As the sun set in Pakistan today, I could not help but take in the gravity of what the world had lost- one of the humanitarian that ever lived. Also known as the richest poor man, Abdul Sattar Edhi.
This name has come far from being a name to becoming an ideology and a way of life that inspires humanity and simplicity. A man who built the world’s largest network of ambulances, shelter homes, maternity centers, and free medical centers, not from his wealth but entirely his vision, and when I say entirely, I am not exaggerating.
Edhi’s wife, Bilquis Edhi once said in an interview.
“He’s the man who was neither educated nor had any money. But money started coming in, other people helped. God helped.”
He migrated from Gujarat in India, in 1947, during the partition between India and Pakistan. Settling in his Memon community in Karachi, he joined their charity foundation to work. However, he felt discontent at their limitation of helping only other Memons and not everybody.
“He confronted his employers, telling them that “humanitarian work loses its significance when you discriminate between the needy”.”(The Telegraph)
His dissonant relationship with his community made him feel unsafe and he set out on a journey to Europe, asking for help along the way. He slept on benches, walked with bare feet and lived in austerity. Coming back, 60 years ago, he stood on the streets of Karachi and begged for alms to buy an ambulance.
“I’ve never driven anything else but an ambulance my entire life. I drove an ambulance for 48 years, picking up the helpless, driving them to the hospital and then back home.”
“My intention was never to spread my hands in front of anyone. I wanted to teach the nation how to give. So I used to stand on the footpath and beg. I got little, but at least it was something. I made it a principle to live my life with simplicity. I will wear the same sort of dress and will focus on humanity.” (The Humorists. Mein hun Pakistan)
Another interviewer is reported to have heard from Edhi that he used to wash and wear the clothes that came off the dead bodies. Those were the only clothes he wore.
He was once asked about his childhood and how it all started, here is an excerpt from that interview:
1, What were you like in your childhood?
I was really mischievous, used to tease the poor and the needy
2. How do you spend your day?
I wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and usually no one is around at the time. I lie here, all alone. I think about this world, human beings, and oppressed people. I keep lying here, whiling away my time.
3. How did you start all of this?
I didn’t have a single penny; so, I stood at the roadside and collected (begged for) alms. I always say be good and make others good.
4. What would you be doing if not this?
If I wasn’t doing this, I wouldn’t be doing anything
5. Did you ever want to quit?
I never thought about it. It was my destiny, my cause, my intention, so I kept working
6. Do you think you have achieved your goals?
The cause of serving humanity is too big. Unfortunately I couldn’t achieve it, I couldn’t eliminate poverty.
A lot of people in Pakistan and all over the world, claimed that Edhi deserved a Nobel Peace Prize. Hence, it was natural for anybody to ask him what he thought about it.
“I don’t care about it. The Nobel Peace Prize means nothing to me. I want these people. I want humanity.”
(Express Tribune- Main hun Pakistan)
His wife said in an interview with The Humorists ,
“Edhi sahib had no money in his pockets but he used to dream big. People used to say he’s too generous and giving. He used to say one day he will reach and help all of Pakistan.”
And so he did. 20,000 abandoned babies sheltered, 50,000 orphans housed, 40,000 qualified nurses trained, 1 billion babies delivered, 8 hospitals set up to provide free medical aid and, the world’s largest network of ambulances setup. There is a famous quote our teachers often throw at us,
‘When there is a will, there is a way,’ Edhi personified the quote.
“Let them say it. From Siachin all the way to Nagarpar. There are centres all across Pakistan. Homes for the homeless. If anyone finds a homeless, it is their duty to get them admitted to centres. No race, no religion, just humanity.” (The Humorists, main Hun Pakistan)
In another interview he said,
“So many years later there were many who still complained and questioned ‘Why must you pick up Christians and Hindus in your ambulance?’
And I was still saying, ‘because the ambulance is more Muslim than you.’”
Edhi sahib might not have achieved his own dream, but he achieved the impossible for many. The light in his shelter home was a ray of hope for thousands of souls lurking hopelessly in the dark. The name of Edhi resonates with help in Pakistan, and for many it resonates with hope, their only hope.
He has left behind a lesson for us, an inspiration, and a responsibility. There is no end to the admiration his life demands. I want to end this note of tribute for him in Abida Parveen’s words,
(If you find me from country to country, I won’t be found because I am one of a kind)
The content in this interview is curated from the following sources: Mai hun Pakistan- The Humorists, Express Tribune- The richest poor man., Huffington post, The Telegraph