Simplicity, humbleness, love, care and modesty: Abdul
Sattar Edhi is a personification of all these
Maulana Edhi, as he is often referred to, belongs to the Memon
community. However, he always says that HUMANITY is my
Religion, and HUMANKIND is my community. A name signifying
trust, love, selflessness and sacrifice; EDHI has gone a long
way, for sure. Edhi is a philanthropist at heart, indeed.
He is married to Begum Bilquis Edhi, who heads the ‘Bilquis
Edhi Foundation’. Bilquis Edhi - A woman of substance and
Edhi’s partner: in the true sense of the word. They both
received ‘1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service’. He is
also the recipient of the ‘Lenin Peace Prize’ along with other
numerous awards: both national and international. He also
personally holds the world record for having gone the longest
time working without having taken a holiday. As of when the
record was set, he has still not taken a single day off work.
Edhi and his wife Bilquis have spent a lifetime working for
people and their welfare work to date remains unparalleled in
Pakistan. They are both very private people who shun publicity.
They have had little formal education, and are totally
committed to the cause of helping the poor and
• 1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public
• 1988 Lenin Peace Prize
• 1992 Paul Harris Fellow Rotary
• In 2000, Edhi was awarded the International
Balzan Prize for Humanity, Peace and Brotherhood.
• On 26 March 2005, Edhi was presented with
the Life Time Achievement Award by the World Memon Organisation
• On 11 November 2006, Edhi was presented
with an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the Institute of Business
Administration Karachi (IBA).
• Nishan-e-Imtiaz from Government of Pakistan
• Human Rights Award by Pakistan Human Rights
• Khidmat Award by Pakistan
Academy of Medical Sciences.
• Shield of Honour by
Pakistan Army (E &
• Silver Jubilee Shield by College of
Physicians and Surgeons, Pakistan.(1962-1987)
• Recognition of meritorious services to
oppressed humanity during the eighties (1989) by Ministry of
Health and Social Welfare, Government of Pakistan. 45 Years Of
• The Social Worker of Sub-Continent - 1989
by Government of Sind
• Pakistan Civic Award 1992 - by Pakistan
Edhi: Early Life
Edhi was born on January 01, 1928 in
Bantva in the Gujarat state of present day
India. His father was
a textile trader and earned a modest income for his
family. He was a natural born leader and would encourage
his friends to hold tiny circuses and perform gymnastics
for the locals. When his mother would send him to school
she would give him two paisas, one to spend for himself
and the other to spend for another. At the age of eleven
he started to take care of his mother who suffered
paralysis from severe diabetes. From that tender age
onwards, he has always been working for his fellow
beings; day in and day out. He helps others with utmost
good faith and selflessly.
Edhi Foundation: Inception
His own initiatives and the training of
his parents helped him to contribute a lot towards the cause of
humanity. He started off as a ‘Helping Hand’ and then never
looked back. He saw the making of Pakistan. His family migrated
from India and made it to Karachi, he was then only 19 years of
age. That was a time of great emotional trauma and social and
political upheaval. In 1951, he started his own textile
business. He also encouraged his friends to give literacy
classes there. Edhi had spent his life as a simple man, and
would continue to do so. He used to sleep on a concrete bench
outside the dispensary so that he was available to help people
at any time.
In 1957 a major flu epidemic swept Karachi, Edhi was quick to
react, he set up tents on the outskirts of the city to
distribute free immunizations. Grateful residents donated
generously to Edhi and so did the rest of Pakistan, when the
word of mouth spread. He managed to acquire the rest of
the building in which his dispensary was located, and opened a
free maternity centre and nursing school too. Hence, ‘Edhi
Foundation’ was formed.
Edhi Foundation: Growth and Expansion
In the years that followed, Edhi
Foundation managed to set up its centers throughout Pakistan.
After the flu epidemic, a businessman donated a large sum to
Edhi and with which he purchased an ambulance vehicle which he
drove himself - an old van which he called the "poor man’s van"
and went around the city providing medical help and burying
unclaimed bodies. His van became his advertisement and soon he
came to be known for his work with the poor. As a consequence,
donations started pouring in and his operations expanded,
employing additional nurses and staff. It was here that Edhi
met his wife Bilquis who was a trainee nurse at the dispensary.
They were married in 1966. Bilquis became the ideal wife for
Edhi, totally committed to welfare work.
Today the Foundation has over 600 ambulances located all over
the country and it stands out as the largest ambulance service
on the whole country. The response time and services the
ambulances provide are unparalleled – Simply Superb. Edhi
Ambulances go to places where even government agencies hesitate
to venture. Whatsoever the nature and magnitude of the
calamity/incident may be, Edhi Ambulances are there within
minutes, if not seconds. According to the Guinness Book of
World Records, as of 1997, Edhi Foundation's ambulance service
is the largest volunteer ambulance service in the world.
The Edhi Foundation is the first of its kind in South Asia that
owns air ambulances, providing quick access to far-flung areas.
Whether it is a train accident or a bomb blast, Edhi ambulances
are the first to arrive. The foundation relies on the support
of its 3, 500 workers and thousands of volunteers who form the
backbone of the organization.
What started as a one-man show operating from a single room in
Karachi is now the Edhi Foundation, the largest welfare
organization in Pakistan. The foundation has over 300 centers
across the country, in big cities, small towns and remote rural
areas, providing medical aid, family planning and emergency
assistance. They own air ambulances, providing quick access to
In Karachi alone, the Edhi Foundation runs 8 hospitals
providing free medical care, eye hospitals, diabetic centers,
surgical units, a 4- bed cancer hospital and mobile
dispensaries. In addition to all this, the Foundation also
manages two blood banks in Karachi.
The records show that 20,000 abandoned babies have been saved,
40,000 qualified nurses have been trained, 50,000 orphans are
housed in Edhi Homes, 1 million babies have been delivered at
Edhi Maternity Centers.
The foundation has a Legal aid department, which provides free
services and has secured the release of countless innocent
prisoners. Commissioned doctors visit jails on a regular basis
and also supply food and other essentials to the inmates. There
are 15 " Apna Ghar" ["Your Homes"] homes for the destitute
children, runaways, and psychotics and the Edhi Foundation
states that over the years 3 million children have been
rehabilitated and reunited with their families thorough the
The foundation also has an education scheme, which apart from
teaching reading and writing covers various vocational
activities such as driving, pharmacy and pare-medical training.
The emphasis is on self-sufficiency. The Edhi Foundation has
branches in several countries where they provide relief to
refugees in the USA, UK, Canada, Japan, and Bangladesh. In 1991
the Foundation provided aid o victims of the Gulf war and
earthquake victims in Iran and Egypt.
Edhi plans mass campaigns against narcotics, illiteracy,
population control and basic hygiene. Edhi’s wife Bilquis works
in the areas of maternity centre management. She runs 6 nursing
training schools in Karachi, which provide basic training
courses. These centers have so far trained over 40,000
qualified nurses. Some 20,000 abandoned babies have been saved
and about a million babies have been delivered in the Edhi
maternity homes. Bilquis also supervises the food that is
supplied to the Edhi hospitals in Karachi. The total number of
orphans in Edhi housing is 50,000 and Edhi’s two daughters and
one son assist in the running of the orphanages and the
automation of these institutions.
Edhi’s vision is to create an institution that will carry on
his life’s work and survive for a long time to come. His dream
is that of a Pakistan as a modern welfare state, which provides
a safety net for the poor and needy while providing basic
health and education with vocational skills. A welfare state
Edhi feels is the only way to tackle Pakistan’s myriad social
problems. He hopes that one day; Pakistan will be a model for
other developing countries.
EDHI: On the personal front
Despite the growth of the foundation,
Edhi remains a very down to earth person. Dressed always in a
grey homespun cotton, he has a hands on approach to his work,
sweeping his own room and even cleaning the gutter if need be.
Apart from the one room, which he uses for his living quarters,
the rest of the building serves as his workplace in Mithadar, a
locality of old Karachi that is full of narrow streets and
congested alleyways. Adjoining their living room is a small
kitchen where Bilquis usually prepares the midday
meal. Next to it is a
washing area where bodies are bathed and prepared for
When Edhi is not travelling to supervise his other centers, a
typical day for him begins at five in the morning with Fajr
prayers. His work starts thereafter answering any calls for
help, organizing and meeting people in need while afternoons
are spent at various centers and hospitals all over the city.
In the evening he dines with hundreds of poor at his "langar"
[free community meals common among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs]
at another Edhi centre in the city. His Fridays are invariably
spent at homes for the destitute children where Edhi personally
helps bathe the ones who are physically handicapped, before
joining them for Friday prayers. Occasionally, when he is able
to, he also takes them out for picnics.
Abdul Sattar Edhi: An Icon Worth
To put it simple, Abdul Sattar Edhi has
gone an extra mile to show how love manifests itself. Moreover,
his life partner has made his life all the more satisfying and
rewarding. The couple has an unusual yet beautiful perspective
of human life and its significance. Relentlessly working for
others and drawing out strength from their work, their love for
humanity is ‘larger than life’.
Abdul Sattar Edhi’s welfare work, selflessness and lifestyle
are self-acknowledging. Nevertheless, the Pakistani Nation owes
a great deal to Edhi.
Begum and Mr. Edhi have gone a long way; Hats off and thanks
may this country be blessed with innumerable more