Humanitarian to a Nation

 
    • For more than half a century, Abdul Sattar Edhi, now 76 years old, has been living proof that a determined individual can mobilize others to alleviate misery and, in so doing, knit together the social fabric of a nation. Firmly refusing financial support from both government and formal religious organizations, this self-effacing man with a primary-school education has almost single-handedly created one of the largest and most successful health and welfare networks in Asia. Whether he is counseling a battered wife, rescuing an accident victim, feeding a poor child, sheltering a homeless family or washing an unidentified and unclaimed corpse before burial, Edhi and Bilquis, his wife of 38 years, help thousands of Pakistanis each day.

      Starting in 1951 with a tiny dispensary in Karachi’s poor Mithadar neighborhood, Edhi has steadily built up a nationwide organization of ambulances, clinics, maternity homes, mental asylums, homes for the physically handicapped, blood banks, orphanages, adoption centers, mortuaries, shelters for runaway children and battered women, schools, nursing courses, soup kitchens and a 25-bed cancer hospital. All are run by some 7000 volunteers and a small paid staff of teachers, doctors and nurses. Edhi has also personally delivered medicines, food and clothing to refugees in Bosnia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan. He and the drivers of his ambulances have saved lives in floods, train wrecks, civil conflicts and traffic accidents. After the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, he donated $100,000 to Pakistanis in New York who lost their jobs in the subsequent economic crisis.

      Remarkably, the lion’s share of the Edhi Foundation’s $10-million budget comes from private donations from individual Pakistanis inside and outside the country. In the 1980s, when Pakistan’s then-President Zia ul-Haq sent him a check for 500,000 rupees (then more than $30,000), Edhi sent it back. Last year, the Italian government offered him a million-dollar donation. He refused. “Governments set conditions that I cannot accept,” he says, declining to give any details.

      ...

      In 1951, four years after the family moved to Karachi following the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent, the 23-year-old Edhi used some of his savings to buy a tiny shop, less than three meters (10') on a side, inside what is now the clinic building. Together with a doctor who taught him the basics of health care, he set up a free dispensary, and he persuaded several friends to help him add free literacy classes. To be available at all times, he slept on a cement bench outside the dispensary.

      In 1957, a virulent flu epidemic swept through Karachi. Edhi reacted with unselfish daring, using his own money to erect tented camps on the city’s outskirts where people received free immunizations. After the epidemic was brought under control, grateful residents chipped in to buy the rest of the Mithadar dispensary building, enabling Edhi to create a free maternity center and nursing school.

      Over the years that followed, Edhi realized that Karachi desperately needed an ambulance service. Impressed by his handling of the flu crisis, a local businessman made a large donation, part of which Edhi used to buy a beat-up van that he converted into a free ambulance and drove himself. I prided myself on being the first to arrive at an accident,” he recalls. Today, Edhi’s ambulance service has grown to a fleet of more than 600 nationwide, all paid for with donations. Dispatched from call centers scattered around the country’s cities and highways, Edhi ambulances are still usually the first to arrive at the scene, and they have helped cut the fatality toll from road accidents by half, he says.

      In 1986, during a hijacking attempt at Karachi airport, Edhi marshaled 54 ambulances at the ready. When negotiations between the hijackers and the government broke down and Pakistani commandos stormed the plane, Edhi and other paramedics entered under fire to try to save wounded passengers and crew.

      In 1993, during devastating floods in the Punjab, Edhi ambulances rescued 50,000 people. Using donated planes, volunteers also dropped food, water and supplies to isolated families. Edhi’s air ambulance service now numbers three planes and a helicopter, all donated by the US Agency for International Development “without conditions,” Edhi is quick to point out.

      “The 1993 flood was the biggest operation we’d ever done; it satisfied Mr. Edhi that we could handle major disasters,” explains Anwer Kazmi, a longtime friend and aide, who translates Edhi’s Urdu into English.

      ...

      A businessman in a crisp linen shirt and polished shoes is waiting for Edhi in his office. “Here’s one who has come around,” he says, gripping the man’s shoulders in a friendly embrace. Edhi explains that the waiting businessman has launched a partnership with the foundation to assist the poor in starting fabric shops, food stalls and other small businesses. Hes helping them stand on their own rather than giving them handouts that only make them more dependent,” says Edhi.

      “That’s the humanitarian revolution we need,he continues with a weary smile. But still so few understand. Let’s spread the word.


      Text: Abridged from the original version written by Richard Covington and published on the November/December 2004 issue of Saudi Armaco World. Copyright © 2004-2010 Aramco Services Company.

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Girls work through a program in a multimedia class at the Clifton home that runs Edhi Foundation. August, 2004. Edhi foundation is the most trusted name in Pakistan when it comes to relief work within distressed areas in Pakistan and the rest of the world. Edhi foundation is a NON Profit organization that has been in the business of providing social services like medical care, emergency services, air ambulances, burial services, mental habitats, old homes, child welfare services, abused women safe houses and training facilities for the disadvantaged. Edhi's founder is Abdul Sattar Edhi who established the first clinic in 1951.

A handicapped child with an attendant at Edhi Village. August, 2004. Edhi foundation is the most trusted name in Pakistan when it comes to relief work within distressed areas in Pakistan and the rest of the world. Edhi foundation is a NON Profit organization that has been in the business of providing social services like medical care, emergency services, air ambulances, burial services, mental habitats, old homes, child welfare services, abused women safe houses and training facilities for the disadvantaged. Edhi's founder is Abdul Sattar Edhi who established the first clinic in 1951.

A teacher checks the classwork of boys at the Edhi Child Home. Requirements that older students help younger ones help integrate Edhi’s philosophy of self-reliance into the curriculum. August, 2004. Edhi foundation is the most trusted name in Pakistan when it comes to relief work within distressed areas in Pakistan and the rest of the world. Edhi foundation is a NON Profit organization that has been in the business of providing social services like medical care, emergency services, air ambulances, burial services, mental habitats, old homes, child welfare services, abused women safe houses and training facilities for the disadvantaged. Edhi's founder is Abdul Sattar Edhi who established the first clinic in 1951.

Accepting a humanitarian award in 2000, Abdul Sattar Edhi said, "My greatest reward is the smile that flashes on the faces of suffering human beings, and the prize money of all these awards has always been utilized in spreading this smile. I myself am the owner of nothing, except a small 10-foot by 10-foot room that my mother left me in the alley where I first began my work, and the two sets of clothing that I wear. Edhi may be the most widely admired man in Pakistan, yet he remains little known abroad: Starting in 1951 with a free pharmacy in a poor neighborhood of Karachi, Abdul Sattar Edhi has inspired-by deeds more than words-the growth of a vast nationwide Charitable organization of ambulances, clinics, orphanages, asylums, shelters, mortuaries, hospitals, schools and kitchens staffed today by more than 7000 volunteers and funded entirely by private donations. August 2004.

The Edhi Female Child Home in the affluent Clifton district of Karachi is run like other well-equipped, modern schools. Dormitories for the children use furnishings and decor chosen by Bilquis Edhi. August, 2004. Edhi foundation is the most trusted name in Pakistan when it comes to relief work within distressed areas in Pakistan and the rest of the world. Edhi foundation is a NON Profit organization that has been in the business of providing social services like medical care, emergency services, air ambulances, burial services, mental habitats, old homes, child welfare services, abused women safe houses and training facilities for the disadvantaged. Edhi's founder is Abdul Sattar Edhi who established the first clinic in 1951.

The Edhi Information Bureau is one of several Edhi centers in Karachi and one of some 300 throughout Pakistan. From here the Edhi ambulance service is coordinated, and there is a free kitchen, a missing persons bureau and a collection center for donations of cash and bedding. Like all Edhi centers, it has outside its door a shaded cradle near which is a sign that reads, "Do not kill." Children placed in the cradle are taken into one of the 13 Edhi homes or placed with adoptive parents. No questions asked. August, 2004. Edhi foundation is the most trusted name in Pakistan when it comes to relief work within distressed areas in Pakistan and the rest of the world. Edhi foundation is a NON Profit organization that has been in the business of providing social services like medical care, emergency services, air ambulances, burial services, mental habitats, old homes, child welfare services, abused women safe houses and training facilities for the disadvantaged. Edhi's founder is Abdul Sattar Edhi who established the first clinic in 1951.

