Disclaimer: All the copyrights belong to the respective author/s of the book. The purpose of the book summary and review is to promote the book and share some of the great points from the work.
Cool Bluez Rating (9/10)
Although Edhi’s services cannot be rated because he has gone beyond his means to deliver exceptional services in a third world country. In a city like Karachi whose population is greater than the population of Australia, Edhi ambulances have a very quick response time of 6-8 minutes. The book offers an in depth insight on how Edhi got inspired from his mother’s values which laid foundation for his charity work, his beautiful relationship with his wife Bilquis, his personal thoughts on religion, world peace and helping humanity. It’s a must read for everyone who wants to do something good for the world.
Selected Points From the Book
The beginning and the present:
From an early age, Edhi had tended to his paralyzed mother, and she was the one who first taught him to give money to the poor and the way to give it. He missed school and joined a dispensary, taking care of people in need of help.
Edhi’s mother when they still lived in Bantva, used to help women give birth and encouraged them to look for a job that would give them some independence.
He tells us how his mother tried to make him aware of social injustice, even when he was very young.
He says, ‘From their earliest childhood, all children start learning about the things going on around them and they tend to absorb the behavior they see in others. My mother started guiding me when I was very small. For example, to teach me and to prepare me for the future, when I went to school, she always gave me two paisas, just a couple of small coins, and would say to me—you can spend one of these on yourself, but you must use the other one for someone who really needs it, be it a child or a grown-up. If I came back home and instead of giving away one paisa to someone, I had kept it for myself, she would reproach me, saying that I had used for myself something that belonged to the poor and needy. This is how she pricked my conscience, and although she did not know it at the time, she prepared me for my future work at the service of others”.
His father taught him the value of putting one’s beliefs into practice rather than merely announcing those beliefs. He also encouraged him towards intellectual independence from religious figures and told him to beware of personal vanity.
The necessary means to carry out this work he acquired through Islamic generosity as laid down in the Qu’ran.
Edhi talks in his autobiography that from his early teenage years, he was particularly influenced by Abu Dharr al Ghifari, one of the early companions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who is considered by many contemporary authors as the forerunner of socialist thought. Edhi admires him both as a historical figure and as a model of ethical standards.
Edhi tells how he read and was particularly affected by the classic Capital and by Maxim Gorky’s revolutionary novel Mother, in which he may have recognized the frustration of the poorer classes and their grim daily struggle for survival.
Man’s basic nature is that of being “human”, it is in the interest of everyone—and for world peace— to first of all recognize our common “human” identity. Men must learn to look beyond the barriers they have raised—racial, religious, and national identities, ethnic or gender groups are nothing but barriers and obstacles to recognizing that we are, all similar, with the same needs and the same weaknesses.
Reaching this objective requires us to devote hard work, to always be fair and honest, to serve others and set an example. There is no other possible way of achieving world peace—this is the only way we can really alleviate the suffering of the poor, eliminate injustice, reduce poverty, and put an end to discrimination.
In 1951,, he bought a small shop in the neighborhood and set up his own dispensary, distributing medicines, tending to destitute people and taking care of unclaimed dead bodies.
Outside the shop he had a sign saying, ‘Those who give are blessed, and those who do not give are also blessed’. In his spare time he worked at a pharmacy and a clinic to learn medicine and pharmacology and to familiarize himself with accounting as well.
In 1974, from this humble beginning, was established what is now the Edhi Foundation. It has become the largest and best organized welfare system in Pakistan, commanding a fleet of over four hundred ambulances, field mobile units and rescue units, as well as an air ambulance service, consisting of one helicopter and two airplanes.
There are Edhi welfare centers located in all major cities and towns in Pakistan. There are thirteen ‘Edhi Homes’ caring for about six thousand mentally ill and destitute, orphans and runaways, where the residents are trained to take care of their personal needs themselves. There are baby cradles where unwanted infants can be left, and there are missing person services that extend also to Pakistanis living abroad.
Edhi Emergency Centers serve all highways and major link-roads of Pakistan to provide first aid to accident victims and transfer them to the nearest hospital. This has been extended to embrace a marine and coastal service.
Not to mention blood and drug banks, a cancer hostel, prisoner’s aid, as well as graveyard services for unclaimed dead bodies, where non-Muslims are given services in accordance to their own religious rites.
