Abdul Sattar Edhi established his first welfare centre and then the Edhi Trust with a mere Rs5,000. What started as a one-man show operating from a single room in Karachi is now a reputable Edhi Foundation, the largest welfare organization in Pakistan.
Edhi is like Mother Teresa who devoted her life to the poor of Kolkata while he (Abdul Sattar Edhi) leads the way of helping the Karachiites and spreading his help all over Pakistan. His help and work is even started to the other parts of the world now. Edhi and his wife Bilquees 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. Both having had little formal education but are totally committed to the cause of helping the poor and needy of the country.
Born in 1928 in Bantwa, Gujarat, India, Edhi’s family belonged to the industrious Memon community. From a young age his mother taught Edhi to be kind towards others and to help the poor. In 1947, the family migrated to Pakistan and settled in Karachi. That was a time of great emotional trauma and social and political upheaval. Edhi became involved in social work and began working with welfare organizations and soon started his own dispensary, providing medical aid to the poor.
He bought his first ambulance, an old van which he called it 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 Bilquees who was a trainee nurse at the dispensary. They were married in 1966. Bilquees became the ideal wife for Edhi totally committed to welfare work.
In 1985, Abdul Sattar Edhi received the Nishan-e-Imtiaz from the Government of Pakistan and in recognition of their services the Government of Philippines awarded both Edhi and Bilquees the Magsayay award.
Vision and trust
It is a fact that Mr 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.”
Abdul Sattar Edhi displays a remarkable stamina and energy at the advanced age of over seventy to keep himself informed about all activities of the Foundation in all parts of Pakistan. He travels around Pakistan and abroad extensively for this purpose and conveys a feeling of being there, when needed.
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.
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.
The 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.
The Foundation also has an education scheme, which apart from teaching reading and writing covers various vocational activities such as driving, pharmacy and para-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 to victims of the Gulf war and earthquake victims in Iran and Egypt,
Edhi also has planned mass campaigns against narcotics, illiteracy, population control and basic hygiene. Edhi’s wife Bilquees works in the areas of maternity centre management.
From cradle to grave system
At most of the emergency Edhi Centers, “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 Centers. Such infants are thereafter given in the care of suitable deserving families not having children of their own, for adoption. Mrs. Bilquis Edhi, the head of this service through a centralized 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’s of this service are kept confidential in order to save the child from facing social problems afterwards.
Edhi Home also called as” Apna Ghar” (our home), is a home for the mentally ill destitute, for orphans and runaways. There are 13 such homes in the country out of which seven are in Karachi. About six thousand persons live in Edhi Homes. A destitute or homeless becomes a member of Edhi’s family once one enters its premises. All boarding, lodging, clothing and logistic arrangements are entirely free. If a person dies within these homes, the burial arrangements are made by the Foundation according to the religious rites of the deceased (Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Christian or any other religion).
In Edhi Homes, there is a team of specialists to deal with particular problems of the residents. It is supported by a small staff. The residents are encouraged and trained to look after their personal needs themselves. This inculcates in them the spirit of self-help, and keeps them engaged in beneficial activities. In-charge of one of the Edhi Homes for the orphans and runaways, says” Encouraging children to do their own work gives them self-respect and makes them feel that the benefits they get in return are not charity but reward for their efforts”.
The Welfare Centers of the Foundation are located in all the big cities and towns of Pakistan. The prime function of these centers is to extend all services of the Foundation to the needy persons at their door-steps. Plans are under way to extend their numbers. Once these centers come into operation, ninety percent of Pakistan’s population is expected to be covered by the Foundation’s activities. These welfare centers act as “Service Counters” for the need of the suffering masses. They are constantly engaged in multifarious activities directly or indirectly benefiting the local community
High-ways project (25 kilometer)
Under this project, it is planned to construct five hundred Edhi Centers in order to cover a sizeable population on all highways and major link-roads of Pakistan in a properly phased fashion. The existing centers provide first aid to accident victims and arrange for their speedy transfer to the nearby hospitals. More-over, these centers are being used for providing medical facilities in rural and semi-urban areas. Also they provide ambulance service at nominal charges, facility for vaccinating new-born babies and children against diseases, and other welfare services. The dispensary and mobile dispensary at each center cater for medical assistance to approximately two hundred and fifty patients daily.
Work is also underway to include the establishment of additional Edhi Homes for the destitute, dispensaries, centers for rehabilitation of heroin addicts, ambulance centers and rural welfare centers. Acquisition of additional ambulance aircraft’s is also in hand to provide a speedy service between these centers.
Voluntary contributions in kind, which include clothing, edibles, medicines, dry rations are received throughout Edhi Center’s network. Through voluntary contributions from Pakistan and abroad, warehouses were established in big cities like Karachi, Islamabad and Multan. Five of these warehouses are kept ready round-the-clock with provision of tents, dry rations, bedding, blankets, baby milk powder, utensils, etc., to move into action immediately in times of emergencies.
These Warehouses deliver items to refugee camps, at the site of any natural calamity, riots, fires and accidents, etc. Through these Warehouses regular supplies have been provided to refugees from Kashmir, Afghanistan, Bosnia and countries like Somalia, Kuwait, Bangladesh and flood affected areas in Pakistan etc.
Field ambulance services
Thousands of persons are disabled or killed in minor or major road accidents throughout Pakistan. After any major accident, the seriously injured persons lie on the site for several hours waiting for shifting to the nearest hospital. Often, delay and apathy cause loss of valuable lives, leaving many others injured, crippled and handicapped.
