Home / Miscelleneous / Pakistan’s greatest philanthropist and national hero – Abdul Sattar Edhi 1926-2016

Pakistan’s greatest philanthropist and national hero – Abdul Sattar Edhi 1926-2016

Published on 18th July, Edition 29, 2016


Abdul Sattar Edhi was born in 1928 in a small village of Bantva near Joona Garh, Gujrat (India). The seeds of compassion for the suffering humanity were sown in his soul by his mother’s infirmity. When Edhi was at the tender age of eleven, his mother became paralysed and later got mentally ill. Young Abdul Sattar devoted himself for looking after all her needs; cleaning, bathing, changing clothes and feeding. This proved to be a loosing battle against the disease, and her helplessness increased over the years. Her persistent woeful condition left a lasting impression on young Edhi. The course of his life took a different turn from other persons of his age. His studies were also seriously affected and he could not complete his high school level. For him the world of suffering became his tutor and source of wisdom.

Edhi’s mother died when he was 19. His personal experience made him think of thousands and millions, suffering like his mother, around with nobody to look after them. He thought that he had a call to help these people. He had a vision of chains of welfare centres and hospitals that could be opened to alleviate the pain of those suffering from illness and neglect. He also thought of the in-human treatment meted out to the mentally ill, the insane and the disabled persons.

Even at this early age, he felt personally responsible for taking on the challenge of developing a system of services to reduce human miseries. The task was huge he had no resources. But it was some thing that he had to do even if he had to walk to the streets if he had to beg for this purpose.

Edhi and his family migrated to Pakistan in 1947. In order to earn his living, Abdul Sattar Edhi initially started as a peddler, later became a commission agent selling cloth in the wholesale market in Karachi.

After a couple of years, he left this occupation and with the support of some members of his community decided to establish a free dispensary. He became involved in this charity work. However, soon his personal vision of a growing and developing system of multifarious services made him decide to establish a welfare trust of his own and named it as “Edhi Trust”.

An appeal was made to the public for funds. The response was good, and Rs.200,000/- were raised. The range and scope of work of Edhi Trust expanded with remarkable speed under the driving spirit of the man behind it. A maternity home was established and emergency ambulance service was started in the sprawling metropolis of Karachi with a population of over 10 million.

More donations were received as people’s confidence in the activities of the Trust grew. With the passage of time, masses gave him the title of the” Angel of Mercy.”

Abdul Sattar Edhi was married in 1965 to Bilquis, a nurse who worked at the Edhi dispensary. The couple have four children, two daughters and two sons. Bilquis runs the free maternity home at the headquarter in Karachi and organises the adoption of illegitimate and abandoned babies. The husband-wife team has come to share the common vision of single minded devotion to the cause of alleviation of human sufferings and a sense of personal responsibility to respond to each call for help, regardless of race, creed or status.

Edhi involves himself in every activity at Edhi Foundation from raising funds to bathing corpses. Round the clock he keeps with him an ambulance which he drives himself and makes rounds of the city regularly. On finding a destitute or an injured person any where on the way, he escorts him to the Relief Centre where immediate attention is given to the needy person. Inspite of his busy work schedule with the Foundation, Edhi finds enough time to spare with the residents of the orphanages called “Edhi Homes”. He is very found of playing and laughing with the children. A short strongly built man in his early seventies with a flowing beard and a ready smile, Edhi is popularly called “Nana” (Grandfather) by the residents of “Edhi Homes”.

Despite his enormous fame and the vast sums of money that passes through his hands, Edhi adheres to a very simple and modest life style. He and his family live in a two room apartment adjacent to the premises of Foundation’s headquarter. Neither Edhi nor Bilquis receives any salary. They live on the income from government securities that Edhi bought many years ago to take care of their personal needs for the rest of their lives, thereby freeing them to devote single mindedly to their missionary work.

He shuns publicity for the fear of becoming haughty. As the credibility and fame grew and the name of Edhi became a house-hold word, people started approaching him for becoming chief guest on special occasions.

