Life is often cruel to the disadvantaged in Asia's swollen
sluminfested cities where they are cut off from the neighborliness they traditionally knew
in the rural villages. Governments and more fortunate individuals seem blind to their
plight. Where discarded infants may expire by the roadside and adult corpses lie awaiting
the vultures, there is scant cause for confidence in man's progress.
The 100 million people of Pakistan have paid the price of survival. Amidst the
political trauma following World War II and the dismantling of Britain's empire, partition
in the name of religion uprooted millions, shuttling Hindus and Muslims across the Punjabi
border. Wars with India and three million refugees from Russian-occupied Afghanistan have
compounded internal ethnolinguistic discord. Although the Indus River Valley is one of
civilization's original and most fertile sites, the drifting poor have suffered from
lawlessness, feudal tyranny and disease.
Born a Muslim 58 years ago in Kathiawar, Gujarat, Western India, ABDUL SATTAR EDHI
migrated with his moderately prosperous family to Pakistan in 1947. It was the paralysis
that afflicted his mother two years later that alerted EDHI to the suffering of the
sick-at a time when most medicine was unavailable. With colleagues, in 1950 he established
a charitable dispensary, the Bantva Memon Dispensary. Frustrated by the conservatism of
his associates he assumed full responsibility for it in 1953 and eventually established a
philanthropic trust in his own name, receiving 800,000 rupees (US$160,000) in donations
the first year.
With these funds EDHI built an emergency outpatient clinic, manned by a senior medical
student, and a dispensary exclusively for women and children that included a training
center for nurses. There after as voluntary donations allowed, he developed services for
the destitute sick, mentally handicapped and drug addicts; runaway girls from unhappy
homes or miserable marriages were given work and education. These facilities have become
the 12-acre Apna Ghar (Our Home) 10 miles north of Karachi in Sohrab Ghar, and the Edhi
Nursing Home in the suburb of Mithadar. Together they house and care for some 1,200, of
whom more than half are mental patients. They are staffed by 300 nurses and 35 doctors
whose only compensation is for transportation. EDHI explains that he prefers women workers
because "they are less corrupt by nature."
The Nursing Home is managed by Mrs. BILQUIS EDHI, whom ADBUL SATTAR met 20 years ago
when she was working with him as a volunteer. BILQUIS oversees maternity care and adoption
services for abandoned babies, a family planning clinic, an emergency center with 24-hour
service by 80 ambulances, an outpatient department and a shelter for the homeless. Since a
decent burial is a concern of Islam, infant and adult corpses, found by the roadside or
floating in the sea, are bathed and enshrouded. Many of the 7,500 bodies have been handled
by the EDHIS personally.
Refusing offers of government assistance, even from President Zia ul-Haq, the Abdul
Sattar Edhi Trust and two sister foundations rely entirely upon contributions from the
public. Queues of donors provide the daily cash equivalent of US$2,000, plus gifts in kind
such as chickens, sheep, goats and clothing. Van loads of food sent by the trust to
victims of floods and other disasters are quickly replaced by anonymous donations.
The EDHIS take no salary; they, their four children and her mother live modestly on the
income from his earlier business investments. They pray five times a day in the Muslim
tradition, and in their lives demonstrate that Islam has its roots in service to others.
Their personal ministry is to the destitute.
In electing ABDUL SATTAR EDHI and BILQUIS EDDLO EDHI to receive the 1986 Ramon
Magsaysay Award for Public Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes their giving
substance in an Islamic society to the ancient humane commandment that thou art thy