By Ashu Arora:
Abdul Sattar Edhi, the Angel of Mercy, as titled by the masses, one of the most prominent humanitarians and philanthropists of Pakistan, passed away on July 8, 2016, due to kidney failure in a hospital in Karachi.
Born in Bantva, Gujarat in 1928, he migrated to Pakistan in 1947. He proved to be a boon to Pakistan, uplifting its status by being the home to such a noble soul. He was the epitome of service to humanity in Pakistan and around the world as well.
When Edhi was 11, his mother got paralysed from a stroke. Having a deep affection for her, Edhi nursed her day and night which probably made him realise the importance of serving the helpless. It seems that his mother was an important influence in turning him to such a noble soul as she sowed the seeds of this serenity during his childhood. She used to give him two paisas every day – one for himself and the other for charity. However, his mother passed away when he was 19.
Starting his career as a street hawker, selling pencils and matchboxes on the streets of Karachi, Edhi further saw the harsh reality of the mundane life full of pain, poverty and hunger. This gave him the motivation to start his non-pecuniary career in the service of others. Determined to serve the helpless, he opened a dispensary in a tiny room eight feet by eight feet in size in Karachi’s poor neighbourhood of Mithadar where the priority was to provide the help to the poor and needy. The journey he started alone in 1951 has now proliferated into a large family connected with the thread of love, humanity and compassion.
His marriage to Bilquis Bano Edhi in the year 1966 who was serving his foundation as a nurse, added greatly to his humanitarian work.
“The richest poor man” as called by the people, Edhi was honoured with several awards during his lifetime like the Lenin Peace Prize (1988), Wolf of the Bhogio Peace Award (Italy, 2005), and the Gandhi Peace Award (2007) to name a few. He has, with the support of volunteers of Edhi Foundation, rescued 20,000 abandoned infants, 50,000 orphans and 40,000 nurses currently serve in his organisation which runs the world’s largest free ambulance service with nearly 1500 ambulances at their disposal. In fact, at many places in Pakistan, his ambulance service was the first to reach and provide aid to victims.
It is plain to see with the outcome of his efforts how diligent he had been and how devoted he was to serve humans and animals as well. Currently, there are 250 Edhi Centres at the national level in Pakistan run by thousands of volunteers. The Edhi Foundation deals with emergency relief in natural disasters like fires, epidemics, floods, earthquake etc. He is known to have personally delivered the medicines to refugees in countries like Bosnia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan as well.
He said that he never wanted any help from the government and proved it when, in 1980, he refused to accept a cheque of Rs. 5,00,000 from then Prime Minister of Pakistan Zia-Ul-Haq. Another incident which proved his determination further was his refusal of a million dollar donation from the Italian government. Yet, what is jaw-dropping is that his foundation had a budget of nearly 10 million dollars, almost all of it through private funding. He believed that the world is still full of good people and he could get help whenever he wanted. He once shared an incident that happened to prove this. He said, “One time there was a student at Punjab University in Lahore who came down with cancer and his friend came to me for help. I stood outside on the street in Lahore and asked the people in that city for help. Within four or five hours, I received more than 40 million rupees [more than US $670,000].” He was honoured with Nishan-e-Khidmat Award in 1980 by the government of Pakistan.
His wife Mrs. Bilquis Edhi shared equal responsibility with him in this campaign of service. She, once in an interview with Pakistan’s TV anchor Moin Akhtar, was asked how she felt about being the life partner of such a great man. To this, she replied that it was an honour being the wife of such a person whose only business is to serve others. Edhi, together with his wife, was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 1986. In 2006, for the work that he did, the Institute of Business Administration, Pakistan conferred on him an honoris causa degree of Doctor of Social Science Management.
His work led him to earn myriad honours like the Khidmat Award by Pakistan Academy of Medical Science and the Human Rights Award by the Pakistan Human Rights Society. Many other international prizes include the UNESCO – Madanjeet Peace Prize in 2009, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Peace Prize in 2010. In the same year, i.e., in 2010, the University of Bedfordshire honoured him with a Doctorate. He was also made a Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotatory International Foundation.
Edhi is also known to have donated $100,000 to Pakistanis who lost their job in New York after 9/11. Many of the incidents unknown to common people and the problems he faced in his long journey were penned down by the Pakistan’s renowned author and activist Tehmina Durrani in her book titled “Edhi: A Mirror To The Blind”.
In the year 2013, his kidneys failed and he was on dialysis since then until his death. It was his selfless love and affection for all which led him to earn the sobriquet ‘Father of Orphans’. And as already mentioned, the world bid farewell to him on July 8, 2016.
Highly influenced by Mother Teresa and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, he, instead of running after ephemeral pleasures, chose to lead a simple, austere life. His compassion to serve humanity is shown in his last wish whereby he wished to donate his all his organs. However, only his eyes could be donated as his other organs were not in a good condition due to his long illness. He was buried in the grave dug by him several years back in the Edhi Village. The Pakistan Army gave a 19-gun salute to honour him.
“Take care of the poor of my country,” were his last words which leave us to question ourselves. What force was it that drove him throughout his life to engaged himself in these great deeds? Will Pakistan be able to prove itself worthy as the home of such a beautiful soul given the ordeal its people are going through?
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