Abdul Sattar Edhi - Indiscriminate Humanitarian Work
Kaan Ya Makaan, Fee Hadir Al-Zamaan…
There was a Place, in Current Times…
Called Bantva, in Western India where a small Memon family lived. In 1928, on January 1st, the Edhi family was blessed with the arrival of a son they named Abdul Sattar. As the boy grew up, his mother would often emphasize the importance of being kind towards others and of showing compassion to the less fortunate. She would urge him to give half his pocket money to the poor and would rebuke him when he didn't.
Little did Abdul Sattar's mother know that the lessons in compassion she taught her son would be put to test so early when she herself fell ill. When Abdul Sattar was about eleven his mother became physically paralyzed and then later suffered from mental illness. The young boy cared for his ill mother and did all he could to ease her suffering until her eventual death some years later.
In 1947, after India experienced a time of both political and social upheaval, the Edhi family migrated to Karachi in the newly created Pakistan. There, nineteen-year-old Abdul Sattar found himself in a strange city with no resources and no safety net. Eventually he found work and began volunteering with a Memon welfare organization. He soon had a falling out with the organization because he found that the only people they took care of were other Memons. He wisely declared that "humanitarian work loses its significance when you discriminate between the needy", before walking out and deciding to start his own organization.
By 1951, Abdul Sattar had saved enough money to buy a small shop which he turned into a free dispensary. He also raised enough money by begging on a street corner to buy an old van, dubbed the "poor man's van", which he used as an ambulance. By day he would use that van to travel around the city providing basic medical aid to anyone in need, and collecting and burying the unclaimed and abandoned bodies he found. At night, he would sleep on a cement bench outside his dispensary so that if anyone needing aid came late at night, he would be there ready to help.
Word quickly spread of Abdul Sattar's tireless aid and selfless actions so donations started pouring in. These new donations meant he was able to expand his operations by hiring nursing staff and more assistants. One of the nurses who came to work at the dispensary shared Abdul Sattar's commitment and passion to serve the poor. Before long, the two were married and have been together ever since. Abdul Sattar and his wife, Bilquis, were blessed with two sons and two daughters who support them in their humanitarian work.
Starting with five thousand rupees (approx. $1000), Abdul Sattar founded the Edhi Trust and Foundation which initially provided free medical services for the poor and a morgue for the bodies of the unknown and unclaimed, which were washed carefully then buried respectfully. Soon, the Foundation expanded to include women's shelters, orphanages, homeless shelters, schools, legal aid departments, vocational schools, nursing homes, soup kitchens, rehab centers for drug addicts and the mentally ill, and morgues. Leading some to observe that by coming to the Edhi Foundation, the poor could find a solution to all their problems, from the cradle to the grave.
The Edhi Foundation is now the largest welfare organization in Pakistan (run by thousands of paid workers and even more volunteers), owns the largest morgue in Pakistan, runs the largest ambulance service in the world and is the first organization of its kind in South Asia that has air ambulances (in order to provide quick medical service to distant areas). It has also provided aid and helped in relief efforts internationally in countries such as the U.S., U.K., Canada, Japan and Bangladesh.
Determined to live a simple life dedicated to the service of the poor, Abdul Sattar Edhi has never drawn a salary from his organization, he lives in a tiny apartment above his dispensary in Karachi, and he only owns two sets of clothes (both made of grey homespun cotton). His days begin at 5 a.m. with Fajur (dawn) prayer, then he spends his mornings organizing people and helping those who come to him in need.
In the afternoons Abdul Sattar visits various centers and hospitals to ensure everything is going well and to see if anything is needed. Once evening falls, he dines with hundreds of the poor at a langar (free, communal meal) at one of his Edhi Centers. Fridays he spends at one of his homes for destitute children where he personally cares for the children, bathing those who are handicapped and then joining all the children for Friday prayers. Later, if his busy schedule allows it, he takes them out on picnics.
Bilquis Edhi, Abdul Sattar's wife, has an equally active schedule. She manages the Foundation's maternity centers, runs nurse training centers in Karachi, supervises the food delivered to the Edhi hospitals and, aided by her two daughters and one of her sons, helps care for the fifty thousand orphans living in the Edhi orphanages. Not to mention that she still finds the time to prepare the midday meal for her family.
To date, Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife, Bilquis, have been awarded with a slew of honors and medals including:
- Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service (Philippine, 1986).
- Lenin Peace Prize (1988).
- Peace Prize for services in the American earthquake disaster (USSR former, 1998).
- Hamdan Award for volunteers in Humanitarian Medical Services (UAE, 2000).
- International Balzan Prize for Humanity, Peace and Brotherhood (Italy, 2000).
- Wolf of Bhogio Peace Award (Italy, 2005).
- Gandhi Peace Award (Delhi, 2007).
- UNESCO Madan jeet sing Peace Award (Paris, 2007).
- Peace Award Seoul (South Korea, 2008).
- Ahmadiyya Muslim Peace Prize (2010).
- The Peace Award (London, 2011).
Interestingly enough, the one prize this dedicated lifelong humanitarian has yet to receive is the Nobel Peace Prize. Hopefully, this oversight will one day be rectified for the man dubbed the Mother Teresa of Pakistan. It is worth noting that Abdul Sattar Edhi, a devout Muslim, is not supported or sponsored by any religious or political organizations and is determined not to allow anyone to interfere with the motives and direction of the Edhi Foundation i.e. pure unbiased charity.
Perhaps the most important lesson that can be learned from this humble man and his selfless life is the true meaning of charity and how it has changed, "I had accepted at the outset that charity was distorted and completely unrelated to its original concept. Reverting to the ideal was like diverting an ocean of wild waters. Another major obstacle in the promotion of welfare was exposed...the disgust of man towards mankind. There was only one expression, one reaction from everyone...cringing."
*Written by Aisha Bilal © 2013. Care to read or leave Comments?
- Names, Translations and Aliases:
- Abdul Sattar Edhi: عبدالستار ایدھی.
- Bilquis Bano Edhi: بلقیس ایدھی.
- Abdul Sattar Edhi: عبدالستار ایدھی.
- Bilquis Bano Edhi: بلقیس ایدھی.