The Edhi Foundation activities have been extended to other countries as well, wherever a natural catastrophe occurs. Edhi offices have been established in a number of big cities in North America, Japan, Australia, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
In 2004, 6,303 missing people were traced.
One day when Edhi was just a teenager, he saw a sick boy being beaten up and bullied. He immediately sprang to this boy’s defense and reminded the others that there is nothing worse than using one’s gifts against someone who has not received as many gifts in life. Naturally, this defense cost him several bruises and grazes. But it won him his mother’s approval and she praised him for having raised a voice for someone who had none, and for defending the underling this was clearly a lesson which he has never forgotten.
We are in one of the poorest areas of the city where in 1951 Edhi started his work with a little dispensary for the poor. It was a charitable endeavor which he had already supported earlier when friends from his ethnic group of origin opened one dispensary in Karachi for their community. Later on, however, the fact that the service was only available for members of the Memon community upset Edhi and he voiced his has always been an overriding imperative.
Boulton Market, one could still see the legendary bench on which Edhi spent many of his nights waiting, always ready to help others, 24 hours a day.
Edhi has been ill for several days. He is suffering not only from diabetes but also suffered mild frostbite to his face. He has suffered from recurrent migraines and acute sinusitis. He has resolutely refused all doctors as if that would be putting himself before others.
Bilquis tells us that nobody managed to convince him to let a doctor examine him properly: he will not budge an inch. “I’ll get over it” he says “just let me be”.
When Colonel Gaddafi announced that he wanted to give aid to the poorest Muslim countries: Edhi wrote to him suggesting he should extend his offer to all poor countries, not just the Muslim ones.
This powerful man, who everyday receives billions of rupees, thousands of dollars and euros, who feeds tens of thousands of people, who pays the salaries of 6 thousand employees and volunteers, lives in utterly bare surroundings, wants nothing for himself.
Bilquis tells that once she and Edhi were traveling in ambulance at night, towards the interior, to bury the body a child. They were caught up by dacoits. When the dacoits found about Edhi, they kissed Edhi’s hands and gave him a hundred rupees and asked for forgiveness. They said “We know when we die, we know that you will be the one who will come and bury us. Forgive us for holding you up. Be careful, going around here at night”.
Edhi, a self-effacing man, very hard first of all on himself, and then on others, is completely absorbed in his mission but has the gift and constant objective of seeing the fundamental human identity in ‘the other’. His attention is focused on the human being in its essence, regardless of any discriminatory label which may identify the other as belonging to any religion, party, race, class, nation or gender. To him, all are equally human, with their fundamental needs, their suffering and their happiness.
During our travel to Gubbio, we visited a local orphanage run by nuns and again Edhi managed to surprise and move all those around him. Having heard that the orphanage was facing funding problems, he discreetly gave the nuns a financial contribution to help them continue with their work. Edhi, the man who had always fought for the protection of the poor of Pakistan, was prepared to offer his help even in prosperous Italy.
To list just a few of the Foundation’s international emergencies that have received aid and support: since 1978 Afghan refugees; in 1986 relief was provided to flood victims in Bangladesh; in 1989 aid was sent to the earthquake victims in the Soviet Union; in 1990 to victims of the earthquake in northern Iran; and to the earthquake victims in 1992 in Cairo and in 1994 I to Japan. In early 2004, the Foundation provided first aid relief to the tsunami victims in Sri Lanka.
Besides the international work there are the ‘extraordinary’ interventions in Pakistan that cover a whole range of different emergencies—epidemics, terrorist bombings, floods, earthquakes large and small, fires and the collapse of buildings. There are numerous occasions on which Edhi has presented himself as a peacemaker, mediator or messenger of peace in resolving conflicts with India or when a Pan Am plane was hijacked, or for the rights of Indian fishermen and for the Indian, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan girls who were held as sex slaves by traffickers.
People telephone the Edhi centres continually, for a birth that is imminent or when they have a dead body needing a burial, or when they can’t locate a relative or when they need transport for a sick person, but also, as Dr Kazmi tells us with a smile, when they want to know what traffic conditions are like on the roads!.
“FROM THE CRADLE TO THE GRAVE” is how Bilquis and Abdul Sattar Edhi would like their services to be known in Pakistan.
