Pakistan’s Edhi Foundation has one of the finest tag lines I have come across: “No religion is higher than humanity.” If every true believer, of any stripe, really believed that, the world would be transformed by empathy. OK, so maybe it would take a bit more than that, but if even right-wing Christians and fundamentalist Muslims actually put humanity first, a whole lot of physical and spiritual violence might no longer make sense to them.
The man who dreamed the Edhi Foundation into existence learned early about the need for care and compassion. Abdul Sattar Edhi, born in 1928, was eleven when his diabetic mother became paralyzed and later slid into the darkness of mental illness. But she also gave him the gift of compassion. Each day she gave him two coins, one to spend on himself, one on someone less fortunate. That began a habit he continues to this day.
When she died in 1947, the family fled to Karachi. The misery Mr. Edhi saw there became the impetus for his life’s work of serving the poor. With no formal education, he learned medical skills from a friend who was a doctor. He saved to buy an ambulance and open a small clinic. Because injury and illness follow no one’s schedule, he would sleep outside the clinic, prepared to treat anyone who came.
To fund his work, he would beg on street corners and accept donations from supporters. What he would not accept, and still won’t, was money that came with strings attached, from political or religious organizations. That independence has led to extraordinary results, including over 300 clinics around Pakistan, 2000 ambulances, hospitals, mobile clinics, orphanages, a nursing school, a legal aid department, services and medical care for inmates and thousands of staff and volunteers. And on it goes.
The beating heart of the Edhi Foundation is still Abdul Sattar Edhi, who deserves the accolade given him in the film from VICE below, which calls him, “Pakistan’s Mother Teresa”. He has caught the attention of the Taliban and been reluctantly forced to accept police protection. He says of the threat of kidnapping (as a means of forcing the government to release Taliban prisoners), “What I’m doing is the purpose of religion. He sees crime, corruption and poverty as the inevitable result of religious and political divisions and believes in the basic goodness of ordinary people.
The impact of his work is phenomenal. One man, committed and caring, has brought more relief from suffering and far more hope to the people of Pakistan than any of his country’s official organizations.