Abdul Sattar Edhi – a prominent Pakistani humanitarian and philanthropist – has died in the country’s largest city, Karachi, after a long illness.
He was 88.
Edhi had been in and out of hospital for much of the past month, and his family had asked the nation to pray for his health.”
Along with his wife, Bilquise, a nurse, Edhi established the largest welfare foundation in Pakistan, touching the lives of millions of Pakistanis and providing a safety net for the poorest of the poor who were denied basic benefits from the state.
Ambulances and shelters
Born in 1928, Edhi initially set up a dispensary in the city of Karachi, where he had arrived as a refugee with family after the partition of India and Pakistan. The dispensary had a physician and sold medicines at a cheaper rate than that of the market.
That tiny dispensary bloomed into a vast network of welfare services across Pakistan known as the Edhi Trust.
The Edhi Trust is famous throughout Pakistan, encompassing rehabilitation centers, psychiatric clinics and refugee shelters.
After every bomb blast or disaster, the red and white fleet of Edhi ambulances whisked away the injured and dead.
When Karachi was hit by a heat wave that left close to 1,000 people dead, morgues set up by the Edhi Foundation provided a space for dozens of unclaimed bodies of the homeless who had died on the streets because of heat exhaustion. Edhi himself oversaw their funeral. The Edhi Foundation has the largest network for the burial of dead bodies or unclaimed coffins in Pakistan.
Humble and hardworking
Edhi’s most iconic work is an empty cradle that rests outside the charity’s headquarters, where unwanted children can be anonymously handed over to the foundation’s orphanages.
The foundation also provides welfare services around the world, including in India, the U.S., the UK, Russia, Afghanistan and Japan.
Despite the millions that were donated to his charity, Edhi continued to live a humble existence, residing in a sparse room in one of the more impoverished parts of Karachi.
Both he and his wife did not earn a salary for their work on the foundation, subsisting on funds provided by the government. His wardrobe never changed from the simple cotton tunics that he wore throughout his life. Suffering from failing kidneys, he refused to travel abroad for an all-expense-paid treatment, choosing instead to be treated in a charity-based government hospital.
His death has united Pakistanis in their grief, on the streets, as well as on social media.
With his long white beard and black cap, Edhi was a pious man who was vocal in his condemnation of militants and religious extremists in Pakistan.
In a nation torn apart by ethnic and religious divisions, Edhi and his volunteers were the first at the scene of every disaster, natural or man-made.
Revered as a living saint, Edhi’s work was compared to that of Mother Teresa in Calcutta. His work won him many awards including the Gandhi Peace Award, the 2007 UNESCO Madanjeet Singh prize, the 2011 London Peace Award, the 2008 Seoul Peace Award and the Hamdan award for volunteers in humanitarian medical service.
A state funeral will be held for Edhi, the first to take place in the country in 28 years.
“If anyone deserves to be wrapped in the flag of the nation he served, it is him,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a statement.
According to his wishes, Edhi, who donated his eyes after his death, will be buried in the Edhi Village, a shelter for the mentally impaired, abandoned women and the elderly, set up on the outskirts of Karachi.
Edhi chose to be buried there in the early nineties. In his autobiography ‘A Mirror to The Blind” he explained his reasons.
“Why should we waste our deaths … Our graves will benefit the mentally disturbed, we shall stand guardian over them forever.”