Abdul Sattar Edhi was a legendary Pakistani philanthropist and humanitarian who founded the Edhi Foundation which operates hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters and rehab centers all over Pakistan. One of the country’s most respected figures, he is known as “Angel of Mercy” for his selfless service to the abandoned, sick, destitute and the ostracized. He was helped in his life’s work by his wife, Bilquis Edhi, a nurse committed to the same humanitarian values as her husband. Born in India in the late 1920s, he was raised to be compassionate towards the less privileged. He spent his teenage years caring for his paralyzed and mentally ill mother which furthered his passion to do something for the sick. Forced to move to Pakistan as a young man after the partition of India, he witnessed the horrors of war and the massive human sufferings that followed. Moved by the widespread pain and misery around him, he set about laying the foundations for what would one day become the Edhi Foundation. Having begun his charitable work singlehandedly, he soon met some kindred spirits who helped him in establishing hospitals and orphanages across the nation. An austere and open-minded individual, he promoted religious tolerance and advocated for the rights of women to work outside their homes.
Childhood & Early Life
Abdul Sattar Edhi was born on 1 January 1928, in Bantva, Bantva Manavadar, Gujarat, in British India into a Memon family. From a young age, he was raised to be benevolent towards the needy and the less privileged.
His mother suffered a stroke and became paralyzed when the young boy was 11 and from then on, he devoted a considerable part of his time caring for his mother. This experience imbibed in him sensitivity and empathy for the sick, mentally ill and challenged people. His mother died when he was 19.
The partition of India happened in 1947, and, Edhi and his family migrated to Pakistan. It was a terrible time marked by widespread violence and devastation with millions killed.
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While Edhi managed to escape alive, he faced massive struggles in rebuilding his life in Karachi, Pakistan. Aged around 20 at that time, the young man was penniless and destitute. Yet his personal troubles did not deter him from joining a charity run by the Memons, the Islamic religious community to which his family belonged. However, he was disappointed that the charity served only those from the Memon community but not others.
Initially he found work at a wholesale shop and later on became a commission agent selling cloth in the wholesale market in Karachi. During this time, he became very serious about serving the sick and the needy and set up a small medical center of his own where he provided care even to those who arrived late in the night.
In 1951, he founded the Edhi Foundation in Karachi to provide 24-hour emergency medical assistance to the needy and maternity facilities to homeless and destitute women, among other services.
The Asian flu epidemic broke out in 1957 and Edhi realized the urgent need to expand his services. With the epidemic ravaging Karachi, the number of patients grew steadily with very few doctors to cater to them. Determined to do the best he could, he begged for donations on the streets to treat the growing number of patients and appealed to medical students to volunteer their services.
He eventually received a generous donation from a rich businessman which helped him buy his first ambulance. Over the ensuing years his selfless service caught the public attention and soon the donations started flowing in, enabling him to set up several hospitals, orphanages, women’s shelters, and rehab centers not only in Karachi, but also in other cities across Pakistan.
In addition to medical care and emergency services, the organization also provides aid to women and children in need and assists with missing persons cases. It helps in covering burial and graveyard costs of unclaimed and unidentified bodies during times of disaster as well. The foundation also reaches out to international communities and provided $100,000 in aid to relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Abdul Sattar Edhi founded the Edhi Foundation which today runs the world's largest ambulance service (operating 1,500 of them) and offers 24-hour emergency services. It also runs charitable hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters, women's shelters, and rehab centers for drug addicts and mentally ill individuals.
Awards & Achievements
Abdul Sattar Edhi received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 1986.
He also received several other international honors including Lenin Peace Prize (1988), Paul Harris Fellow from Rotary International (1993), Peace Prize from the former USSR (1998), and International Balzan Prize for Humanity, Peace and Brotherhood from Italy (2000).
The national honors he received include Pakistan Civic Award from the Pakistan Civic Society (1992), Jinnah Award for Outstanding Services to Pakistan by the Jinnah Society (1998), and Bacha Khan Aman (Peace) Award (1991).
He was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Personal Life & Legacy
Abdul Sattar Edhi married Bilquis in 1965. His wife was a nurse who worked at the Edhi dispensary and shared her husband’s humanitarian beliefs. She worked alongside him for as long as he was alive and runs a free maternity home and organizes the adoption of abandoned babies. The couple had four children.
Edhi lived an austere life and shunned all kinds of publicity. Despite being the recipient of numerous international honors, he preferred to stay away from the limelight.
He suffered kidney failure in 2013 and remained in ill health for the rest of his life. He died on 8 July 2016 at the age of 88. He wanted to donate his organs, but due to his illness only his corneas were suitable.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared national mourning on the day following Edhi's death and announced a state funeral for him, making him the third Pakistani to receive historical state gun carriage funeral after Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Zia ul Haq.