Simplicity, humbleness, love, care and modesty: Abdul Sattar Edhi is a personification of all these elements.
Maulana Edhi, as he is often referred to, belongs to the Memon community. However, he always says that HUMANITY is my Religion, and HUMANKIND is my community. A name signifying trust, love, selflessness and sacrifice; EDHI has gone a long way, for sure. Edhi is a philanthropist at heart, indeed.
He is married to Begum Bilquis Edhi, who heads the ‘Bilquis Edhi Foundation’. Bilquis Edhi - A woman of substance and Edhi’s partner: in the true sense of the word. They both received ‘1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service’. He is also the recipient of the ‘Lenin Peace Prize’ along with other numerous awards: both national and international. He also personally holds the world record for having gone the longest time working without having taken a holiday. As of when the record was set, he has still not taken a single day off work. Edhi and his wife Bilquis have spent a lifetime working for people and their welfare work to date remains unparalleled in Pakistan. They are both very private people who shun publicity. They have had little formal education, and are totally committed to the cause of helping the poor and needy.
• 1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service
• 1988 Lenin Peace Prize
• 1992 Paul Harris Fellow Rotary International Foundation
• In 2000, Edhi was awarded the International Balzan Prize for Humanity, Peace and Brotherhood.
• On 26 March 2005, Edhi was presented with the Life Time Achievement Award by the World Memon Organisation (WMO).
• On 11 November 2006, Edhi was presented with an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the Institute of Business Administration Karachi (IBA).
• Nishan-e-Imtiaz from Government of Pakistan 1989.
• Human Rights Award by Pakistan Human Rights Society.
• Khidmat Award by Pakistan Academy of Medical Sciences.
• Shield of Honour by Pakistan Army (E & C).
• Silver Jubilee Shield by College of Physicians and Surgeons, Pakistan.(1962-1987)
• Recognition of meritorious services to oppressed humanity during the eighties (1989) by Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Government of Pakistan. 45 Years Of Selfless Service.
• The Social Worker of Sub-Continent - 1989 by Government of Sind
• Pakistan Civic Award 1992 - by Pakistan Civic Society.
Edhi: Early Life
Edhi was born on January 01, 1928 in Bantva in the Gujarat state of present day India. His father was a textile trader and earned a modest income for his family. He was a natural born leader and would encourage his friends to hold tiny circuses and perform gymnastics for the locals. When his mother would send him to school she would give him two paisas, one to spend for himself and the other to spend for another. At the age of eleven he started to take care of his mother who suffered paralysis from severe diabetes. From that tender age onwards, he has always been working for his fellow beings; day in and day out. He helps others with utmost good faith and selflessly.
Edhi Foundation: Inception
His own initiatives and the training of his parents helped him to contribute a lot towards the cause of humanity. He started off as a ‘Helping Hand’ and then never looked back. He saw the making of Pakistan. His family migrated from India and made it to Karachi, he was then only 19 years of age. That was a time of great emotional trauma and social and political upheaval. In 1951, he started his own textile business. He also encouraged his friends to give literacy classes there. Edhi had spent his life as a simple man, and would continue to do so. He used to sleep on a concrete bench outside the dispensary so that he was available to help people at any time.
In 1957 a major flu epidemic swept Karachi, Edhi was quick to react, he set up tents on the outskirts of the city to distribute free immunizations. Grateful residents donated generously to Edhi and so did the rest of Pakistan, when the word of mouth spread. He managed to acquire the rest of the building in which his dispensary was located, and opened a free maternity centre and nursing school too. Hence, ‘Edhi Foundation’ was formed.
Edhi Foundation: Growth and Expansion
In the years that followed, Edhi Foundation managed to set up its centers throughout Pakistan. After the flu epidemic, a businessman donated a large sum to Edhi and with which he purchased an ambulance vehicle which he drove himself - an old van which he called the "poor man’s van" and went around the city providing medical help and burying unclaimed bodies. His van became his advertisement and soon he came to be known for his work with the poor. As a consequence, donations started pouring in and his operations expanded, employing additional nurses and staff. It was here that Edhi met his wife Bilquis who was a trainee nurse at the dispensary. They were married in 1966. Bilquis became the ideal wife for Edhi, totally committed to welfare work.
Today the Foundation has over 600 ambulances located all over the country and it stands out as the largest ambulance service on the whole country. The response time and services the ambulances provide are unparalleled – Simply Superb. Edhi Ambulances go to places where even government agencies hesitate to venture. Whatsoever the nature and magnitude of the calamity/incident may be, Edhi Ambulances are there within minutes, if not seconds. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, as of 1997, Edhi Foundation's ambulance service is the largest volunteer ambulance service in the world.
