Edhi ambulances take about 6,000 calls a day and deliver in 10 minutes

Published: October 6, 2011
Abdul Sattar Edhi is known as a social worker who invests in his charity personally. PHOTO: FILE

Abdul Sattar Edhi is known as a social worker who invests in his charity personally. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: The Edhi Foundation, headed by renowned social worker Abdul Sattar Edhi, funds hundreds of centres nationwide for orphans, senior citizens, drug abusers, the mentally disabled, abused women, even injured animals through donations. Though its bookkeeping may not be perfect, it is loved by the public, Los Angeles Times correspondent Mark Magnier reported from Karachi.

He owns a single set of clothing and often sleeps in a storage room – even though millions of dollars pass through his hands annually. At 83, creature comforts don’t matter much to Abdul Sattar Edhi. He is far too busy caring for the sick, feeding the hungry and burying the dead.

Known to some as Pakistan’s Mother Teresa, Edhi is a humanitarian light in a violent and troubled land. With the vast majority struggling in a daily moribund economy, natural disasters, poverty, political instability, corruption, militant attacks, and political enforcers are facts of life.

“In this environment, a shrinking violet won’t make much headway,” he says. “You’ve got to be tough. Gruff and confident.” Edhi refers to himself as beggar, and wears his worn black tunic as a badge of honour. His charity does not discriminate based on religion, race or gender. For him, religion is human rights. As for the rich, even as he welcomes their donations, he chides them for their priorities and their motives.

He spoke of an industrialist who sought him out at a reception a few months ago and asked him what he could do for humanity. “I told him, ‘Pay your taxes and stop wasting money on luxuries and sipping tea’,” he told LAT. “That was it. He ran right away.”

Edhi Foundation operates hospitals, mobile dispensaries, free kitchens, helicopters, airplanes and hundreds of ‘little white’ ambulances resembling oversized bread boxes. The Foundation has been reproved for its less-than-exact approach to accounting, yet the public keeps contributing, a reflection, supporters say, of how much they trust him. But that also creates something of a Catch-22. As he fills the vacuum, the state has even less incentive to step up.

“If the government did anything, we wouldn’t need to rely on people like Edhi,” quipped Mohammad Arif, who sells lace and buttons in Karachi. In words of Hussein Manzoor, who sold fruit until his cart was recently stolen, Edhi is a “godsend.”

Manzoor visited a free dispensary operated by Edhi in Karachi for treatment for an allergy that developed after the earthquake in Kashmir in 2005. Twelve of his relatives died, but he survived and moved to Karachi. Without his cart, Manzoor is struggling to support three children, but he is grateful to be alive. “He has chosen to work among the poorest of poor,” said Mazhar Zaidi, a documentary filmmaker. “Others put a water tap in villages and go home. They don’t live there.”

Edhi often sleeps in the cluttered storeroom at his office, relegated there by his wife, Bilquis, a nurse who is also a key charity figure. For decades, Edhi’s popularity among Pakistan’s 170 million people allowed his ambulances to brave riots, gunfights and ethnic battles. Thieves, political goons and even the Taliban offered contributions and free passage. In July, however, in a worrisome sign underscoring Pakistan’s deterioration, his ambulances were shot at and a rescue worker was wounded during rioting in Karachi.

Ambulance dispatchers in the city field 6,000 calls a day and route patrolling vehicles by radio, boasting a 10-minute response time in Pakistan’s biggest city. Reflecting the breadth of the services Edhi provides, ambulance drivers wait outside a downtown Karachi control centre beside a steel cage filled with goats – four-legged donations-in-waiting which benefactors can buy for the poor. There also is a steel basinet where mothers can leave unwanted babies, night or day. “We are not seeing so many recently,” said dispatch supervisor Aftab Husain. “More babies are showing up in garbage cans again. We’re not sure why, since everyone knows Edhi.”

Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Doctor
    Oct 6, 2011 - 12:41AM

    You Mr. Edhi are an incredible man. This article brought tears to my eyes. Edhi deserves more recognition and donations. Thank you for being a shining light in Pakistan.


