“Edhi: An Inspirations for Pakistanis”
By Ras H. Siddiqui
( The author wrote this report after meeting the late Abdul Sattar Edhi in Karachi in December 2004/January 2005)
One can ignore numerous people in Pakistan from a journalist’s viewpoint. But when it comes to the keepers of the welfare of literally thousands of citizens of a relatively poor country (by many standards) no visitor to Karachi at least can forget the presence of Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife Bilquis. Thus my recent trip to our country of origin would not have been complete without a meeting with Mr Edhi and I made it a point to try and locate him at Kharadar (Salty Gate) or Mithadar (Sweet Gate), some of the most overcrowded and hard-to-reach parts of Pakistan’s largest city.
These old sections of Karachi are often ignored by its own millions except when they are looking for a bargain on a particular and still surviving craft or rare goods. Minority Hindus and Christians along with the Parsi (Zoroastrians) still do most of the business here. The Makrani Baloch, old Sindhi inhabitants, Gujratis and the more recent immigrants from India as well as the rest of Pakistan still ply their trades here too This is old Karachi at its most crowded and confused. Much violence has been seen here. And it was here that a friend asked his driver to take us.
The Edhi Information Bureau and Edhi Ambulance Markaz Karachi 115 in Kharadar was found in a truly Spartan state. After a brief enquiry by this reporter, the relaxed front desk realized that I did not know Kharadar from Mithadar. They invited a Dr Sarfaraz to explain to me the activities of the Edhi Foundation here and at its various locations. Orphans, the handicapped (both physically and mentally), widows, the destitute and abandoned, all are helped by these centers around Pakistan.
Upon asking I was told that Edhi keeps an 8 am to 5 pm schedule at his Mithadar office. It was around 4:30 pm already and most of Mithadar (about a mile away) was accessible via foot traffic only, due to its very narrow streets or “gullis.” But when Edhi Sahib was informed via telephone that a certainly “lost and confused” Pakistani-American writer would like to see him, he said that he would wait for us.
We reached his office via our vehicle and on foot within 20 minutes. After a couple of doors and noticing a number of women working at their desks, I was shown into a modest yet impressive office adorned by pictures of the founder of Pakistan M.A. Jinnah, an old photograph of Sattar and Bilquis Edhi, posters promoting a drug-free world and several guidelines in both English and Urdu. And amidst the orderly office sat a distinguished personality with a snowhite beard and sharp features, who we all know as Abdul Sattar Edhi: a poor man’s last refuge in Pakistan.
Edhi Sahib is indeed an oddity. He has won many national and international awards for his humanitarian work amongst the poor and destitute not only in Pakistan but far beyond. He must have been considered for the Nobel Prize by now, and if not, surely he is being overlooked. He is a simple man with many controversial ideas about social reformation and behavior patterns of many groups in Pakistan. Just spending a few minutes with him will grimly remind one of the very true and sometimes horrible realities of life. In short he is brutally honest and very insightful.
Translating from Urdu can be problematic but here I make an earnest attempt:
On religion he said that as Muslims our “amal” leaves a lot to be desired. He said that many educated people in Pakistan cheat the masses, victimize the poor and are not good human beings. He said that people in power do not spend too much time thinking about humanitarian goals. “Where are the (true) Muslims?” he asks. The poor in turn due to neglect and survival issues are also destroying themselves, he said.
I asked him how he survived in this environment in a field where many others had given up a long time ago. “I survive by begging,” he said. He added that many rich people (but not all) and those of the religious right have often boycotted him and his work. He said that they just do not understand the concept of charity. He also said that some of the money that his organization has collected for the poor has even been robbed at gunpoint. Worst of all, some people have not accepted him as a true Pakistani and have even questioned his religious beliefs.
Asked about the abandoned children that have gone through the Edhi welfare system and the future they have, he said that his organization can only try to keep track of them for a maximum of five years (after they leave) as new children come in and need attention.
Edhi Sahib was thankful to all who donate to his charity and especially thanked foreign Pakistanis for their help. He said that he had faced a shortage of good workers who are interested in helping out charitable causes in Pakistan. He added that he saw the best in Europe and America as the system there incorporated “amal”. “The system works there,” he said. He said that many of Pakistan’s religious figures are too busy making trouble (“fitnas” is the word he used). “They did not accept the creation of Pakistan in the beginning,” he added.
Asked how long the Edhi Foundation can function beyond him, he said that for at least one more generation his children will carry on this effort but he did not know what would happen after that.
Edhi also did not hesitate to mention his dismay at the six-hour delay encountered at the US-Canada border on his way to New York (after 9/11?). He also mentioned that the authorities there also do not let him take people there to help his charity work in America.
After I made my small donation, Edhi Sahib did give me a signed copy of his book “Abdul Sattar Edhi - A Mirror to the Blind,” his autobiography narrated by Tehmina Durrani (of “My Feudal Lord” fame).
Upon leaving the premises after about 40 minutes a lot of things came to mind. With ambulances, hospitals, emergency centers, housing, maternity homes and even helicopters plus a lot more (for those who cannot afford it) the Edhi Foundation certainly makes a strong case for legitimate donation gathering.
Abdul Sattar Edhi loves his land and people and shows it with his deeds and not just words like many of us. He is often too frank and sometimes caustic. He may not sound saintly but his work speaks for itself. And for that he commands much respect.
To conclude, one of the reasons for writing this report was because Bakra Eid is coming. One can hope that people will be generous and donate some more funds to this cause which is a huge task by itself, one which cannot be accomplished without outside help. Eid is really a time of giving, so let us try to give to the Edhi Foundation which is devoted to helping suffering humanity wherever it may be. Let us share the care.
(Please contact: USA Edhi International Foundation, 42-07 National Street Corona, New York, 11368 USA. Tel: 718 639-5120, Fax: 718 335-1978 for your Bakra Eid needs or your donations. To locate an office near you on the Internet visit http://www.paks.net/edhi-foundation/ ).