Abdul Sattar Edhi
2000 Balzan Prize for Humanity, Peace and Fraternity among Peoples
Founder of the Edhi Foundation, Karachi, Pakistan, for over forty years Edhi (1928 – 2016) has been working tirelessly in favour of the poorest and destitute. He has created an extremely developed network of aid units, both fixed and mobile, which have allowed humanitarian actions to take place also in other countries. He is regarded as a sort of Mother Teresa of Pakistan, albeit Muslim. Among humanitarian prizes this is the best endowed in the world.
Abdul Sattar Edhi is a descendant from the Edhi family belonging to the Memons, an Islamic group living at the time in India. His father, Abdul Shakoor Edhi, was a commission agent in Bombay and the family lived in Bantva, Gujarat, India. Encouraged by his mother, Abdul Sattar Edhi as a small boy would help in a dispensary in the neighbourhood to deliver medicines all over the village and to spot handicapped and destitute persons in need of help. This took much time from his school work and he didn’t attend the school at all for a couple of years.
When the British were pulling out of India and the country split up, the Memons of emigrated to Pakistan, and the family ended up in Karachi when Edhi was 15 years old.
In 1951 Abdul Sattar Edhi bought from his savings a small shop in Mithadar and installed his own dispensary that catered to everyone. Outside the dispensary he put a banner saying “Those who give charity are blessed, those who do not are also blessed.” Donors would get a receipt and promise to get the money back if they changed their mind. He would sell medicines cheaper than the market and hired a physician on a fixed salary. In the mornings he took up work in a doctor’s clinic as well as training in pharmacy and accountancy, while the rest of the day he worked for the dispensary that was never shut and where he was confronted with all kinds of human problems.
Concerned about the state of women in Pakistani society he added to the dispensary a maternity unit under the supervision of a female doctor and started training courses for nurses. It was in connection with the “Hong Kong Flu” epidemic in 1957 that he first received official recognition for his work. Soon after he had his first financial breakthrough when a businessman donated 20.000 rupies to the dispensary. Edhi immediately bought an old van that could be used as an ambulance and that came into constant use. In 1958 he inherited a large sum of money from his father which he invested to receive a monthly profit. Edhi himself led a very simple life, and had no home outside the dispensary. He always refused governement support as he considered he would then be using money that rightly belonged to the people.
In 1964, after a short spell as a Member of Parliament, he returned fully to the dispensary, taking on his mammoth task to represent public as an ordinary citizen in the street.
In 1965 during the Indo-Pakistan War Edhi’s group was rushing to affected areas all over the city of Karachi, rescuing inpaired and burying the dead. When the war was over he married a young girl, Bilquise, who thereafter fully shared his life. Within four years they got three children and adopted another. In 1974 Edhi registered the Abdul Sattar Edhi Trust and established the Edhi Foundation.
After a serious accident with his ambulance he extended his activities all over the country. Small Edhi booths, supplied with medical provisions were started spreading. Centres began to operate under a plan to establish Trauma Centres at every 100 kilometers and Rural Awarness Centres at every 20 kilometers along the highways. Ambulances across the country were instructed to stop anywhere, and pick up any mentally handicapped and destitute person.
Soon 240 Edhi Centres were operating through eight administrative units of the country. Mithadar was the nerve centre and all cities and ambulances were linked to it by VHF and HF base stations enabling Edhi to exercise control across the country. By this time the ambulance van had been replaced by a fleet of 500 ambulances all over the country, reaching out to its furthermost corner, providing a service without discrimination.
Edhi realized the need for an air ambulance service and a Piper aircraft was purchased. The US ambassador presented the foundation with a helicopter through US AID. In the mid 1990s the fleet had grown to 5 helicopters, 5 aircrafts and up to 800 ambulances. By 1988 the foundation had established the largest burial service for unclaimed bodies. With the assistance of the church or the local temple, non-muslims were provided services according to their own beliefs. By 1990 over ten million people had been served and the foundation was assisted by 2.000 full time volunteers. Nevertheless, only a small administrative staff was required for an estimated ten thousand persons residing Edhi homes.
In 1986 Edhi was awarded the prestigious Magasaysay Award by the Philippines government, and later, the USSR Peace Prize for his services during the Armenian earth quake.