellers electricity, cooking gas and roads.
Ali Hasan Mangi passed away in 1994; as penniless as the day he was orphaned. He touched thousands upon thousands of lives, so many of whom remember him even today. Yet, he left, feeling there was so much more to be done.
He was a quiet, reflective man with the most uncommon capacity to give, the greatest reservoirs of patience and fortitude, and the most compelling urge to uplift his people. He wore the simplest of clothes and enjoyed the most frugal meals. His daily staple was plain boiled rice and lentils.
Despite Pakistan's development and record economic growth, people in rural areas, who account for more than two-thirds of the nation's population of 165 million, are still trapped in poverty. Men and women labor on farmland for less than a dollar a day, with which they must feed families of 10 or more. They eat rough bread to survive and don't have access to the most basic form of healthcare. Most of their children have never seen the inside of a classroom.
We, the children and grandchildren of Ali Hasan Mangi, aspire to take his mission forward and work toward rural development in some of Pakistan's most impoverished villages. This is our hope and our tribute to his most loving memory.