In an interview given to a journalist in Lahore in 1991, Edhi said,”I want to request the people not to invite me to social gatherings and inaugural ceremonies. This only wastes my time which is wholly devoted to the well being of our people.”

Although Edhi has a traditional Islamic background, he has an open and progressive mind on a number of sensitive social issues. He strongly supports the notion of working women. Of the 2,000 paid workers of the Edhi Foundation around 500 are women. They work in various capacities in-charges of Edhi centres, heads of maternity homes and dispensaries and office workers. More-over, several women volunteers help Edhi Foundation in fund raising. Edhi encourages women to do all sorts of work without differentiation.

Prominent Pakistani women, a mother of Pakistan – Bilquis Bano Edhi

Bilquis Bano Edhi wife of Abdul Sattar Edhi, is a professional nurse and one of the most active philanthropists in Pakistan. She has been nicknamed, The Mother of Pakistan. She was born in 1947 in Karachi. She heads the Bilquis Edhi Foundation, and with her husband received the 1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service. Her charity runs many services in Pakistan including a hospital and emergency service in Karachi. Together with her husband their charity has saved over 16,000 unwanted babies.

It is true, as the saying goes: “There is a woman behind every man”. Bilquis Edhi is a woman of substance, for sure; and she has come a long way with Edhi for a cause that is simply great.

Bilquis Bano Edhi, wife of Abdul Sattar Edhi, is a humanitarian, a social worker and one of the most active philanthropists in Pakistan, holds the honor of being awarded the prestigious ‘Hilal-e-Imtiaz’, and with her husband received the ‘1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service’. She is also the recipient of the ‘Lenin Peace Prize’. Her charity runs many services in Pakistan including a hospital and emergency service in Karachi.

Bilquis Edhi – the young lass who was not very good at studies, joined the nurses training course at the Edhi Nurses Training Centre when she was in the 8th grade. Later Abdul Sattar Edhi proposed to her and they got married in April 1966. Since then, she has been working with the Edhi Foundation – A Foundation which was started by Abdul Sattar Edhi with the mission to provide aid to Pakistan’s poor and down-trodden has become Pakistan’s major relief organization under the leadership of the husband and wife – team of Abdul Sattar and Bilquis Edhi. Today, in addition to services provided in Pakistan, Edhi foundation is a major resource for assisting victims of disaster internationally.

Abdul Sattar Edhi’s possessions at the time of his marriage were a broken old car and a small dispensary. There was a maternity home on the first floor with 6-7 beds, a small room – 6’ X 6’ on the ground floor which served as an office and a similar room on the first floor. There wasn’t much else but even in those days when the newly wed couple had very limited resources, people used to leave their kids with them and Bilquis Edhi used to look after them.

Bilquis Edhi vividly remembers her first major experience at Edhi Foundation, when during the war; the bombings resulted in a number of brutally mutilated bodies which she had to wash for burial. At times only an arm, leg or head was recovered. She, along with about 60-70 workers including voluntary workers, collected and then washed these bodies.

Her current responsibilities include looking after the ladies section, giving away children for adoption – mostly looking after women-specific and children related sections throughout Pakistan. Her two daughters also work closely with me. She regularly visits Edhi Homes all over Pakistan to monitor their activities and give suggestions and recommendations on how she feels the work should be done. She is also instrumental in making Edhi Homes ‘Centers of Excellence’ – in the true sense of the word.

With regard to child adoption, she makes sure the criteria are fulfilled to approve / disapprove of couples who want to adopt a child. Couples who want to adopt a child are interviewed by Bilquis Edhi. Her criteria for adoption are that even after 10-12 years of marriage the couple is still childless, prospective father’s salary should be reasonable, prospective father should not have alcohol or drug-related problems, prospective mother’s age should be younger than 50 and the couple should own a house. Her foundation doesn’t give children to couples who keep changing their house – keep moving from one place to another. Kids who are physically or mentally disabled are cared for by Edhi Foundation. They have a separate section for them where they clean them, feed them, play with them etc. The kids remain with them for the rest of their lives. Aside from the disabled children, the other children who don’t get adopted do not pose any problem, whatsoever. Edhi Foundation has over 4,000 applications in hand. They don’t have enough kids to give to people. So they are careful in selecting prospective parents. They have a ‘shariat-nama’ in place which they make the parents sign where it is explicitly mentioned that in case of separation between the parents, the Centre will reclaim the child or let the child stay with the mother.

