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Remembering Abdul Sattar Edhi – A voice for the voiceless

Abdul Sattar Edhi was a Pakistani philanthropist, ascetic and humanitarian. ‘People have become educated but they have not become human’. This quote is by Abdul Sattar Edhi, and it touches several hearts across the world.
The late Edhi was indeed a one-man angel of mercy corps and the best face of Pakistan’s soft image in the world. The Edhi Foundation, the charity organization he started in 1951, has helped millions of people since its inception.
Abdul Sattar Edhi was a true follower of the Quaid-i-Azam. The stories of his humility and simplicity continue and his legend grows. Edhi, beyond doubt, is a hero not only for Pakistan but the world because people everywhere were touched by his selfless work.
Early life
Abdul Sattar Edhi was born on 28 July 1928 in Bantva, Gujarat, India to a Memon family. The seeds of compassion for the suffering humanity were sown in his soul by his mother’s infirmity.
When Edhi was at the tender age of 11, his mother became paralyzed and later got mentally ill. Edhi devoted himself to looking after all her needs; cleaning, bathing, changing clothes and feeding.
His studies were also seriously affected and he could not complete his high school level. Edhi’s mother died when he was 19.
His personal experience made him think of thousands and millions, suffering like his mother, around with nobody to look after them.
He thought that he had a call to help these people. He 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
Migrated to Pakistan
Edhi and his family migrated to Pakistan in 1947. In order to earn his living, Abdul Sattar Edhi initially started as a peddler, later became a commission agent selling cloth in the wholesale market in Karachi.
Establishment of Edhi Foundation
After a couple of years, he left this occupation and with the support of his community decided to establish a free dispensary.
He became involved in this charity work. However, soon his personal vision of a growing and developing system of multifarious services made him decide to establish a welfare trust of his own and named it “Edhi Trust”.
Married in 1965
Abdul Sattar Edhi was married in 1965 to a woman Bilquis, a nurse who worked at the Edhi dispensary. The couple has four children, two daughters and two sons.
Bilquis runs the free maternity home at the trust in Karachi and organizes the adoption of illegitimate and abandoned babies.
The husband-wife team has come to share the common vision of single-minded devotion to the cause of alleviation of human sufferings and a sense of personal responsibility to respond to each call for help, regardless of race, creed or status.
Title of the ‘Angel of Mercy’
An appeal was made to the public for funds to run the welfare trust. The response was good, and Rs.200, 000 were raised initially. The range and scope of work of Edhi Trust expanded with remarkable speed under the driving spirit of the man behind it.
A maternity home was established and an emergency ambulance service was started in the sprawling metropolis of Karachi with a population of over 10 million.
More donations were received as people’s confidence in the activities of the Trust grew. With the passage of time, masses gave him the title of the ‘Angel of Mercy’.
The open and progressive mind
Although Edhi has a traditional Islamic background, he has an open and progressive mind on a number of sensitive social issues. He strongly supports the notion of working women.
Of the 2,000 paid workers of the Edhi Foundation around 500 are women. They work in various capacities in-charges of Edhi centers, heads of maternity homes and dispensaries and office workers.
Moreover, several women volunteers help the Edhi Foundation in fundraising. Edhi encouraged women to do all sorts of work without differentiation.
Largest volunteer ambulance service in the world

The Edhi organization continues to serve the nation through its 24/7 ambulance service. This service started in 1948, boasts of several ambulances across the country and has created a new record for being the largest volunteer ambulance service.

The Guinness Book of World Records named the Edhi Foundation’s ambulance service the world’s largest social service.
Honors and awards
Edhi received several international and national awards including, the international award of Ramon Magsaysay for Public Service (1986). Lenin Peace Prize (1988). Paul Harris Fellow from Rotary International (1993).
Peace Prize from the former USSR, for services during the Armenian earthquake disaster (1988). Hamdan Award for volunteers in Humanitarian Medical Services (2000).
International Balzan Prize (2000) for Humanity, Peace and Brotherhood, Italy. UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize (2009).
National Awards
National awards include Silver Jubilee Shield by College of Physicians and Surgeons (1962–1987). Moiz ur Rehman Award (2015).
The Social Worker of Sub-Continent by Government of Sindh (1989). Nishan-e-Imtiaz, civil decoration from the Government of Pakistan (1989)
Pakistan Civic Award from the Pakistan Civic Society (1992) Human Rights Award by Pakistan Human Rights Society.
Illness and death
On 25 June 2013, Edhi was hospitalized due to kidneys issues. He later died on 8 July 2016 at the age of 88 due to complete kidney failure after having been placed on a ventilator.
One of his last wishes was that his organs be donated for the use of the needy but due to his poor health, only his corneas were suitable for later use in the donation. He was laid to rest at Edhi Village in Karachi.
Edhi’s death marks the end of an era
No words will ever suffice to pay proper homage to the greatest humanitarians that ever graced the earth. Abdul Sattar Edhi’s death marks the end of an era. Edhi was not just a man.
He was Pakistan’s conscience. A voice for the voiceless. A hope for the hopeless. A home for the homeless. He forever lives in our hearts as a myth, a legend, an icon and an inspiration for humanity.
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