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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 11    Issue 20   01 - 15 March 2017

Abdus-Sattar Edhi, Pakistan’s Angel of Mercy

Abdus-Sattar Edhi was born on 28 February 1928 in the Indian state of Gujarat. His family migrated to Pakistan following the partition of India. He settled in Karachi where he initially worked as a street hawker, selling small, inexpensive items. He developed a passionate concern for the poor and the needy from an early age. When he was about 20, he stood on a street corner in Karachi and begged for money with which he could buy an ambulance. With the money thus collected, he bought an old battered van and himself drove it around to take sick people to the hospital. He subsequently enlisted medical students as volunteers. He led an austere life, devoting himself full-time to the service of people.

Edhi set up the Edhi Foundation, the world’s largest volunteer ambulance network and Pakistan’s largest welfare organisation. The foundation runs more than 1,800 ambulances across Pakistan and charges a tiny fee for the service. In 1997 Edhi Foundation was named in the Guinness World Records as the “largest volunteer organisation in the world.”

The motto of Edhi Foundation is “Live and help live.” Today the Edhi Foundation runs a wide range of welfare institutions, including outpatient hospitals, a child adoption centre, drug rehabilitation centres, hostels for abandoned women, maternity clinics and homes for the mentally ill. The foundation runs cradles for “unwanted babies” and arranges for the burial of unclaimed dead bodies. In his autobiography, published in 1996, Edhi recalls that he recovered these stinking cadavers "from rivers, from inside wells, from road sides, accident sites and hospitals… When families forsook them, and authorities threw them away, I picked them up… Then I bathed and cared for each and every victim of circumstance."

Edhi placed a little cradle outside every Edhi centre, beneath a placard imploring: "Do not commit another sin: leave your baby in our care." Edhi has so far saved 35,000 babies and, in approximately half of these cases, found families to cherish them. Some 20,000 people have registered with the foundation as parents or guardians after he began taking in abandoned babies.

Edhi led relief missions to Lebanon when the country was ravaged by a civil war in 1983 and to Bangladesh when it was hit by a devastating cyclone in 2007. In 2005 Edhi Foundation donated $100,000 to the victims of hurricane Katrina in the US.

The charitable work carried out by Edhi Foundation is open to all communities, including Muslims, Hindus and Christians. Edhi was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 2014, but did not win it. In an interview with the Express Tribune newspaper, he said, “I don’t care about it. The Nobel Prize does not mean anything to me. I want these people. I want humanity.” Edhi died in Karachi on 8 July 2016.

To honour Edhi’s memory and his enormous contribution to social welfare, Google changed its logo to an illustration of Edhi by hailing his “super-efficient ambulance service.” It said, “In celebration of Abdus-Sattar Edhi, let’s all lend a hand to someone in need today.”

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