  • Oct 6, 2011 - 12:50AM

    Mother Teresa was Mother Teresa. Edhi sahab is Edhi sahab.

    Thank you.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Oct 6, 2011 - 12:52AM

    He is greater than mother tressa because he deos not this to converts peoples he is the
    man world dont see and dont give any Medal because he is muslim i think Allah will give
    reward of his work great man god bless him.Recommend

  • Ram Bharose Singh
    Oct 6, 2011 - 1:15AM

    We need someone like Edhi in India


  • Ali Tanoli.
    Oct 6, 2011 - 1:53AM

    If govt ask me whom u want to see as counrty Wazir E Mal i will suggest one person with
    my close eyes ABDUL SATTAR EDHI may god bless him he is my hero.


  • Ahmed
    Oct 6, 2011 - 1:56AM

    He is the only dignity of Pakistan and Islam as well


  • Ali
    Oct 6, 2011 - 2:13AM

    Please dont compare Edhi Sahab with Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa was a missionary seeking converts whereas Edhi Sahab has no such motives.


  • grain2315
    Oct 6, 2011 - 4:11AM

    thank god there is one institution that is incorruptible and actually serves the poor and the sick and the needy… Pakistanis should look on this and try and emulate Mr Edhi’s work in other sectors….


  • John B
    Oct 6, 2011 - 4:39AM

    He is doing a good work. Saw a documentary about him. He needs volunteers and someone should open up a volunteer sign up web page.

    Accountants and lawyers should form a board and help him succeed in this mission so that his work will continue even after him. All board members should be volunteers in good standing is the key. The best people are college professors, doctors, accountants etc who have no political affiliation.

    Endowments will help and someone should take up the cause.


  • Disco Molvi
    Oct 6, 2011 - 7:43AM

    @Ahmed: Abdul Sattar Edhi is the ONLY dignitiy of Humanity(Insaaniyat). He stands up for Humanity first, not Pakistan or Islam.
    The man himself takes no religious angle to his selflessly helping others and neither should anyone else.
    May Abdul Sattar Edhi sahib live long and prosper even more.


  • jagjit sidhoo
    Oct 6, 2011 - 9:35AM

    Abdul Sattar Edhi sahib Salaam


  • hammad
    Oct 6, 2011 - 10:00AM

    He’s the strongest contender of Noble peace prize but West couldnt swallow that a Pakistani should be awarded it.


  • breitzer
    Oct 6, 2011 - 10:28AM

    He deserve noble prize…guys push every where this thing


  • Doctor
    Oct 6, 2011 - 11:02AM

    @ Hammad – Pakistan needs peace first before anyone can be given a peace prize. Whichever leader has the courage to wrest control from the Armed Forces and Intelligence Agencies and set Pakistan on the track of peace and give up terrorism deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.


  • kashan
    Oct 6, 2011 - 11:06AM

    May ALLAH live him long with healthy life. Ameen


  • Rao Amjad Ali
    Oct 6, 2011 - 12:12PM

    Re: Hammad – How come Dr. Abdus Salam was awarded one for Physics?

    While I am on the subject, I believe that it is extremely sad and says a great deal about us as a nation for not having honored Dr. Salam in a befitting manner. The relatively liberal PPP government should establish an institute of physics in his name to honor him for the remarkable contribution that he has made to theoretical physics and has made Pakistan proud.

    Edhi Sahib is an institution unto himself and has shown us that even in a culture where corruption is rampant, a single man can make a huge difference. There could not be a better role model than him!Recommend

  • Antanu
    Oct 6, 2011 - 1:30PM

    unfortunately he is from pakistan ….international media can not give space to any one from this country.


  • Dr. O. P. Sudrania
    Oct 7, 2011 - 5:46PM

    @ Ram Bharose Singh,

    India has many but to count e.g. Ms Soniaji, A Rajaji, Kalmadiji, Thakerayji, PCji and etc. Plenty


  • Saad Durrani
    Oct 9, 2011 - 11:25AM

    @Dr. O. P. Sudrania:
    And if Edhi is the only one in Pakistan, there are several more where this is coming from.


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