Starting With Only $500 In 1947 Abdul Sattar Edhi Changed A Nation

A philanthropist in an unlikely place, Abdul Sattar Edhi dedicated much of his life to saving the people of Pakistan, starting with the babies.

When he began his work, he had only $500, but by the end, he’d built a nationwide network of centers and services. He saved at least 50,000 babies, many of whom he adopted so they could get their citizenship.

“People have become educated … but have yet to become human.” – Abdul Sattar Edhi

If you’re a Googler, you may have noticed Edhi’s image in the Google doodle on Tuesday (Feb 28th). He would have been 89 that day. He passed away in 2016, leaving behind an unfathomable network of help in his home country.

Unlike other philanthropists, Edhi did not get rich then grow a conscience (guilty or otherwise). He started life with little but did so much more than most of us will ever do.

Early Life

Edhi started life in Gujarat, British India. Although Edhi has said he was never a very religious man, his family was Memon; a Muslim community in the western part of South Asia.

The Memons made their living in trading with the British, but like any community, the distribution of wealth was not universal. Edhi’s upbringing was a humble one.

As a boy, his mother would give him one paisa (coin) for his meals, and the equal amount to a beggar. When Edhi was 11-years-old, his mother suffered a debilitating stroke, forcing him to care for her until he was 19 when she passed.

Her impact on his life would echo in the lives of tens of thousands of Pakistanis. One could argue she was the adopted grandmother to all of Edhi’s children.

It was his experiences with her, where he developed a system that would give birth to a humanitarian movement like no other.

Move To Pakistan

The partition of India, where Britain separated the larger country of India into smaller nations, creating in the west what would become Pakistan, struck religious tension into the area.

Violence broke out; killing hundreds of thousands if not millions of people. Between 10-12 million people became refugees due to the partition, Edhi’s family among them.

Many Muslims moved to Pakistan, which is where Edhi found his new home. He set up in Karachi and opened a shop selling cloth in the wholesale market.

In time, he also established a free dispensary for medical aid. There was a terrible flu in Karachi and he had it in him to help.

With only an eight by eight room, he began the work that would define his life.

The Edhi Foundation

The foundation’s slogan is simple: Live and help live. For sixty years Edhi toiled at this goal, singlehandedly changing the nation of Pakistan.

As his reputation grew, people regarded Edhi as a guardian for the poor. Donations poured in. He needed someplace to put the money, so he established a trust, the Edhi trust, later named the Bilquis Edhi trust.

Even after his death, the foundation continues to thrive. It is not only the largest organization of its kind in Pakistan but the largest fleet of ambulances in the world.

The efforts of his foundation have extended beyond the borders of Pakistan, as far as New Orleans, Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit. They’ve offered relief in Africa, various places in the Middle East, the Caucasus region, and eastern Europe.

At home, in Pakistan, the foundation offers 24-hour emergency services via 1,500 volunteers and the network of ambulances, one of which he drove himself.

The Edhi Foundation also provides free nursing homes, orphanages, outpatient clinics, shelters, and rehabilitation centers for addicts and the mentally ill. They even help bury unidentified bodies.

To make this easier, here are a few more of the foundation’s accomplishments:

  • Rehabilitated over 50,000 orphans.
  • Rehabilitated over 20,000 abandoned infants.
  • Trained over 40,000 nurses.
  • Established 330 welfare centers.
  • Set-up 1,800 ambulances, 28 rescue boats, and two airplanes.

When Edhi passed it was his kidneys. He’d suffered failure in 2013.

Ironic that this man who did not take a salary from his foundation, only ever owned two pieces off clothing, and gave of himself until the end, could not find a kidney donor.

This writer imagines he would not have accepted kidneys, even if the doctors found a donor, not when so many others needed them too.

This all started with the way Edhi’s mother managed his lunch money.

Watch this video from AlJazeera: