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Emperor of soul
July 08, 2018
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The Gulf Today Features Team pays its heartfelt tribute to Pakistan’s legendary philanthropist and social worker Abdul Sattar Edhi on his second death anniversary today. He was born in Bantva, Gujarat, British India, in 1928. Edhi shifted to Karachi, where his love for suffering humanity found its most powerful expression.

 
Abdul Sattar Edhi (Feb 28, 1928 — July 8, 2016), who was born in Bantva, Gujarat, British India, shifted to Karachi where he established a free dispensary for the city’s low-income residents.

He later expanded his charity network across the country with the help of his wife Bilquis Edhi.

He was a Pakistani philanthropist, ascetic, and humanitarian who founded the Edhi Foundation, which runs the world’s largest volunteer ambulance network, along with homeless shelters, animal shelter, rehab centres, and orphanages across Pakistan. After his death, the Edhi Foundation is run by his son Faisal Edhi.

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 lifetime, the Edhi Foundation expanded, backed entirely by private donations, which included 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 to be 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 of religious tolerance in Pakistan and extended support to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 1985 famine in Ethiopia. Edhi was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, including by Malala Yousafzai. Edhi received several awards including Gandhi Peace Award and the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize.

Edhi was born in the late 1920s in Bantva in the Gujarat, British India into a Memon family. In his biography, he said his mother would give him 1 paisa for his meals and another to give to a poor child. 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 world. 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 told the media 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.”

At the age of 20 Edhi joined a Memon charity as a volunteer. However, once he understood that it only attended to Memon people he confronted his superiors and left to form an independent medical centre. He feared the Memons would have him killed because of the stand he made, so he left the country is search of safety and knowledge. Edhi travelled to Europe and made his way to London via Rome by asking for donations and begging. His time in London allowed him  to examine the social welfare programs set up in the United Kingdom and on which he based the rest of his charitable works. 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 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 five thousand rupees, the trust was later renamed as the 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 that operate as food kitchens, rehabilitation homes, shelters for abandoned women and children, and clinics for the mentally handicapped.

The Edhi Foundation, is funded entirely by private donations and services are offered to people irrespective of ethnicity or religion. It runs the world’s largest volunteer 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 Europe, and the United States. In 2005, the foundation donated $100 000 to relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

His son Faisal Edhi, wife Bilquis Edhi, and daughters managed the daily operations of the organisation during his ill health. He is often referred to 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.”

Agencies

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