This morning I received an email saying that Elma, who I knew briefly through my time as a member of a FairTrade group, had died. I only met her a few times, but she was one of those people who made you instantly feel like a friend. She will always be one of my heroes. Here’s why.
At my first FairTrade meeting, Elma sparkled with energy, ideas and sensible suggestions. It was only when the meeting ended and we all got up – all except Elma – that I realised she was in a wheelchair.
And that was almost the last time I noticed that she was in a wheelchair. The wheelchair was not what defined Elma, any more than the mobility of our legs is what defines the non-wheelchair bound among us.
Elma was a woman on a mission. With the help of her husband, Ian, and a group of volunteers, she supported the work of another incredible woman, Maryam Bibi, whose organisation Khwendo Kor, does many things, including setting up schools for girls and income generation projects for women… in Taliban territory in North West Pakistan. Needless to say, Maryam and her team suffer regular death threats and attempts on their lives – but they insist on carrying on their work.
It was the same dogged determination and insistence on doing what was right in the face of adversity that kept Elma attending meetings, organising fundraisers and manning stalls selling piles of colourful baskets made by Pakistani women.
She told me once about getting the chance to visit Khwendo Kor. The Foreign Office strongly advised against the visit to one of the most dangerous places in the world. But, laughing mischievously, Elma told me she refused to pass up the opportunity of a lifetime, and ignored the advice, making Ian drag her up and down the mountains! Ian still looked a bit shaken at the memory of it!
Attached to the email about Elma’s death, was a letter she had left her family. I hope they will forgive me for sharing it with you, and I hope you will be as inspired, amused and moved as I was by Elma’s no-nonsense appreciation of the good in her life and her refusal to succumb to self-pity or pride:
“Dear family,” it begins, “Bossy and interfering to the last, I thought you might like some suggestions for my funeral…”
After listing the hymns and readings she would like, she continues;
“… Above all, don’t let anyone go on about illness and suffering bravely borne! I should like someone to say that I was blessed beyond anyone I know, in the family I was born into, the countryside I grew up in, the friends I made, the husband I married and the children I had, and the sense I had of the enveloping love of God which followed me all the days of my life and would not let me go.”
Needless to say, instead of flowers for her funeral she has requested donations to Friends of Khwendo Kor