Charity unlimited: Pakistan’s Abdul Sattar Edhi dies at 88

This February 15, 2016 photo shows Abdul Sattar Edhi, the head of Edhi Foundation waving as he journeys to his office in Karachi. Edhi, died on Friday, at the age of 88, his son confirmed as tributes swiftly poured in for the humble man almost unanimously revered as a national hero in Pakistan.  

But for the Partition of 1947, Abdul Sattar Edhi would not have become the “Mother Teresa of Pakistan.” “We came from a trading family from Gujarat in India and I had no training in social work. I listened to my heart and felt compelled to do something about the sight of the bodies floating in Karachi harbour,” Edhi, who passed away on Friday at the age of 88, had told this reporter in 2010.

Edhi, known as a ‘servant of humanity’ and who also ran the world’s largest private ambulance network, was suffering from severe kidney problems according to his son Faisal.

Edhi’s story of social work begins thus. Like thousands of other displaced Muslims of India, he had left for the newly created Pakistan. His family chose Karachi to settle down.

But in the early months after Partition, the promised land of Pakistan threw some tough challenges. As Karachi absorbed the shock of receiving so many new residents, life in the city was often less than promising. During those months, Edhi would often spot the anonymous bodies, left bobbing in the water of the Arabian Sea by relatives who had to carry on living.

A decent burial

“I would jump into the sea, retrieve the dead. Drape them in clean clothes and provide them a decent burial,” he had said during a meeting in his house, which also served as the headquarters of the Edhi Foundation in Karachi. Thus began the Edhi Graveyard Service, perhaps the only one of its kind in the world that ensures dignified burial to the dead in Pakistan’s big cities.

Edhi was a multitasking genius. The vast network of Edhi’s orphanages spread across Pakistan has a tradition of keeping a crib outside. “Often in the morning we find that a child has been left in our crib. We immediately adopt the child and do not go around looking for the parents. We give him or her a new name and a new life,” he had said.

Not all children in Edhi’s care are infants. Some are like the differently abled Indian girl Geeta who was brought to his orphanage in Lahore by the police. Geeta was returned to India earlier this year.

Edhi’s style of functioning bore signs of his dedication. The cramped ground floor office had a few sofas where he would sit receiving visitors from morning till late at night. Next to him on a table, piles of old bound volumes contained names and addresses of all the contributors who supported the work of the Edhi Foundation since he began in 1951 with the Memon Voluntary Corps which became the Abdul Sattar Edhi Trust in 1974.

No to government funds

Edhi’s office welcomed people’s donation for the many causes he supported and he always declined government support. “So many times the government of Pakistan wanted to help me. But I said no, thank you.”

Edhi’s ambulance service always reached first to help the injured in ethnic riots of Karachi, or assist victims of floods in Sindh, or Peshawar’s Taliban attacks. He often received threats from Taliban as the Islamic fundamentalists declared him an infidel for his love for people of all faiths. Despite all threats, Edhi remained without fear and bodyguards.

Edhi was not formally educated but he himself became an institution for generations of followers. Chief among them is Bilquis, his wife, who takes care of the orphanages. Edhi cared little about publicity. So much so that he used to forget that celebrated Pakistani author Tehmina Durrani had written his biography. But his tradition of humanitarian work will continue to live as he leaves behind hundreds of trained volunteers to carry forward the message of his life.

(With inputs from AFP)

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 7:29:31 AM |

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