Edhi was born in the late 1920s in Bantva in the state of Gujarat, 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.
Early Days of the Edhi Trust
The spirit of the Edhi foundation was born when Abdul Sattar Edhi was a child. At the tender age of eleven, Edhi’s mother became paralyzed and mentally ill. Young Abdul Sattar Edhi devoted himself to her care and took on the role of feeding, bathing, and clothing her daily. Her deteriorating mental and physical condition left a lasting impact on Edhi’s mind. As a result, he dropped out of High School and strictly focused on his mother’s health. Edhi’s mother died when he was nineteen. His mother’s death made him reflect on other fellow Pakistanis who were suffering from similar illnesses. After his family moved to Pakistan in 1947, Edhi established a free dispensary with the help of other community members. His vision for establishing and improving the healthcare sector in Pakistan enabled him to establish a personal welfare trust for the people called “Edhi Trust”. With the help of public funding, Edhi’s trust was able to collect Rs.200,000. He expanded the trust to other medical fields and through hard work and diligence, he went on to establish a maternity home and an emergency ambulance service. Edhi made it a habit to involve himself in every aspect of his foundation. His foundation raised money for most noble causes. The Edhi foundation had allotted a quota for each humanitarian cause, whether it was burying abandoned corpses or aiding in disaster relief.
He told NPR 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 center. He feared the Memons would have him killed because of the stand he made, so he left the country in 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.
Date of birth
Edhi in his autobiography himself revealed that he didn’t know his date of birth.But according to media reports published following his death, he was born on 1 January 1928.However, in 2017, Google Doodle marked his date of birth as 28 February 1928 following which several reports emerged in favour of 28 February 1928.The Sun noted “Google says Edhi celebrated his birthday on February 28, however reports suggest he was in fact born on January 1.”Metro noted “There has been uncertainty about when his birthday is. Some have reported it as 1 January in the past – however, now it is widely believed to be 28 February.” Wired noted that “Previous reports, including those surrounding his funeral, state Edhi was born on January 1. An obituary in The Guardian doesn’t list a birthday date, simply putting circa 1926. The date January 1 can, at times, be used in place of a specific date when only a year is known, but this tends to be avoided due to the confusion it can cause. However, Google has since told WIRED it got the February 28 date directly from Edhi’s family.”
The Nation reported that Bilquis Edhi, the wife of Edhi in an interview to a TV channel said ‘We never even celebrated his birthday while he was alive. We were unaware of the day he was born.”Daily Times reported “There is some confusion over his actual birth date as Edhi himself was unsure and believed he was born between 1926 and 1928.”
People have become educated, but have yet to become human.— Abdul Sattar Edhi
The Edhi Foundation and Bilquis Edhi Trust
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 Bilquis 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 centers 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 organization during his ill health. He was once dubbed as Pakistan’s version of Mother Teresa by India Today in 1990,and the BBC wrote that he was considered “Pakistan’s most respected figure and was seen by some as almost a saint.”
In 2014, the foundation was robbed of £400,000 cash and has been the target of right-wing attacks and competition from Pakistan’s militant far-right.
In the early 1980s, Edhi was arrested by Israeli troops while entering Lebanon. In 2006, he was detained in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, for 16 hours. In January 2008, U.S. immigration officials at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City investigated him for over eight hours seizing passport and other documents. When asked about the frequent detention Edhi said, “The only explanation I can think of is my beard and my dress.” His appearance in a traditional dress and a long beard prompted travel authorities to keep him for questioning.
In 1965 Edhi married Bilquis, a nurse who worked at the Edhi dispensary. They had four children, two daughters and two sons.Bilquis runs the free maternity home at the headquarters in Karachi and organizes the adoption of abandoned babies including those born out of wedlock.Edhi was known for his ascetic lifestyle, owning only two pairs of clothes, never taking a salary from his organisation and living in an apartment next to his organization’s office.Edhi stated that he had “never been a very religious person.”
Illness and death
On 25 June 2013, Edhi’s kidneys failed; it was announced that he would be on dialysis for the rest of his life unless he found a kidney donor. Edhi died on 8 July 2016 at the age of 88 due to kidney failure after having been placed on a ventilator. His last wishes included the request that his organs were to be donated but due to his ill health, only his corneas were suitable.He was laid to rest at the Edhi Village Karachi.