Edhi Foundation keeps expanding by adding new welfare services every now and then Bilquis Edhi sees Pakistan’s future as bright, provided if people feel the pain and work for a better future. When she goes abroad with Edhi, they come back with lots of ideas. The couple dreams of the day when welfare facilities in Pakistan would be comparable to those we find abroad. She feels that this seems to be a distant dream. She said: “We don’t even have clean drinking water here. Load shedding is an ongoing problem. After the recent oil spill [in Karachi] when the oil tanker broke in half, people were saying that our country had gone back 20 years in time. As far as I am concerned in the last 55 years we have not moved forward. We are still where we were 55 years ago.”

Abdul Sattar Edhi and Bilquis Edhi, both think of things for the future. She told us that when Edhi comes up with an idea he writes it down. In 1976, the couple was involved in an accident which took place near a village with no airport or landing strip nearby. Around that time a building collapsed in Karachi – Bismillah Building. At that time Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was in power. Noticing Edhi’s absence from the scene of the disaster he inquired as to his whereabouts upon which he was told of the situation. Bhutto immediately dispatched a small airplane to pick them up. Edhi was admitted to the Civil Hospital in Karachi where shortly after gaining consciousness; he remarked that he would also like to buy a plane. Bilquis Edhi asked how he will be able to afford a plane as his current situation was such that if he put his hand in the pocket for some loose change, thread used to come out instead. However, Edhi never got disheartened and pulled along with conviction and dedication. By the Grace of Allah, they now have a plane, helicopters everything.

Bilquis Edhi is honored to be the life-partner of a person whose love for humanity is ‘larger than life’. She regards him as a good man – Albeit a little short tempered but good at heart. The couple has still not built their own house yet. Bilquis Edhi fondly remembered her first 4-5 years after marriage when she used to live on the roof. Later, after the birth of her four kids, she moved to her mother’s house. Her mother looked after the kids. On a daily basis she used to shuffle between her house and the Edhi Centre. After the kids grew up and got married, Bilquis Edhi’s mother passed away. The couple spends their days and nights at the Edhi Centre. In their 36-37 years of married life, there may have been at least 36 occasions when they never even came home at night. Even now when their children want to see him, they bring lunch from their home and come and eat with them.

They seldom take time out from their work but they have spent some good time together on the job. In the last 34-35 years there have been many occasions when they had to drop off patients and deceased people to far off villages. After dropping them off, on the way back they used to stop over in villages and rural areas where they have been treated with lassi, chicken in gravy among other delicacies and looked after extremely well by the people of those areas. They also sat on charpoys with their feet in the water – fresh cold water streams abound in these areas. They have had some good times together. On these trips they used to feel like they were extremely rich people with cars of their own. Others who lived in those areas didn’t have any cars so they used to request them to take them along whenever they went on such trips.

Faisal, Kubra, Zeenat and Almas – the Edhis have an educated progeny, bright young people. After Bilquis and Abdul Sattar, they will look after the Edhi Foundation and carry the torch forward.

Bilquis Edhi has spent her life for a noble cause and she continues to do so. She is lucky as a human-being and even luckier as a woman for she got a helping hand in the form of her husband. Abdul Sattar and Bilquis complement each other – in the very true sense of the word.