A million babies born in the maternity units, 8 thousand drug addicts treated, 20,000 newborn babies saved by the cradle serviced, 16 thousand children adopted, 1600 women qualified for independent jobs as nurses or midwives, a thousand ambulances, thousands of women and girls sheltered in the Edhi Homes, thousands of children brought up , and educated in the orphanages, hundreds of thousands of meals served daily, 7500 volunteers are some of the simple personal estimates.
The annual budget of around 9 million euro covers the normal operating expenses (about 30 thousand euro) and all the extraordinary expenses from starting up new projects to responding to emergencies. Edhi does not receive any grants from the state of Pakistan, nor from any other countries or large private donors abroad: 99 per cent of his funds come from his fellow citizens, both those who have emigrated and those still living in the country.
The underlying idea is that great social changes cannot be imposed from above, in an authoritarian fashion—they must be patiently built up from below, by those who will benefit from them; and the people must be enlightened by the example of good practices, hard work, and personal commitment.
Right from the start, the funds needed to run the operation have been collected by holding out a hand. Edhi used to stand in the middle of a crossroads and beg. He asked people to make donations proportionate to their means for the work he did on behalf of others.
Edhi is and wants to be thought of simply as a Muslim, a man like so many others, who tries to live the meaning that his religion has for him.
The scars that life has left on him are converted into extra life for others.
We ask him if he would speak to us a bit about the concept that lies behind his work. He answers, “Working for one’s fellow man, helping humankind: this is the original religion, this is the one duty, that of trying to spread and sow love and peace. There is just one thing we have to do—bring peace. What have religions brought us? The idea of spreading love and bringing peace.”
Is the world journeying towards peace? “On the contrary, right now, it is going towards division. Each person only thinks about him or herself. There is little movement towards peace. Even religions have been used to separate people This is the reason why there is all this conflict and all this suffering”. Can religion be used to promote war? This must never happen, because religion is for the good of humankind, to bring peace”.
What is it that worries you most about today’s world? “There is too much division in the world: right now, those who exploit others are trying to spread division, divide the world and thus spread poverty.” If that is so, Mr Edhi, what can help us to make people show more solidarity? “First of all, one has to manage to love others; then one has to commit oneself to social work, helping others….See yourself in other people’s shoes.”
Thanks to her (Bilquis Edhi) sense of humor, even today Bilquis manages to look at herself and Edhi from a distance, to imagine that ‘the others’ might think they are mad, as she herself said while speaking of Edhi,”Anyone who saw how he behaves would say “This man is crazy! All he says is ‘Run, run!’ and ‘Work, work!”” .
Her tone is always semi-serious and downplays any drama. When we go to meet her in her office in Sarafa Bazaar, Mithadar, she asks us “Have you ever met a couple like me and my husband, as funny as us? You know, we do all kinds of work: we visit prisoners; we help the elderly and mentally infirm; we write protest letters to the Prime Minister; we take in abandoned children; we give work to women… I have traveled a bit, Ive been to New York, where I also visited the prisons, and to Germany too, but I have never met anyone as strange and silly as us. Everyone else gets a lot of publicity for themselves and they all just work on one issue or on one issue at a time, at least that’s what they say”.
Edhi sees it, Allah constantly makes of man: to care for others, for his needy neighbor, and for the suffering: and consequently to fight to improve the lot of mankind and denounce social injustice and the impact it has on the lives of the weakest. “Every living creature belongs to Allah..and as such is deserving of love”.
Edhi always said that peace can only come when justice is afforded to everyone.
So what does Edhi think is stopping man from really working towards achieving social justice and through that, bringing peace? “As long as man is dominated by his greed,” he answers, “and by his desire to exploit others; for so long as we fail to recognize our shared condition as human beings, and do not feel united and supportive of others, there can be no peace. All religions speak of sensitivity towards the suffering of mankind and encourage people to act to relieve that suffering. But faith has all too often been used to create even greater divisions. Humanitarian law goes beyond all religions, which advocates care for humankind as its central message. But we cannot put it into practice until we learn to look on others as if they were ourselves.”.
We now ask him what his personal motivation towards practicing charity is. Is it the fear of divine retribution or is it because he cannot help seeing himself reflected in the suffering of others? Oh no, he answers, “I do not do this work because I am worried about the Judgement Day or some later reward. My objective is that of helping the suffering, because I know that this is the right thing to do. I know it because I too have known suffering. The suffering of others hurts me as if it were my own. And this is what Allah wants, too. Allah wants us to help people in need more than He wants all the ceremonies we dedicate to Him. If you help someone who is suffering, it is as if you were doing something for Allah. He is in all living beings, everywhere”.
Edhi and Bilquis relationship:
When they married, he was 38 and she was just 17; he had already made six marriage proposals—refused each time by the ladies in question—as she had not yet thought about marriage. He had already started to lay the foundations for his work in Karachi, she had just finished school and had started to train as a nurse at Edhi’s nursing school; he was as serious, inspired, all of a piece, as she was happy, smiling, and sociable, maybe even frivolous; he came from a strict family, committed to work and social involvement, she from a happy family which knew what compassion meant but was not as dedicated as his family; he had seen suffering at close quarters, she knew and exuded happiness; she was an extrovert, he an introvert—and yet, from the first time they met, they understood one another.
He says, ‘Bilquis is the light that lights up the sky”. But Bilquis too claims, “When he is not here, the day becomes dark and dreary”.
Edhi himself clarifies that, “I only pray for the collective good of humanity. I don’t believe in praying for oneself. Because working for others is a form of prayer. Allah just wants us to help the suffering”.
She is his source of inspiration, his consolation in the hardest of times, the one who encouraged him when he had doubts, the real strength behind many of his projects. For example, it was her idea of setting up first aid and vaccination centers for children, equipped with an ambulance and para-medics, along some main roads. She got the idea from a situation they were both involved in—they had a bad car accident and Edhi was seriously injured. That made them realize how often and how needlessly people died just because of the absence of any sort of basic emergency services.
“Life is beautiful because there are women; Allah did a great favour, and gave mankind a wonderful gift when He created woman”- Bilquis Edhi.
The special attention and sensitivity to the problems of women, abandoned children, family dynamics, men and women in prison, and the problems associated with educating women in fammily planning was promoted by Bilquis.
The hard times at the start of their marriage when there was so much work to do, and very little help to count on; having to always leave the children to Bilquis’ mother to look after, and not being able to spend much time with them.
He sees only his mission and needs nothing else, but I also like to enjoy myself now and again, spend time with other women, go to the cinema and relax.
Bilquis sees something positive in everything life offers her: The company of her female friends, a picnic by the sea, talking to abandoned women, or comforting a girl returning home. She knows how to find joy in everything. When we ask her what makes life worth living and what is the most beautiful thing in her life, she answers without hesitation, completely upsetting our expectations: “Women”, and then she explains: “A woman is the flower of creation and if it wasn’t for her, the world would not be a beautiful place”.
“Try to help someone, to love them, to do your job well and you will see that your heart will be overflowing with joy. It is true, because when you work badly, you can’t even get to sleep, and everything goes round and round in your head like film.”
“It makes no difference what name you call Allah by; the only thing that counts is love for those in need.”
Edhi tells us with modesty and simplicity: “I believe deeply in Allah. I believe that Allah chooses and uses people for His purposes. It is Allah Who has chosen me and wanted me to do this work. He has taken care of everything. I have merely carried on what He has already done. I have just concentrated on doing my job, with no distinction of religion, race, class or anything else, and I have got thus far with the help of Allah”.
There are no mosques in their centers, but prayer rooms, where Muslims, Hindus, Christians and members of other religions can pray. When an important festival comes along, both make sure they celebrate it, with the Hindus if it is a Hindu festival, with the Christians if it is a Christian one wherever they are: in prison, in the orphanage or in the hospital for the mentally ill.
Bilauis concluded,. “Allah is everywhere, in all His creatures”. “If you help someone who is suffering, if you love him, you are loving Allah,” Edhi’s words.
“The strength of words lies in putting them into practice; otherwise, they have no meaning”. (Edhi’s mother).
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (St. James, 1:22)
Their greatest pain
The Kubra Edhi Child Home is run by Bilquis and her daughter Kubra, mother of Bilal, after whom a little building inside the compound called ‘Bilal village school’ is named.
Bilal who was Edhi’s adored grandchild whom Edhi and Bilquis loved. Bilal was just 4 years old when he was badly scalded by boiling water by a mentally disabled woman. Bilal could not survive and died in agony. Edhi and Bilquis decided that they would not report her, but rather move her to a center far away from Karachi.
