Few individuals get to become legends during their own lifetime. It is only after they have left this world and their lives have been analysed and their deeds celebrated in word and song that they become part of the collective conscience of their people. Abdul Sattar Edhi, the man, passed away on July 8 around 11pm after a prolonged illness. But Edhi the legend will live on as his life is celebrated and remembered by millions of Pakistanis and his philanthropic network continues its work for this country. His is a legacy like no other as no individual perhaps with the exception of Muhammad Ali Jinnah commands the same level of trust, respect and love that Mr Edhi does in the country. For six decades, the man represented what was best about this country. Around him, the often grim reality of life in Pakistan seemed a little bit better. He and his family espouse values that others can and should aspire to.
The humility, courage and determination Mr Edhi displayed unwaveringly to his final days commanded respect. The genuine love and goodwill that shone through his words and actions are what made people flock to him and his cause. In a country where trust in public figures and institutions has never been high and has been eroded over time, Mr Edhi’s was a cause that everyone could get behind and support without fear of being let down.
What started out as a humble project funded by donations for which he had to beg on the street, turned into a global philanthropic organisation with its activities spread as far away as Africa, Europe and the US. The Edhi Foundation has through its operations provided support and relief to thousands of poor and displaced, cared for the elderly, the mentally ill, rehabilitated drug addicts, provided shelter to abandoned women and children, fed the hungry and given dignity in death to the nameless bodies its ambulances retrieved from the streets and buried. The name Edhi has become synonymous with compassion, support, shelter, the final recourse and the saving grace for those with nowhere left to turn. Mr Edhi’s was the name which rose to mind whenever one had to cast about for a good, decent human being produced by this country, someone Pakistanis can truly be proud of, someone who makes Pakistanis proud of belonging to this country. Even under the intense glare of public scrutiny, his reputation as an honest man who took nothing for himself while giving his whole life to the greater good has withstood the test of time. No one would have begrudged him an easier, more comfortable life yet he refused all offers and even refused treatment abroad when it was offered to him during his final illness.
Perhaps Mr Edhi’s greatest achievement was bringing out the best in people who worked alongside him. While he remained the face of the Edhi Foundation, he had the help and support of thousands in making this organisation’s operations a resounding success. His wife and children hold the same values dear that Mr Edhi himself did and his spirit is reflected within the activities and devotion shown by Edhi Foundation’s management and ground staff. Those who donated to his cause also felt that they had become part of something bigger and better than themselves and could be sure that their money would only be used for welfare of the needy and nothing else. This is why his death has hit the country so hard and the loss has been felt so deeply by millions. He was a truly good man who cared for all regardless of ethnicity, religion or status. Pakistan has lost a loved one, a man unique in his ability to empathise, motivate and bring about positive change. Pakistan has lost a true leader and a man of unparalleled stature, made all the greater by his humility and honesty. The only way justice can be done to his legacy is to carry forth his passion: helping humanity, spreading goodwill and working for the greater good.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2016.