Unfolded lessons about Edhi
A person – yet similar to an institution,

Low educated in philanthropy – yet highly self educated and highly qualified in the knowledge of Philanthropy, and exclusively about the significance of practical service to the nation and country of Pakistan as well as humanity relatively to others who are having highly educated and highly qualified degrees in philanthropy yet not playing any practical role and many other highly educated and highly qualified people never pay a single penny or a single dime, and so on for the cause of service to humanity,

Low certified in education – yet highly educated and highly qualified, relatively to those who are having highly educated and highly qualified degrees, yet mostly never take any step ahead to give education to the needy and helpless people,

Low profile and self effacing man – yet enjoying a King-like popularity, respect, and prestige across the globe,

Edhi is being called as Abbu (in Urdu) Father or Nana (in Urdu) Grandfather by the children being fostered at Edhi homes, whilst other people call him as the “Rahmet kaa Firishtah” means Angel of Mercy, all these realities indicated that, Edhi has been descended on earth by God Almighty to save, foster, and take care of the neglected, deprived, and abandoned children, disabled people, elderly helpless men and women, injured, mentally retarded, drugs addicted, natural disasters’ affected people, and so on,Austerity and simplicity – despite passing enormous and huge amounts through his hands, he never became arrogant and haughty yet the simplicity and austerity is obviously seen from his personality, relatively to those people – at the corridors of power not only in Pakistan even across the world.

Even stories of grave crime can be seen in media by the powerful people in the corridors of power. You might be seeing that how they suppress and depress the poor, instead of helping and serving them, which means the biggest criminals on the earth – who are suppressing the poor and helpless people,

Determination like a mountain to promote the noble cause of service to humanity – despite neglecting by the socially, religiously, and politically influential people exclusively neglecting from the western champions of human rights, coupled with the threats from the extremist circles of the society, Edhi serves the humanity without any fear and without any pause – again a greatest source of strength, support, and assistance for the poor and needy in the era of such critical crisis and time of difficulties.Time exclusively reserved for the service to humanity – Edhi categorically has refused to so many individuals and people, from participating in the social gatherings thereby clearly telling them that don’t invite me him participate in any social ceremony that wastes his time waste, his time is totally reserved for the service to humanity – a unique vision, can be seen in anyone among not in the millions but among very few in the billions of people.

Real defender and promoter of the rights of women – at such time when people are not ready to give education to their daughters, Edhi gives education to the girls by considering them as his daughters, gives preference to hire ladies for the jobs offered by Edhi Foundation, given the leading roles by selecting them to head many departments of his widespread foundation.


How and why a man with primary school education
Made such a legendary service to humanity

History reveals that at exclusive occasions, the circumstances of any nation become so critical and crucial that those enormous issues prove greatly hazardous and perilous, by bringing misery and gloom as well as pain and suffering into their lives, that engender ignorance, crime, and lawlessness in the society. At such grave and severest times, by the will of Almighty Allah, a personality with the determination like mountain in front of storms of difficulties, with perseverance like a rock in the ocean of threats, and having vision and wisdom to assist less-privileged people, reaches at the stage, and starts to drive out the darkness by providing the light of education, trying to decrease the poverty by fostering and feeding the needy, extending his blessing hands to the neglected, deprived, and depressed segments of the society, and providing every type of assistance to make such needy people happy – this example absolutely fitting on the personality of legendry social service provider – Abdul Sattar Edhi.

Edhi biography

Abdul Sattar Edhi’s social welfare services are spanned over his entire life by offering exclusive sacrifices in many areas—like personal and social life as well as his personal business, and so on. He is serving the humanity selflessly and dedicatedly without expecting for any monetary benefit or financial gain. He has buried over 200,000 unclaimed dead bodies.

His exclusive services to the mankind, with exclusive reference to shrouding and then burying unclaimed and abandoned dead-bodies, at a time, when there is no value of any human being, as extremists of the modern times are cutting the healthy and live human beings into pieces like onions and tomatoes, at such time, Edhi’s role for the humanity – is truly unparalleled and unmatched, and very least possibilities of tracing this sort of best services for the humanity, across the world.

This is something indicating towards a reality that there is no place of goodwill, love and affection, brotherhood and amity, feelings of friendliness yet by serving to the humanity, Edhi has given a new meaning to the life that everyone should forward to give goodwill, love and affection, brotherhood and affection, and feelings of friendliness to others – again a matter of pride for Edhi.

The story of services – in the explainer video explained by Edhi can also be listened and to get more updates about the Edhi’s role for the humanity.