Edhi Foundation has raised the largest single fleet of Ambulances in the country with an un-paralleled record of quick response for the affectees of any disaster. Its nation-wide network equipped with the latest communication system now covers the remotest areas of Pakistan. A fleet of over four hundred ambulances, field mobile units and rescue units, which comprise this network, are maintained in a state of readiness to meet any emergency in the shortest possible time anywhere in Pakistan.
Air ambulance services
The Foundation has set up a helicopter and fixed wing aircraft-based emergency service centered at Karachi to supplement the field services. Two airplanes and one helicopter have already been acquired. The Foundation plans to attract more funds for acquisition of five additional aircraft/helicopters, within the next three years. Pakistan Army Aviation has already trained two pilots. Additional assistance on subsequent training of pilots will be requested from time to time.
Oil companies have expressed willingness to provide fuel and lubricants on gratis basis. The Civil Aviation Authority of Pakistan has waived all licensing, registration, and other fees for the Air Ambulance Service. Wider coverage and the following goals are being achieved with the assistance of Edhi.
Marine and coastal services
Having developed the nation-wide network of ground ambulances supported by Air ambulance, Edhi Foundation has set up a separate establishment to extend its services in coastal areas as well.
Blood and drug banks
Provision of blood in order to save human lives remains an essential element of emergency services. In major accidents, natural calamities and bomb blasts, etc., blood is supplied to the needy on an emergency basis.
All welfare centers of major cities in Pakistan regularly keep an updated list of donors of all blood groups and conduct campaigns for enlisting more donors for collection of blood.
Blood is pooled in hospitals from the volunteer donors and is provided free of cost in cases of heart surgeries and other major operations to poor patients. Two Blood Banks, one at Karachi and the other at Mirpur, have proper facilities for storing and screening blood, from where hundreds of pints of screened blood is being regularly dispensed to the government hospitals.
Cancer research hostel, Karachi
During 1980, realizing the needs of poor cancer patients in the city who were pouring in from up-country the Foundation developed a separate project for the establishment of a cancer hostel near Agha Khan Hospital, Karachi. Suitable premises have been purchased to house 50 cancer Patients with treatment facilities.
This Center acts as an extension bay of Radiotherapy and Oncology Department of Jinnah Post-Graduate Medical Centre, and provides terminal care and treatment to poor cancer patients of both sexes of all ages with indoor and outdoor facilities. The radio-therapy and diagnostic oncology is taking care by the experts of Jinnah Post-Graduate Medical Centre, while all other remaining medical facilities are provided within the Cancer Research Hostel. Plans are under way to extend this facility with an additional one hundred and fifty beds at Karachi. Poor patients who cannot bear their travel expenses are provided railway tickets making it easier for them to reach the cancer hostel.
Missing persons service
Because of social problems a large number of children leave their homes or get separated from their families during emergencies. Similarly, mentally handicapped people who can’t get back to their homes, wander around the streets. Edhi Foundation either uses its own wireless network, state radio and TV channels or arranges local announcements, advertisements in the press, and thereby manages to return thousands of such people to their homes.
Similarly, unidentified dead bodies are kept in cold mortuaries and all efforts are made to identify the next of kin. This service is also available to Pakistanis living abroad and is being co-ordinated through Pakistan embassies or offices of the Foundation abroad.
Homes for shelter of animals
Edhi Homes were originally meant to provide services to the distressed and ailing destitute. Soon, however, animals that was cruelly treated by their owners and had become lame or crippled or badly wounded, started ending up in Edhi Centers. These also include missing animals and unwanted house pets which have no other place to go except Edhi shelters. In view of the increasing number of such animals, Edhi Foundation established a separate treatment unit, which has now grown up into a small zoo. Veterinary doctors look after these animals along with other volunteer staff at Super Highway, Karachi.
Edlhi Foundation has the largest network for the burial of unclaimed and burials of dead bodies in Pakistan. Separate grave yards are established in cities like Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and New York. Mr. Edhi, perhaps, holds the world record for giving the last prescribed bath (Ghusal) with his own hands to about 20,000 unclaimed dead bodies and for arranging their burial.
Metropolitan Corporations of all big cities in Pakistan like Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi have made annual contracts with Edhi Foundation for burial of unidentified dead bodies recovered from drowning, homicides and accidents etc.
Coffin cloth and coffin boxes are provided free of cost to those families who cannot afford or manage burial rites themselves. Non-Muslims are provided services according to their own religious rites with the assistance of a church or local temple. In addition to the above, large air conditioned cold mortuaries have been established at Karachi to keep unidentified bodies for a couple of days, and perform burial rites if the next of kin is not traceable. Edhi’s graveyard services also provide facilities for burial and transportation of dead bodies from overseas.
Edhi Emergency Posts have been established at national and provincial capitals including Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Multan.
Following services besides legal aid are provided by Edhi Foundation to prisoners in different jails and remand homes
Edhi Foundation has been providing services to the refugees of different countries forced to take shelter in Pakistan.
International community centres
The work of Edhi Foundation has extended beyond Pakistan. Currently, branches of Edhi International Foundation are providing regular services in New York, Ontario, Dacca, Tokyo, Sydney, London, Dubai, while preliminary work for establishing branches in Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Yemen and Russia has been completed. These International Community Centers look after the welfare of Asians abroad.
Collaboration with other organizations
Besides running its own fleet of ambulances, Edhi Foundation has been supporting other government institutions and non-governmental organizations in a variety of ways, keeping in view the larger interest of the masses.