Edhi Free Kitchin in Pakistan. Edhi Foundation hopes to build public kitchens in major cities of Pakistan and in Third World countries for basic food supplies to the poor, needy and drought-stricken areas. August, 2004. Edhi Foundation is the most trusted name in Pakistan when it comes to relief work within distressed areas in Pakistan and the rest of the world. Edhi foundation is a NON Profit organization that has been in the business of providing social services like medical care, emergency services, air ambulances, burial services, mental habitats, old homes, child welfare services, abused women safe houses and training facilities for the disadvantaged. Edhi's founder is Abdul Sattar Edhi who established the first clinic in 1951.

Breakfast at the Edhi Child Home is well organized; the boys rotate the responsibilities of cooking, serving and cleaning. August, 2004. Edhi foundation is the most trusted name in Pakistan when it comes to relief work within distressed areas in Pakistan and the rest of the world. Edhi foundation is a NON Profit organization that has been in the business of providing social services like medical care, emergency services, air ambulances, burial services, mental habitats, old homes, child welfare services, abused women safe houses and training facilities for the disadvantaged. Edhi's founder is Abdul Sattar Edhi who established the first clinic in 1951.

Accepting a humanitarian award in 2000, Abdul Sattar Edhi said, "My greatest reward is the smile that flashes on the faces of suffering human beings, and the prize money of all these awards has always been utilized in spreading this smile. I myself am the owner of nothing, except a small 10-foot by 10-foot room that my mother left me in the alley where I first began my work, and the two sets of clothing that I wear. Edhi may be the most widely admired man in Pakistan, yet he remains little known abroad: Starting in 1951 with a free pharmacy in a poor neighborhood of Karachi, Abdul Sattar Edhi has inspired-by deeds more than words-the growth of a vast nationwide Charitable organization of ambulances, clinics, orphanages, asylums, shelters, mortuaries, hospitals, schools and kitchens staffed today by more than 7000 volunteers and funded entirely by private donations. August 2004.

Edhi emergency dispatchers operate around the clock. From any phone in Pakistan, dialing 154 connects a caller with the Edhi ambulance service. August, 2004. Edhi foundation is the most trusted name in Pakistan when it comes to relief work within distressed areas in Pakistan and the rest of the world. Edhi foundation is a NON Profit organization that has been in the business of providing social services like medical care, emergency services, air ambulances, burial services, mental habitats, old homes, child welfare services, abused women safe houses and training facilities for the disadvantaged. Edhi's founder is Abdul Sattar Edhi who established the first clinic in 1951.

Bilquis Edhi, center, has overseen the Edhi Foundation's more than 16,000 adoptions as well as the development of hospitals and vocational services for women and a home for girls. August, 2004. Edhi foundation is the most trusted name in Pakistan when it comes to relief work within distressed areas in Pakistan and the rest of the world. Edhi foundation is a NON Profit organization that has been in the business of providing social services like medical care, emergency services, air ambulances, burial services, mental habitats, old homes, child welfare services, abused women safe houses and training facilities for the disadvantaged. Edhi's founder is Abdul Sattar Edhi who established the first clinic in 1951.

A woman abandoned by her husband waits with her children outside an Edhi center. She will ask the foundation's help in securing alimony. August, 2004. Edhi foundation is the most trusted name in Pakistan when it comes to relief work within distressed areas in Pakistan and the rest of the world. Edhi foundation is a NON Profit organization that has been in the business of providing social services like medical care, emergency services, air ambulances, burial services, mental habitats, old homes, child welfare services, abused women safe houses and training facilities for the disadvantaged. Edhi's founder is Abdul Sattar Edhi who established the first clinic in 1951.