Bilquis recalls that it was the worst time of her life and she wanted the woman to be put into prison, but Edhi said “If doing that would bring Bilal back to life, then I would send her to prison”. This is basically my husband’s take on life: teach what is right, teach tolerance and patience, do not seek revenge but leave it all up to Allah.
Bilal Village School is a building designed by Kuhra and built with her own hands: a way of learning to accept her son’s death and getting over it while keeping Bilal somehow present in her life; a way of transforming this deep scar into new life dedicated to others, no longer doing something for Bilal, but for those like him.
Edhi ambulances arrive at the accident scenes between 3 and 8 minutes after the emergency call.
The ambulance drivers are nearly all young, because it is a tiring job and because they have to be very quick off the mark in answering calls for their services. Some of them have a personal debt with Edhi: they are ex-cradle babies, or ex-drug addicts or people helped in some other way by Edhi.
Edhi holds ‘largest volunteer ambulance organization in the world’ record, which was bestowed on Abdul Sattar Edhi ln_1997, for having—at that time—about five hundred ambulances. But the start up and the development of this project is also deserving of another record. Edhi started with his first van in 1952 and in less than sixty years, has built up a fleet of nearly 1800 ambulances.
The first one was an old Hillman, bought thanks to a donation of twenty thousand rupees from a businessman from his community of origin. He had been favourably impressed by the small dispensary that Edhi had set up for the community and wanted to encourage him. Edhi had the side painted with the words ‘The poor man’s car’: the intention being both to advertise his services and at the sametime to reassure the poorer people of its affordability.
People phone not only to ask for an ambulance or for help with an elderly relative who has gone missing, or for someone terminally ill, but also to inform about a fire that has broken out, to ask about traffic conditions, or whether a certain road is open or closed, and for legal advice. They would trust their lives to ibis man who has dedicated his whole life to the service of Pakistan.
The Edhi ambulance service has grown still further over time and now includes a small flotilla of boats for rescuing shipwreck victims, 3 small planes, and a helicopter, which allow them to act swiftly even in inaccessible areas: they can transport doctors, patients or organs quickly and distribute emergency aid to people cut off by floods, earthquakes or other disasters.
The growth of these services have been supported by the army (who trained the pilots), the civil aviation authority (which reduced the registration fees), and even some oil companies (which regularly donate fuel).
Dr. Kazmi told that when we needed a helicopter, the American Ambassador conveyed to Edhi that the US government wanted to donate us a helicopter, although there were certain conditions attached. Edhi said that he wasn’t prepared to accept any kind of diktat. In the end, they gave us the helicopter; it was the first time ever that the US administration had done something of the kind.
Edhi realized just how many newborn babies were abandoned in all areas of the city. In most cases, he arrived too late to be able to do anything for them. They were often dumped in the waste, left by some bushes, or near a road, sometimes in the temples. Often they even became prey for animals which roamed the streets unchallenged. In an effort to save those he found still alive, Edhi had taken to adding a bottle and powdered milk to the bag he carried around with him. By so doing, he had managed to save large numbers of babies, who he then took to the mosques or temples, or to the orphanages run by organizations managed by Christian churches. Most babies were victims of poverty, abandoned because they had been born into families which were already large and difficult to feed. But many of them were ‘children of sin’, evidence of the breach of an oppressive code of honor.
Edhi says that the incident which finally inspired him to spring into action was a fatwa-an official ruling on a Muslim point of law—its consequence was the stoning of illegitimate newborn babies outside mosques. And so Edhi’s immediate objective became that of saving these new lives before they fell victim to fear, fanaticism, and ignorance. The practical consequence was that he put a rocking cradle outside each of his centers, made of metal or cloth. Inside was a mattress covered by a sheet with the Edhi brand on it. Above, a card stating ‘If you have already sinned, do not commit another sin. Do not kill. Leave your baby here. We will take care of it.”
Edhi’s cradles are the immediate answer to a social tragedy, an act of respect and love to which, as Edhi likes to repeat, every one of Allah’s creatures is entitled. The cradles answer to the general principle (of the Talmud, the Bible and the Qur’an) by which ‘whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind’. Qur’an says (Surah Al Maidah: 5:32)
Most of the time, the newborns are left in the cradles at night: a watchman checks every so often whether there is a new arrival but it is also possible to alert the staff by ringing a bell.
Babies found in the cradles are taken to the central nursery in Karachi’ one of the main activities run by her daughter Kubra.