Reactions and funeral
Reactions to his death came from several high-ranking Pakistani officials. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said “We have lost a great servant of humanity. He was the real manifestation of love for those who were socially vulnerable, impoverished, helpless and poor.”Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif, called him a “true humanitarian”.
Prime Minister Sharif declared national mourning on the day following Edhi’s death and announced a state funeral for him. He became the third Pakistani to receive a historical state gun carriage funeral after Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Zia ul Haq. At the time, he was the only Pakistani without a state authority or a state role to receive a state funeral. According to Inter-Services Public Relations, state honours were given to Edhi by a guard of honour and a 19-gun salute. The attendees at his Janazah(funeral prayer) included dignitaries such as Mamnoon Hussain (President of Pakistan), Raza Rabbani (the Chairman of the Senate of Pakistan), Ishratul Ibad(provincial Governor of Sindh), Qaim Ali Shah and Shehbaz Sharif (the Chief Ministers of Sindh and Punjab), Raheel Sharif (Chief of Army Staff) along with Muhammad Zakaullah and Sohail Aman (the Chiefs of Staff of the Pakistani Navy and Air Force), at the National Stadium, Karachi.
On 4 July 2016, Defence Housing Authority announced its decision to rename 5 km long Beach Avenue on Seaview as ‘Abdul Sattar Edhi Avenue’ in recognition of the welfare services by Edhi.
On 28 February 2017, Google celebrated Edhi with a Google Doodle hailing his “super-efficient” ambulance service.
On 31 March 2017, a ₨. 50 cupro-nickel commemorative coin was issued upon the recommendation of the State Bank of Pakistan to the Prime Minister Sharif, who decided to commemorate Edhi’s services on the national level.Edhi became the only social worker and the fifth Pakistani personality to have been honoured with a commemorative coin.
World-renowned photographer Shahidul Alam photo-documented Edhi since 1995.
Honors and awards
- Ramon Magsaysay Award 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), UAE
- International Balzan Prize (2000) for Humanity, Peace and Brotherhood, Italy
- Peace and Harmony Award (2001), Delhi
- Peace Award (2004), Mumbai
- Peace Award (2005), Hyderabad Deccan
- Gandhi Peace Award (2007), Delhi
- Seoul Peace Prize (2008), Seoul
- Honorary doctorate from the Institute of Business Administration Karachi (2006).
- UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize (2009)
- Ahmadiyya Muslim Peace Prize (2010)
- Honorary Doctorate by the University of Bedfordshire (2010)
- London Peace Award (2011), London
- 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)
- Recognition of meritorious services to oppressed humanity during the 1980s by Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Government of Pakistan (1989)
- Pakistan Civic Award from the Pakistan Civic Society (1992)
- Jinnah Award for Outstanding Services to Pakistan was conferred in April 1998 by The Jinnah Society. This was the first Jinnah Award conferred on any person in Pakistan.
- Shield of Honor by Pakistan Army (E & C)
- Khidmat Award by the Pakistan Academy of Medical Sciences
- Bacha Khan Aman (Peace) Award in 1991
- Human Rights Award by Pakistan Human Rights Society
- 2013 Person of the Year by the readers of The Express Tribune
In 2011 Yousaf Raza Gilani, the Prime Minister of Pakistan recommended Edhi for a nomination of Nobel Peace Prize. Again in early 2016, a petition signed by 30,000 for a Nobel Peace prize to Edhi was moved by Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of Malala Yousafzai.In her condolence message on Edhi’s death, broadcast by BBC Urdu Service Malala quoted that “as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, I hold the right to nominate people for the prize and I have nominated Abdul Sattar Edhi”.
Najam Sethi, a governing board member of Pakistan Cricket Board proposed to rename Gaddafi Stadium after Edhi.
- List of philanthropists
- Pakistani philanthropists:
- Ansar Burney
- Ramzan Chhipa
- Adibul Hasan Rizvi
- Hakim Said
- Ruth Pfau
- Shahidul Alam