Munawar Humayun Khan: Development Visionary And Lady Of Grace

Munawar Humayun Khan: Development Visionary And Lady Of Grace
Just a couple of days before she went to the hospital, Mrs Munawar Humayun Khan wrote a short crisp note to me.

For 22 years, she had been the Chairperson of Sarhad Rural Support Programme’s (SRSP) Board of Directors. This was the only time she had missed a meeting of the Board of Directors in those years owing to health issues. In the note, she was explicit in wanting to know three things:

“Firstly, did the budget sufficiently address the core purpose of the organisation, which was changing lives of the poor?” she queried.

“Secondly, did you build enough resources in the budget to give them an opportunity to express their voice?”

As if there was something more that touched her deeper instincts, she concluded, “Thirdly, were the needs of the lowest staff, hit worst by inflation, catered for?”

When I gave her the details she wrote back; “I am happy.” “I am content!”

This summed up the mission of the organisation for her. She believed that only a life lived for others was a life worth living.

During 2008 and 2012, almost everyone who mattered left Peshawar. Kidnappings, bombs and rockets landing in our streets were a common occurrence. Dr Humayun Khan would often remark as to how depressing and hopeless it had become to live in Peshawar.

However, he was amazed by the fact that Mrs Humayun and those working around her did not lose their enthusiasm and zest. She attributed this to the fact that the work she was doing even in the dismal state of things touched people’s lives and improved them for the better. Her energy and enthusiasm came from her mission, and the darkness around her failed to engulf her spirit. Kindness, to her, was a language which the deaf could hear and the blind could see.
Like many of us in the development world, she was a dreamer. But the dreams were not those of a philosopher, poet or writer. She had her feet firmly on the ground

Mrs Humayun was an extraordinary person. A Pashtun lady to the core, she was educated and sophisticated, and found herself at ease, whether in diplomatic circles or moving among the villager folks. She was compassionate, graceful and dignified and had a mystical humbleness about herself. She was not in SRSP to win laurels, boost an ego or make a fortune.

Thirty years of her life that she gave to SRSP were years of dedication and selflessness. For the tears and sweat that she gave to the organisation, she did not even expect a cup of tea in return. Her volunteerism was of a brand unheard off in this part of the world.

Like many of us in the development world, she was a dreamer. But the dreams were not those of a philosopher, poet or writer. She had her feet firmly on the ground. She was no product of a management school, but possessed a natural instinct on how to negotiate the imponderables of our society. She rebuilt an organisastion which almost everyone had given up in the late 1980s – because she did not want to hear why things would not work, but wanted always to hear of ways to make it all work.

Donors who came to SRSP would often wonder how brilliant young people stuck to it for years despite the fact that they could walk across the street and earn double their salaries. Leaders, it is said, become great not because they have power but because of their ability to empower others. She built an organisation where everyone from the lowest to the highest felt empowered.

Mrs Humayun was by nature a gentle and generous soul. However, she would not compromise on principles and would not hesitate to take on the strongest whenever SRSP's institutional autonomy was challenged, thus setting an example for others on the board.

We at SRSP deeply mourn her passing away. But at the same time, we celebrate the life of a leader who set very high standards of public service, symbolising ethical and moral leadership. We pray to Allah to bless her soul and grant her family the strength to bear her loss – though SRSP is a lot poorer without her guiding spirit and definitely Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has lost an indispensable asset.