The Edhi Foundation is the first of its kind in South Asia that owns air ambulances, providing quick access to far-flung areas. Whether it is a train accident or a bomb blast, Edhi ambulances are the first to arrive. The foundation relies on the support of its 3, 500 workers and thousands of volunteers who form the backbone of the organization.
What started as a one-man show operating from a single room in Karachi is now the Edhi Foundation, the largest welfare organization in Pakistan. The foundation has over 300 centers across the country, in big cities, small towns and remote rural areas, providing medical aid, family planning and emergency assistance. They own air ambulances, providing quick access to far-flung areas.
In Karachi alone, the Edhi Foundation runs 8 hospitals providing free medical care, eye hospitals, diabetic centers, surgical units, a 4- bed cancer hospital and mobile dispensaries. In addition to all this, the Foundation also manages two blood banks in Karachi.
The records show that 20,000 abandoned babies have been saved, 40,000 qualified nurses have been trained, 50,000 orphans are housed in Edhi Homes, 1 million babies have been delivered at Edhi Maternity Centers.
The foundation has a Legal aid department, which provides free services and has secured the release of countless innocent prisoners. Commissioned doctors visit jails on a regular basis and also supply food and other essentials to the inmates. There are 15 " Apna Ghar" ["Your Homes"] homes for the destitute children, runaways, and psychotics and the Edhi Foundation states that over the years 3 million children have been rehabilitated and reunited with their families thorough the Edhi network.
The foundation also has an education scheme, which apart from teaching reading and writing covers various vocational activities such as driving, pharmacy and pare-medical training. The emphasis is on self-sufficiency. The Edhi Foundation has branches in several countries where they provide relief to refugees in the USA, UK, Canada, Japan, and Bangladesh. In 1991 the Foundation provided aid o victims of the Gulf war and earthquake victims in Iran and Egypt.
Edhi plans mass campaigns against narcotics, illiteracy, population control and basic hygiene. Edhi’s wife Bilquis works in the areas of maternity centre management. She runs 6 nursing training schools in Karachi, which provide basic training courses. These centers have so far trained over 40,000 qualified nurses. Some 20,000 abandoned babies have been saved and about a million babies have been delivered in the Edhi maternity homes. Bilquis also supervises the food that is supplied to the Edhi hospitals in Karachi. The total number of orphans in Edhi housing is 50,000 and Edhi’s two daughters and one son assist in the running of the orphanages and the automation of these institutions.
Edhi’s vision is to create an institution that will carry on his life’s work and survive for a long time to come. His dream is that of a Pakistan as a modern welfare state, which provides a safety net for the poor and needy while providing basic health and education with vocational skills. A welfare state Edhi feels is the only way to tackle Pakistan’s myriad social problems. He hopes that one day; Pakistan will be a model for other developing countries.
EDHI: On the personal front
Despite the growth of the foundation, Edhi remains a very down to earth person. Dressed always in a grey homespun cotton, he has a hands on approach to his work, sweeping his own room and even cleaning the gutter if need be. Apart from the one room, which he uses for his living quarters, the rest of the building serves as his workplace in Mithadar, a locality of old Karachi that is full of narrow streets and congested alleyways. Adjoining their living room is a small kitchen where Bilquis usually prepares the midday meal. Next to it is a washing area where bodies are bathed and prepared for burial.
When Edhi is not travelling to supervise his other centers, a typical day for him begins at five in the morning with Fajr prayers. His work starts thereafter answering any calls for help, organizing and meeting people in need while afternoons are spent at various centers and hospitals all over the city. In the evening he dines with hundreds of poor at his "langar" [free community meals common among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs] at another Edhi centre in the city. His Fridays are invariably spent at homes for the destitute children where Edhi personally helps bathe the ones who are physically handicapped, before joining them for Friday prayers. Occasionally, when he is able to, he also takes them out for picnics.
Abdul Sattar Edhi: An Icon Worth Emulating
To put it simple, Abdul Sattar Edhi has gone an extra mile to show how love manifests itself. Moreover, his life partner has made his life all the more satisfying and rewarding. The couple has an unusual yet beautiful perspective of human life and its significance. Relentlessly working for others and drawing out strength from their work, their love for humanity is ‘larger than life’.
Abdul Sattar Edhi’s welfare work, selflessness and lifestyle are self-acknowledging. Nevertheless, the Pakistani Nation owes a great deal to Edhi.
Begum and Mr. Edhi have gone a long way; Hats off and thanks again!!!
LONG LIVE PAKISTAN, and may this country be blessed with innumerable more Edhis.