Edhi workers often find a small object beside the baby: a bottle of milk, a toy, sometimes a token to show the religion its family practices. In a country with minority, but significant, population groups of Christians, and above all Hindus, this is a necessary gesture. Leaving a token of this kind is another sign of the trust that the Pakistanis place in Edhi: they know that, as far as possible, their children will be brought up according to their parents’ religion.
Where there are no hints of any sort, the child will be brought up as a Muslim and only given in adoption to a Muslim family. On the other hand, children identified as Christian or Hindu, or belonging to one of the other minority religions, will be brought up, whenever possible, following that specific religious tradition and given in adoption to parents who practise that same faith.
Next to the cold store there is a room with two large pools for the ritual bathing. This is where Edhi worked at the start of his mission, and he is often to be found here even now. It is said that over the long years of his work, Edhi has personally recomposed, prepared, and buried over twenty thousand bodies.
Having a disabled child in traditional society, where there are close ties with the whole extended family, means bringing shame on all the family members and drastically reducing the chances of marriage for the other healthy children.
The adoption procedure is fairly clearly and simple-everything is channeled through Bilquis’ office. She interviews the potential adoptive parents personally, checks on the solidity of the marriage, and their economic status. They must not have any other children, they must have been married for at least 10 years and they must have their own house. Dr. Kazmi estimated that about 16000 adoptions had taken place since the service started in 1947. A very high number especially when compared with the 20,000 new lives that the cradles have saved. Obviously at the beginning, not very many babies were adopted.
Gradually, as Edhi’s reputation and the respect for his work grew, not only in Pakistan but also in the Pakistani migrant communities overseas, the number of adoptions grew rapidly. The current rate is about 250-300 adoptions per year. Bilquis’ office is full of thousands of folders documenting each child, a photograph on the front page and details of the circumstances of the child’s arrival, an analysis of the child’s health and any therapy undertaken, and notes on growth and development. All documentation is kept absolutely confidential, to protect the child and its new family.
The adopted children who are now adults come to visit Bilquis in her office. To thank her and to get to know the person who took them in at the start of their lives. They in turn offer to give support or service, each according to their ability, or they bring a cash donation with them to help others who are as needy as they once were.
The Maltese babies had been collected in the poorest areas of Karachi for illegal export to Malta as part of an international baby trafficking operation. The police intercepted the traffickers just the day before they were due to leave, to be sold, at best, for illegal paid adoption. They have been entrusted to Edhi by the police, and they too will soon be available for adoption.
Education and support for girls:
Edhis are also particularly committed to the fight for women’ s right to education and training: here too they faced strong initial hostility from the most traditional areas of society.
All the girls living in his centers complete their primary education, after which they can continue with their studies or opt for vocational training.
The sowing room is used not only to make dresses for the girls of all ages in the Clifton center, but also, as a place where they can learn a craft that may be useful to them in the future: here too, the older girls make dresses for the younger ones.
There is also a large wardrobe containing everything needed for organizing a typical wedding in the Indian subcontinent: saffron-colored clothes for the day of the mehndi (a ceremony which takes place before the wedding party proper, during which hands, forearms, and sometimes the feet of female friends and relations are decorated with a thin paintbrush dipped into henna); the different shades of bright red clothes used for the rukhsati, the last of the marriage ceremonies, when the bride leaves her parents’ home; drawers full of jewellery (costume jewellery, of course, but in any case very beautiful and carefully chosen): earrings, necklaces, collar necklaces, headpieces for the forehead. Bilquis collected, sorted, and prepared all of for the girls as if each of them were her real daughter and so that on her wedding day, none of them need have anything to feel ashamed of, in a country where the wedding ceremony is for the great majority of the population-the most important day of their life.
Everyone lends a hand; they all cooperate-those who are well help those who are ill, the older girls help the younger ones, the younger girls learn from the older ones, and duties are assigned to each person according to their age. This type of organization is based on one of the fundamental principles of Edhi’s life philosophy: we must all learn to count on our own strength alone and to trust in our abilities; solidarity and cooperation must be practiced at all levels; one must work towards building up people’s independence and self-reliance.
Widowed, divorced poor women:
People who no longer belong to anyone—a husband, a father, a son—or to any family. “Where else do you think such women can go? Life here is not the same as in your country, where women are independent and free to choose their destiny. Women here, particularly if they come from poor families, have a very difficult life, full of hardship. Once they have lost their family, whether their birth family or the new family created when they got married, they have nowhere to go. If it wasn’t for Edhi, they would be out on the street, alone and abandoned. With no food and no roof over their heads.”
To be born with a handicap, a woman, and poor, is ultimate misfortune. Edhi himself has described his disgust and horror at seeing just how easily mentally damaged women fall prey to sexual abuse, and stresses how necessary it is to protect them.
Dr Laiba graduated in psychiatry from Karachi University and works part-time in a private clinic, dedicating all the rest of her time to the sick women in Apna Ghar. She says she had always wanted to work for Edhi and that, immediately after graduating, she applied to work here at the center for the mentally ill. The main difference she sees between this and the few existing private health institutions, which are in any case accessible only, to_the better-off, is the ‘lack of love’ in the latter.
In the private hospitals, the professionals do their job without any passion, without putting any ‘of their heart’ into their work. Here, where they have less equipment for diagnostics and therapy, where the staff is perhaps less qualified, where the funds available are always limited, and everyone has to help one another out, the healthier helping the weaker and so on, what really makes the difference is the care for others, the desire to give them at least the serenity they derive from feeling themselves accepted.
Bilquis often sits down with them, gives them advice and is an active listener of their tales of passion. Bilquis knows their tragedies and their dreams, the names of their imaginary suitors, of the husbands who left them, of the husbands who have died, of the village where they used to live, of their children, real or hoped for. And for special feasts, such as Eid for example, she brings them costume jewellery—she buys quantities of it at the market: necklaces, earrings, all manner of bracelets—and distributes them to everybody.
Bilquis tells us of the pleasure it gives her to help so many women escape from situations from which they thought there was no way out: One day a woman came begging to me for 500 rupees. I told her to stay with us and learn a skill. Nowadays that woman comes regularly to give us donations of 500 rupees tn me, it’s as if she were giving 500 thousand.
Some women who come to us are in a pitiful state- they are poorly dressed, their shoes falling apart, and their general appearance neglected. After working hard for a year, you see them again, well-dressed, all clean and smart like a proper lady.
The primary objective for Bilquis is always getting the family back together, protecting the youngest children and ensuring the safety of the weakest members, because the foundations of a healthy and stable society are built on families which manage to stay together despite all their problems; where at least one of the partners is fully dedicated to the survival of the family, even at the cost of great personal sacrifice and loss of outward freedom.
13 Apna Ghar locations (Shelter for mental illnesses):
Seven different Apna Ghar sites have opened in Karachi alone, thirteen in Pakistan as a whole. All told, the men and women living there make up a family of over six thousand people with ‘mental illnesses’. Nearly all of them come from families or situations of extreme poverty.
The idea to this came to Edhi as when he was a little over 18 he had to take care of his elderly mother who was ill, paralyzed, and in pain. He was alone: his father was often away om business and he was the only child who was available to take care of her. He did all he could: he cooked for her, washed her, kept the house clean, and cared for her and stayed beside her through the last years of her life.
(One of) The cook (s) is a very large, deaf and mute Afghan woman wearing a traditional shalwar kamiz. Dr Kazmi tells us. ‘She came here one morning, along with a child. We can’t manage to talk with her: everything we know about her, we know it from the little boy, the only one who understands her and manages to interpret her gestures. She had a husband and three other children: they are all dead, all she has left is this one child, and she fled Afghanistan with him and was living in refugee camps on this side of the border. Then somehow she turned up here. She wanted her son to go to school at all costs. He is in school now: he is a clever boy and works hard. In exchange she works in the kitchen.
This is the place where Edhi has decided that he and Bilquis will be buried: he has had a modest tomb built for them, in front of which, faithful to the practical and generous spirit he has always shown, he has placed a collection box! He will ask visitors to remember people who are suffering and to make a donation so that his work can continue, even after he has gone.
Edhi visits the orphans’ classrooms and checks up on their academic progress. He chats to the teachers and cheers up the elderly. He listens to the stories of those who have been abandoned and of the people brought there by the police, frequently drug addicts or alcoholics. But what he has always liked most is visiting those with ‘mental’ illnesses and bathing them, something they accept from few others.
There is a malformed boy sitting in the class. He looks like the youngest in a class of adolescents; he could be 11 or maybe 12. His forearms end in two crooked stumps. Using his mouth, he manages to place a pencil in the fold of what should have been his hand. The ‘elbow’ of the other arm holds the pencil tightly in the fold.
Dr Kazmi tells us that Aziz, like so many others, was abandoned in a cradle. They have had a lot of children with this type of malformation, which is probably genetic. It is not surprising that this kind of deformation could frighten parents. What could he ever do in life? Could he ever work and earn himself a living? Now he is no longer a little boy to be laughed at and felt sorry for, but a youngster to admire for his perseverance and his courage.
Usually their (people with disabilities) relatives often do not come to see them for long periods; they must come at least once every two weeks to see their child, because when too much time goes by, the children feel shy and are awkward with the relative who comes to see them.
The children’s gazes seem to convey the longing for a handshake; when they get one, their faces light up. The boys’ hands reach out one after the other, clamoring for physical contact with a guest who can bring them a crumb of human warmth.
What they all have in common is not merely the fact that they have been victims of deliberate exclusion (of the weakest, the most ill, those who are of no use, and those who do not function in the same way as others) but the fact that they are the beneficiaries of deliberate inclusion. ‘Restored’ not so much in their body or their mind, which remain fundamentally ‘diseased’, but in their human dignity: taken in, welcomed, accepted and recognized as people.
There is a volunteer of about fifty, in a wheelchair and has one leg amputated. He is a teacher. He had an accident and his leg was mangled by a train. He can’t teach any more because the school is too far away and no one can drive him there. He doesn’t know what to do with himself at home and feels that he is just a burden to his family. So he spends the whole day here and gives us a hand: he listens to the stories of these men’s past and their dreams; he gets them talking, smoothes out conflicts and monitors a couple of courtyards. The most important thing he wants to tell you is that he knows that it was Allah’s will that he should survive. He looked death in the eye and appreciated the life still clinging to him. He wanted his life after the accident to be one of service. He also wants to tell you that he has understood what suffering is, having experienced it first-hand, on his own body. That is why he decided to come here.
The jailed fishermen:
In Pakistani territorial waters, the military police had captured hundreds of Indian fishermen who had strayed too far over the limit marking the border between the two countries. These are incidents which occur regularly on both sides—Pakistan arrests and detains Indian fishermen, and India does the same to the Pakistani fishermen who violate their territorial waters. The fishermen always answer that their boats do not have the necessary instruments to check their position with respect to the border. And so, for months on end, they are held in the two countries’ prisons, victims of the ongoing squabbles between the two nuclear powers. It is an issue which has been festering for years, repeatedly denounced by Edhi, who never fails to highlight the fact that these fishermen are often the sole breadwinners in the family. Imprisoning them for months, without giving any plausible news as to their release, merely serves to cast whole families into wretched poverty and despair.
The Edhi Foundation, which had offered to help them return to India once they were released, took care of them: accompanying them to the Wagah border near Lahore, paying for their journey home and supplying them with food, shoes and even presents for their children.
During the months they were in prison, Bilquis visited them regularly and took them food and fresh fruit, cigarettes, soap, and blankets, helped them stay in contact with their their families and nervous about their future. “Unfortunately”, says Dr Kazmi, “There are still another 700 in prison. It is a never- ending torment. And then there are our fishermen in India, for whom we can do very little. They are all victims of games they have nothing to do with”.
Saving animals and birds
Edhi has not only dedicated his life to saving abandoned and orphaned humans, but also to saving injured, ill-treated and sick animals. On the sides, as for the ambulances, the name of the founder is printed, together with the words ‘Edhi Home for Animals’.
Edhi credits Bilquis, who had picked up a sick kitten on the street, with the idea of opening an animal shelter. Dr_Kazmi thinks Edhi’s first inspiration came from a trip to Europe. “After seeing similar set ups over there, he decided to, start an animal hospital. And so he bought 16 acres of land and began to build a proper shelter for the injured animals he found or those which people brought to him”.
When we asked Edhi what value the life of these animals has for him, he answered “Like us, they too are Allah’s creatures. If you are kind to animals, you cannot be kind to people. If you are unjust with an animal, you will be unjust with people too. Lacking compassion towards people, or towards animals, is like refusing Allah, Who gave life to all beings”.
Love and compassion are global gifts, they do not discriminate.
The page is a part of Cool Bluez (2018)
Songs about Edhi: