Abdul Sattar Edhi (Urdu: عبدالستار ایدھی; 1 January 1928 – 8 July 2016) was a Pakistani philanthropist, ascetic, and humanitarian who founded the Edhi Foundation which runs hospitals, homeless shelters, rehab centres, and orphanages across Pakistan.
Born in Gujarat, British India, Edhi moved to Karachi where he established a free dispensary for Karachi’s low-income residents. Edhi’s charitable activities expanded in 1957 when an Asian flu epidemic swept through Karachi. Donations allowed him to buy his first ambulance the same year. He later expanded his charity network with the help of his wife Bilquis Edhi.
Over his life-time, Edhi Foundation expanded backed entirely with private donations including establishing a network of 1,800 minivan ambulances. By the time of his death Edhi was registered as a parent or guardian of nearly 20,000 children. He is known as Angel of Mercy and is considered as Pakistan’s “most respected” and legendary figure. In 2013, The Huffington Post claimed that he might be “the world’s greatest living humanitarian.”
Edhi maintained a hands-off management style and was often critical of the clergy and politicians. Edhi was a strong proponent promoted religious tolerance in Pakistan and extended support to the vicitims of Hurricane Katrina and 1985 famine in Ethiopia. Edhi has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
He was born in Bantva in the Gujarat, British India into a Memon family. His mother would give him 1 paisa for his meals and another to give to a beggar. When he was eleven, his mother became paralysed from a stroke and she died when Edhi was 19. His personal experiences and care for his mother during her illness, caused him to develop a system of services for old, mentally ill and challenged people. The partition of India led Edhi and his family to migrate to Pakistan in 1947. He then shifted to Karachi to work in a market at a wholesale shop. He initially started as a peddler, and later became a commission agent selling cloth in the wholesale market in Karachi. After a few years, he established a free dispensary with help from his community.He was also known as “Human care”. More than Mother Teresa, Abdul sattar Edhi is known.
He told NPR in 2009 that “I saw people lying on the pavement … The flu had spread in Karachi, and there was no one to treat them. So I set up benches and got medical students to volunteer. I was penniless and begged for donations on the street. And people gave. I bought this 8-by-8 room to start my work.”
“People have become educated, but have yet to become human.”— Abdul Sattar Edhi
Edhi resolved to dedicate his life to aiding the poor, and over the next sixty years, he single handedly changed the face of welfare in Pakistan. Edhi founded the Edhi Foundation. Additionally, he established a welfare trust, named the Edhi Trust with an initial sum of a five thousand rupees which was later renamed as Bilqis Edhi Trust. Regarded as a guardian for the poor, Edhi began receiving numerous donations, which allowed him to expand his services. To this day, the Edhi Foundation continues to grow in both size and service, and is currently the largest welfare organisation in Pakistan. Since its inception, the Edhi Foundation has rescued over 20,000 abandoned infants, rehabilitated over 50,000 orphans and has trained over 40,000 nurses. It also runs more than 330 welfare centres in rural and urban Pakistan which operate as food kitchens, rehabilitation homes, shelters for abandoned women and children, and clinics for the mentally handicapped.
The Edhi Foundation, founded by Edhi, runs the world’s largest ambulance service (operating 1,500 of them) and offers 24-hour emergency services. It also operates free nursing homes, orphanages, clinics, women’s shelters, and rehab centres for drug addicts and mentally ill individuals. It has run relief operations in Africa, Middle East, the Caucasus region, eastern Europeand United States where it provided aid following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. His son Faisal Edhi, wife Bilquis Edhi and daughters managed the daily operations of the organization during his ill health. He was referred as Pakistan’s version of Mother Teresa, and the BBC wrote that he was considered “Pakistan’s most respected figure and was seen by some as almost a saint.”
In the early 1980s, Edhi was arrested by Israeli troops while entering Lebanon. In 2006, he was detained in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, for 16 hours. In January 2008, U.S. immigration officials interrogated Edhi at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City for over eight hours, and seized his passport and other documents. When asked about the frequent detention Edhi said “The only explanation I can think of is my beard and my dress.”
Edhi was married in 1965 to Bilquis, a nurse who worked at the Edhi dispensary. The couple had four children, two daughters and two sons. Bilquis runs the free maternity home at the headquarters in Karachi and organizes the adoption of abandoned babies including those born out of wedlock. Edhi was known for his ascetic lifestyle, owning only two pairs of clothes, never taking a salary from his organisation and living in an apartment next to his organization’s office. Edhi stated that he had “never been a very religious person.”
On 25 June 2013, Edhi’s kidneys failed; it was announced that he would be on dialysis for the rest of his life unless he found a kidney donor. Edhi died on 8 July 2016 at the age of 88 due to kidney failure after having been placed on a ventilator. His last wishes included the request that his organs were to be donated but due to his ill health, only his corneas were suitable. He was laid to rest at the Edhi Village Karachi.
Reactions to his death came from several high-ranking Pakistani officials. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said “We have lost a great servant of humanity. He was the real manifestation of love for those who were socially vulnerable, impoverished, helpless and poor.” The country’s head of the army, Raheel Sharif, called him a “true humanitarian.”
Prime Minister Sharif declared national mourning on the day following Edhi’s death and announced a state funeral for him. He became the third Pakistani to receive historical state gun carriage funeral after Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Zia ul Haq. He was the only Pakistani without a state authority or a state role to receive state funeral. According to Inter-Services Public Relations, state honours were given to Edhi by a guard of honour and a 19-gun salute. The attendees at his Janazah (funeral prayer) included dignitaries such as Mamnoon Hussain (President of Pakistan), Raza Rabbani (the Chairman Senate), Ishratul Ibad (provincial Governor of Sindh), Qaim Ali Shah and Shehbaz Sharif (the Chief Ministers of Sindh and Punjab), Raheel Shareef (Chief of Army Staff) along with Muhammad Zakaullah and Sohail Aman (the Chiefs of Staff of the Pakistani Navy and Air Force), at the National Stadium, Karachi.
In 2011 Yousaf Raza Gilani the then Prime Minister of Pakistan recommended Edhi for a nomination of Nobel Peace Prize. Again in early 2016, a petition signed by 30,000 for a Nobel Peace prize to Edhi was moved by Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of Malala Yousafzai. In her condolence message on Edhi’s death, broadcast by BBC Urdu Service Malala quoted that “as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, I hold the right to nominate people for the prize and I have nominated Abdul Sattar Edhi” .
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