I recently asked a school class of fifteen year olds who their role models were. The response I received was not surprising, it included a variety of sport stars, Hollywood actors/actresses and musicians. We live in a world where the rich and famous are celebrated as passionately as god is on a Sunday at church. At the same time we treat the homeless as sub human, until they show that they too are human when helping the victims of a terror attack.
The truth is, I was hoping to hear someone give me a name that got me excited, such as William Kamkwamba, Mahatma Gandhi. I wanted to believe that these young students had found a role model in someone who could teach them values worth more than anything money of fame can acquire. But I realize that if the channels of information young people have access to do not promote humanitarians equally as they do celebrities then it is unlikely they will come across many unsung hero’s. The world today is driven by so many different forces of influence: Consumerism, religion, the entertainment industry, politics, environmental catastrophes, science and much more. With so much happening, the importance of humanity has maintained its back seat in our daily lives. While there are countless people dedicating their lives to humanity, it is clear to see that our bargain hunting and appetite for exotic fruit all year round are having effects on the world that we have become blind to.
It is rare to hear about everyday hero’s in the mainstream media. Even so, it is comforting to know that there are millions of people all over the world, who, in one way or another are dedicating their time and energy for the good of others. It is impossible to know everyone who does something good, but there are some stand out examples. So, when on the 8th July 2016 I read the news that Abdul Sattar Edhi had died I immediately researched who this man was, because before that day I had never heard of him before. After discovering this mans life story I was sad. I was not sad about his death, it was his natural course in life, he was 88, I was sad because it took his death for me to become aware of his life. This said, the things I learnt about Abdul Sattar Edhi and the lessons I learnt from him following his death were a source of tremendous joy for me.
Abdul Sattar Edhi was born in 1928, in British ruled India. Growing up in a country ruled by the heavy hand of the British and then experiencing the turbulent separation of Pakistan from India, he had seen the deep struggle of his friends, family and all those around him. His death brought about the viral circulation of a video showing his work and all he has done to help others throughout his life. From this I could see he was truly a man who understood the pleasure of being of service to others.
The road to humanity for Mr. Edhi began at age eleven when his mother suffered a stroke which left her paralyzed and damaged her mental health. The young boy devoted himself to taking care of her every need, cleaning, bathing, changing clothes, feeding and any other help she required. This was no easy task to carry out, especially for someone so young. The years of caring for his mother would prove to be a life changing experience that would prepare him for his future occupation. When his mother died he was nineteen years old, he chose not to finish conventional schooling, instead he let humanity become his tutor.
The video I watched was one depicting a man who had lived as a witness to the suffering of the people around him and was disheartened by the lack of support that was available to them. Therefore, after some years trying to find the right path he set into motion a plan that would see him dedicate his life to the service of others. After Pakistan’s partition from India in 1947 after claiming independence, Abdul Sattar Edhi moved to Karachi in Pakistan, one of the most densely populated cities in the world and his family.
After some years running a cloth stall and working for a charity, Edhi decided to fulfill his personal vision of the services he wished to provide to the people and proceeded to start the Edhi Foundation. To get funds to begin the foundations work an appeal was made to the public, the response was very positive. Abdul Sattar Edhi started working and gaining the trust of the people. More donations came and before long he was able to open a maternity home and establish an emergency ambulance service. Seeing this mans sincerity, his dedicated service to those in need soon earned him the name “Angel of Mercy”.
In 1965 Abdul Sattar Edhi married. He and his new wife Bilquis Edhi would prove to be a formidable team in the running of the Edhi Foundation. Together they have four children two daughters and two sons.
Abdul Sattar Edhi was not just the founder of this incredible foundation which has: the largest volunteer ambulance organization in the world, provide respectable burials for unclaimed corpses, education for abandoned children, hospital services, refugee assistance, missing persons service, abandoned children welfare centre and much more. Mr Edhi himself was an almost constant worker helping across the board everyday. He dealt with everything from logistics, to driving ambulances and washing corpses in preparation for burial. Neither Abdul Sattar Edhi or his wife Bilquis received a wage for their round the clock work with the foundation.
Edhi’s fame grew across Karachi, but also across the country. His expanding empire of humanity knew no bounds for caring and providing lifesaving treatment to the most vulnerable and destitute of Pakistan’s people. The foundation and its operations knew no
prejudice either, every human being, in which ever state, from which every area of the country had a right to the basic right of dignity. People would regularly contact Edhi asking him to appear as chief guest at special occasions. In an interview in 1991 Edhi said, ” I want to request the people not to invite me to social gatherings and inaugural ceremonies. This only wastes my time which is wholly devoted to the wellbeing of our people”. It was said that he shunned publicity for the fear of becoming haughty (behaving in an arrogant and superior way towards other people).
The thousands of people working and volunteering for the Edhi foundation deserve so much gratitude and respect for the work they carry out on a daily basis, they have allowed Edhi’s dreams to become reality. Everything that the Edhi foundation has achieved should not be judged by the quantity of people they have helped, but also by the quality they have provided in peoples lives.
It is likely that you know, or know of, someone who has devoted a lot of their time and energy to help those less fortunate. We know only too well now that poverty and lack of opportunity are not challenges that are only real in mysterious lands we call ‘third world countries’ but they are a reality in whatever country you call home.
I would encourage everyone who has the ability, to reach out to a local organizations or individuals and offer your time and services, even if it is only one or two hours a week or every fortnight. A major problem I have seen today is that too many people believe that they do not have the skills or knowledge to make a difference. Special skills and specific knowledge are not important, only useful. Just being a friend to someone, showing love, compassion, solidarity and treating everyone with equal respect are all you need to make a difference to someones life. Values such as these cost you nothing, yet putting them into practice can bring you happiness and an inner peace that no money can afford.
Abdul Sattar Edhi has provided us with an exceptional example of a life in the service of others. He found tremendous joy in his work, this, I imagine, made every obstacle and every upset worth the pain. He recognized his responsibility to helping his fellow human beings. It is important to understand that all the work the foundation does, has not been influenced by politics, religion or corporate interest, it was all possible purely because of the love and generosity of the people of Pakistan, who maintain the foundations programs through donations and volunteer work.
Abdul Sattar Edhi has become a role model to me, everything he, his wife and the people of Pakistan have achieved and will continue to achieve with the Edhi Foundation is, in my opinion, a triumph for humanity.