Happy Birthday, Dr. Edhi!

Today is the (supposed) birthday of one of the most remarkable humanitarians ever, Abdul Sattar Edhi. He passed away on 8 July, 2016 at the age of 88 and would have turned 89 now. His charitable organization, the Edhi Foundation, is one of the most prominent in South Asia and is all the more remarkable by virtue of the destitute circumstances in which it formed and grew. Edhi’s life has been so pure and so devoted to helping the needy that he is almost considered a saint. Most large-scale charities are formed and run by people who possess considerable wealth. But Abdul Sattar Edhi lived in grinding poverty when he started his charitable work and continued to be poor for a long time afterwards. It was a case of the needy being helped by one of their own. How Edhi managed to provide so much for others while having so little himself can be considered one of humanity’s great feats.
Edhi’s beginnings were so grounded in poverty that even his date of birth is unknown. Edhi said that he was born between 1926 and ’28. After his death, media reports suggested that he was born on January 1, 1928, but more recent reports suggest it was February 28 of that year. Hence February 28 is being formally celebrated now. It is known that he was born in Gujarat. His mother instilled in him a charitable mindset. She would give him 1 paisa so he could buy food for himself and another paisa to give to a beggar. When he was eleven, calamity struck his family when his mother was paralyzed by a stroke. He had to care for her for years afterwards, and the experience he gained from looking after his mother shaped his vision of life. His mother died when he was 19 and shortly thereafter, he moved to the newly created nation of Pakistan during Partition.
He witnessed and himself went through the enormous violence and suffering that marked Partition. When he arrived in Karachi and settled there, he noticed how much poverty was in the city and how little the authorities were doing to help the needy. He at first had to establish a means of living for himself and started work in a market and took to selling cloth. He soon bought a small room for himself where he established a dispensary to care for the needy, using donations that he sought personally all over the city. In 1951, he founded the Edhi Foundation to provide 24-hour medical assistance in Karachi. In 1957, Karachi suffered from a worldwide influenza outbreak and Edhi managed to acquire a lot of donations to provide a remarkable amount of assistance to people to protect and treat them. Afterwards, a large donation from a rich businessman allowed Edhi to buy a van which he drove around as an ambulance. During this time, Edhi expanded the scope of his work beyond Karachi.
Since then, the Edhi Foundation has grown from private donations. It now hosts the world’s biggest volunteer ambulance service. It has established clinics for the disabled, the mentally ill, and the sick. It runs orphanages, women’s shelters, maternity wards, rehabilitation centers, and a variety of other welfare services. The Edhi Foundation has dealt with crises and calamities all across Pakistan, from traffic accidents to earthquakes to terror attacks. Its ambulances, which are world-renowned, have shown a spotless record of timely performance during emergencies. It has engaged in humanitarian work in many parts of the world from Ethiopia to the United States. The organization has consistently carried out its work in the face of countless challenges, including opposition from Islamic fundamentalist groups. Eidhi always maintained a humble lifestyle with his wife, Bilquis, a nurse at his dispensary whom he married in 1965 and who always worked faithfully by his side, and his four children. He lived in an apartment near the headquarters of the Edhi Foundation and wore simple clothing.
He lived a long life of helping humanity. In 2013, he started suffering from a kidney disease. It was later announced that he needed a kidney donation to survive but this never came. His last wish was that his organs be donated but after his death, the corneas turned out to be the only suitable parts of his body. The Edhi Foundation continues to function after his death as before, receiving a generous flow of donations.
Edhi had many qualities that enabled him to do what he did. He was selfless. He was hardworking – and in addition to all this, he was brilliant. The Edhi Foundation sprouted against all odds because of his guidance, his ingenuity and resourcefulness. We should closely study the work he did because it may hold valuable lessons for us. The amazing and inspiring facts about this man’s life are endless. His life is perhaps the most remarkable among humanitarians and yet it is comparatively underappreciated.
Today, on what is now accepted to be his birthday, the world has taken a step to fostering recognition of him through a Google doodle honoring his life’s work. It is an image on the homepage of the worldwide tech giant which depicts him, one of his ambulances, an open book, his pet dog, and a mother and child outside a clinic. People in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Japan, Ireland, Denmark, Iceland, Portugal, Estonia, and Pakistan can see this image. This will no doubt increase the standing of the Edhi Foundation worldwide. The Edhi Foundation is not just for Pakistan, it is for the world as well. As one of the most consistent and efficient charities in the world, the world should give more assistance to it. Even if the foundation cannot take care of the whole world, Edhi’s ideals can help all of humanity if we only learn from him. The Edhi Foundation has a bright future ahead of it and we should work with it to create a brighter future for all of us. Along the way, we must never forget the man who may well be among the greatest humanitarians of modern times.


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