Edhi biography

International Awards

Ramon Magsaysay Award

Conferred upon by Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation

For Promoting – Public Service

In 1986 in Manila Philippines

Paul Harris Fellow

Awarded by Rotary International

For Promoting the cause of Social Welfare Services

In 1993 at Karachi

Peace Prize Award

From USSR (former) for services in the Armenian earthquake disaster

For Promoting – Peace

In 1998 at Islamabad (Embassy of USSR)

Guinness Book of World Records

For running – Largest Voluntary Ambulance Organization of the World

For promoting the cause of Social Welfare Services

In 2000

Hamdan Award for Volunteers in Humanitarian Medical Services

Conferred upon by Pakistan Civic Society

For promoting the cause of Social Welfare Services

In 2000 at Dubai UAE

International Balzan Prize

Given By Pakistan Civic Society

For promoting the cause of Social Welfare Services

In 2000 at Rome,Italy

Peace & Harmony Award

Conferred upon by Sanjay Dalmia and given by Dalia Lama

For Promoting – Peace and Harmony

In 2001 in Delhi India

Peace Award

Conferred upon by Trans Asia Bio Medical Company

For Promoting – Peace

In 2004 in Mumbai India

Peace Award

Conferred upon by Emergency Management and Research Institute (EMRI)

For Promoting – Peace

In 2005 in Hyderabad Deccan, India

Wolf of BhogioPeace Award

Conferred upon by World Church Service

For Promoting – Peace

In 2005 at Bhogio Italy

Gandhi Peace Award

Conferred upon by Mahtma Gandhi Trust

For Promoting – Peace

In 2007 in Delhi India

2007 UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize

Conferred upon by UNESCO Madanjeet Prize Committee

For Promoting – Peace

In 2009 at Hotel Paris

2011 London Peace Award

2011 London Peace Award

For Promoting – Peace

In 2011 at London UK

2008 Peace Award Seoul

National Awards

2011 Engro Peace Award

Conferred upon by Engro Pakistan Ltd

For Promoting – Peace

In 2011 at Karachi Pakistan

Shield of Honor

Conferred upon by Pakistan Army (E & C)

For Promoting the cause of social Welfare Service

In Rawalpindi

Recognition Of Meritorious

Conferred upon by Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Government of Pakistan

For Promoting the cause of Social Welfare Services

In 1989

Nishan-e Imtiaz

Awarded by Government of Pakistan

For Promoting the cause of Social Welfare Services

In 1989 at Islamabad

Human Rights Award

Given by Pakistan Human Rights Society (PHRS)

For promoting and protecting the Human Rights

Khidmat Award

Awarded by Pakistan Academy of Medical Sciences (PAMS)

For promoting the cause of Social Welfare Services

Silver Jubilee Shield

Conferred upon by College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan (1962 to 1987)

For promoting the cause of Social Welfare Services

The Social Worker of Sub-Continent

Given by Government of Sindh

For promoting the cause of Social Welfare Services

In 1989 at Karachi

Pakistan Civic Award

Given By Pakistan Civic Society

For promoting the cause of Social Welfare Services

In 1992 at Karachi

Honorary Doctorate Degrees awarded by the Academic Institutions in Pakistan

Honorary Doctorate Degree (Honoris Causa Degree) by IBA

On behalf of Institute of Business Administration (IBA), the Degree was conferred upon Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi by Dr. Eshrat ul Ebad Khan, Governor of Sindh, Karachi

→ In recognition of his “Dedicated and Indiscriminate Long Work towards the Betterment and Welfare of Humanity across the Globe”, and

→ Considered him “Great National Hero” and “All Time Legend” for his unparalleled services for the mankind.

In November 2006 Karachi Pakistan

Honorary Degree – Doctor of Social Sciences

Historical perspective

Every society is destined to face the problems of looking after the welfare of the sick, the weak, the destitute and the needy. All societies are alike in this respect. One way of assessing the status of a society on the road to civilization is the value accorded to an individual and his basic human needs. These have not always received the attention they deserve in the planning of economics, particularly in developing countries. Most of the available resources are consumed by defense needs and pressing demands for technological progress.

