By Shah Faisal Kakar
Abdul Sattar Edhi, the legendary philanthropist, the great humanitarian and social worker, passed away on July 8, 2016. He was 88. He is known in Pakistan as “angel of mercy” for his social work that also won him international acclaim. He donated his body after his death and his eyes enabled two blind persons to see.
Edhi was born in 1928 in Bantva in Gujarat, British India. When he was 11, his mother became paralyzed and later grew mentally ill and died when he was 19 years old. His personal experiences pushed him to develop a system of services for old, mentally ill and handicapped people.
Edhi and his family migrated to Pakistan in 1947. He initially started as a pedlar, later became a commission agent selling cloth in the wholesale market in Karachi. After a few years, he established a free dispensary with the help from his Memon community. Later he established the non-profit welfare trust, “Edhi Foundation” in 1951. It provides around the clock emergency services in the country and abroad.
Abdul Sattar Edhi was married to Bilquis, a nurse who worked at the Edhi dispensary, in 1965. The couple have four children, two daughters and two sons. Bilquis runs the free maternity home in Karachi and organizes the adoption of abandoned babies.
Edhi had a vision of chains of welfare centers and hospitals that could be opened to alleviate the pain of those suffering from illness and neglect. He also thought of the inhuman treatment meted out to the mentally ill, the insane and the disabled persons. Even at this early age, he felt personally responsible for taking on the challenge of developing a system of services to reduce human miseries. The task was huge and he had no resources. But it was something that he had to do even if he had to walk to the streets to beg for this purpose.
The Edhi foundation has developed into an organization of ambulances (which has made it to the Guinness Book of World Record in 2000 for running the largest ambulance service in the world), clinics, maternity homes, mental-health institutions, homes for the physically handicapped, blood banks, orphanages, adoption centers, mortuaries, shelters for runaway children and battered women, schools, nursing training centers, soup kitchens and a 25-bed cancer hospital. It is now the largest social welfare network in Pakistan, has offices in several countries and has undertaken relief operations in Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus region, Eastern Europe and the USA, where it provided aid following the New Orleans hurricane of 2005.
As a man who, through selfless dedication and devotion, saved millions of lives regardless of caste, creed, religion, or ethnicity in Pakistan, his foundation and mission sent a strong global message. His greatest contribution rests in not only saving thousands of lives, but doing so without prejudice, political consideration, or religious bias.
His work earned him numerous awards at home and abroad, including the Lenin Peace Prize in 1988, the Balzan Prize 2000, the Gandhi peace award 2007, UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize 2009, the 2011 London peace award, the 2008 Seoul peace award and the Hamdan award for volunteers in humanitarian medical service. In 2006, Institute of Business Administration Pakistan conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Social Service Management for his services. Edhi received the Nishan-e-Imtiaz from the government of Pakistan in 1989. Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif announced to decorate Abdul Sattar Edhi with Nishan-e-Imtiaz (Order of Excellence – the highest award in Pakistan) posthumously. He well deserved the Noble Prize. It would not only have raised the status of Edhi but that of the Noble Prize.
Funeral prayers of Edhi was given state honor with a guard of honor and a 19-gun salute. He was only the third Pakistani to receive the historical gun carriage funeral after Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Quaid-e-Azam) and Zia-ul-Haq. The State Bank of Pakistan has announced to issue the commemorative coin in his honor.
It goes without say that Pakistan, the region, and the world will be poorer without him.