Programs for development in the social sector remain a long way behind, mainly because of financial constraints. Special efforts are, therefore, needed to mobilize community resources to initiate and develop programs for the welfare of the weak and the disadvantaged members of society.

Major features of Edhi foundation
Major features of Edhi foundation which make it unique

Edhi Foundation—the largest organizational set-up running in multidimensional areas in Pakistan modifies the catchphrase “Live and Let Live” by “Live and Help Live”, which means Edhi guides others that whilst passing the life, don’t let to live with hardships and difficulties, yet extend your every possible assistance to others, in case, any assistance is sought from you, to live with happiness and ease.

The largest organization with its biggest number of fleet, and bigger number of working professionals, working round the clock has set the best examples, for other social service providers to tread upon his footprint.

The services which make the Edhi Foundation unique among all other social welfare service providers, is its exemplary services in the areas of—such as providing free shroud and burial services to unclaimed dead bodies, shelter for the disabled and destitute people, orphans and abandoned children, provision of free hospitals and dispensaries in the highly neglected areas, rehabilitation of drug addicts, and so on.

Edhi Foundation services is an open book that has many remarkable chapters, one of them is—offering supporting system to the handicapped—like wheel chairs, crutches, and so on, family planning counselling, maternity services, national and international relief efforts during the disasters to provide relief to the victims of natural calamities.

Edhi Foundation has set many examples, which can’t be traced by other NGOs and trusts actively serving in Pakistan that Edhi believes in the principle of self help, thus he is running all his social welfare driven activities without getting funding from any government or donor agency. It is a fact that Edhi isn’t entertaining even he refuses the concept of support from others. The only donations are entertained from the individuals and few leading businessmen.

Edhi strongly believes in protecting basic human rights without any discrimination of color, caste, and creed. My religion is “service for humanity” that is spanned over 56 years, thus our efforts and services are greatly liked and commended by all schools of thought, across Pakistan and many parts of the world.

Emergence of a nation-wide network

A. Sattar Edhi has spent over 45 years of his life in the service of humanity. He introduces “Jhoolas” (baby cradles)At most of the emergency Edhi Centres, “Jhoolas” (baby cradles) are installed where unwanted infants can be left. These abandoned babies are then taken into custody and given shelter in Edhi Homes. Although initially Edhi was subject to a lot of pressure from several quarters on initiating Jhoola service, gradually the idea caught on.Now people even come forward to hand over the babies themselves to officials at the Edhi Centres. Such infants are thereafter given in the care of suitable as established, more or less single handedly, a national welfare network, the Edhi Foundation (EF), which operates from a small headquarter, in a poor locality of Karachi.The simplicity of central office is amazing in view of the wide range of the nation-wide services co-ordinated by Edhi personally with the help of telephones and a handful of assistants. It is, therefore, not easy to manage the strange mixture of complexity of operations and use of administrative communication channels with the limited staff. This has inevitably resulted in the centralisation of policy decisions.However, with the general spread of the services to all parts of the country and an increasing awareness of the public, the way has been paved for greater involvement of communities in the management of welfare services. Edhi displays a remarkable stamina and energy at the advanced age of seventy to keep himself informed about all activities of the Foundation in all parts of Pakistan. He travels in Pakistan and abroad extensively for this purpose and conveys a feeling of being there, when needed. deserving families not having children of their own, for adoption. Bilquis Edhi, the head of this service through a centralised system checks the credentials of the adopting parents and conducts a regular follow-up.Babies left over in garbage dumps outside Karachi are air-lifted to the central nursery located in Karachi where medical and nursing care is provided before adoption. All documentation of this service are kept confidential in order to save the child from facing social problems afterwards.


Check Also

Edhi Foundation – the largest and pioneer center for serving humanity

  Abdul Sattar Edhi established his first welfare centre and then the Edhi Trust with …

Carrying forward Edhi’s mission — best way to pay tribute to nation’s saint

  Mr. Abdul Sattar Edhi is the world’s great humanitarian, who led a life dedicated …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *