I had the honour of interviewing late Abdul Sattar Edhi Sahb in 2009, at one of his orphanages in Mithadar, Karachi. Along with being humanity’s unrivalled archangel, he was also an amazing storyteller, who lived a colourful life.
His stories reflected his personality, priorities and the way he saw the world. They have served as an inspiration for me for many years and today, I share this treasure with you…
- Edhi was once a very naughty young boy…
It is difficult for me to imagine him as one though. Talking about his childhood, he said, “I was born in 1928 in a modest memon family. When my mother got paralysis, I was there.”
This was the turning point in his life – this is when he decided to serve those who can’t always take care of themselves. He used up all of his savings to buy an old van and converted into an ambulance. First of a fleet of over 2000 ambulances to date.
- He didn’t like school. At all.
“I don’t think I ever attended school seriously. I was a hooligan and often created trouble for others. I even beat up a few teachers,” Edhi said with a shy laugh. He considered life to be the greatest teacher, and firmly believed in destiny and fate. “What you are destined to be or get, you will. Who would have thought that a miscreant like me would end up serving humanity? Life is the best teacher.”
- Edhi Foundation serves over 40 countries.
It started from Pakistan but today, Edhi Foundation serves in more than 40 countries. “There I mainly provide ambulance and dead body disposal services. In cases of emergency, I also arrange for tickets for people who either need to come back to Pakistan or go abroad.”
- EVERYONE in Edhi’s family is committed to serving humanity.
Abdul Sattar Edhi Foundation, Bilquis Edhi Foundation and Kubra Edhi Relief Foundation are all run by Edhi’s family. None of them have alternate careers or specialised education. “My family is a part of this project and understand my devotion. In fact, now my wife is ahead of me in all the services. She has taken charge and is managing well. My daughter is in Dubai, managing our work there and my son in the USA, taking care of matters there.”
- He was awarded 285 awards, with $10m in prize money.
Edhi’s compassion and dedication was more than enough to garner support. Besides awards, he was often offered support from the government, which is always humbly denied. “Morally, I have their (government’s) full support but financially, I accept no assistance, although it is frequently offered to me. Why should I when masses support me to this extent? The funds offered to me can be used somewhere else to benefit people in other ways. I am able to make ends meet from the support of people and that is all I need.”
Also, Punjabis have been the most generous when it comes to donations, he said.
- No one touches an Edhi Ambulance. Not even the most notorious thugs.
“I have never had an issue from anyone. Everyone tries to facilitate me in their own individual way. In fact, even dacoits wouldn’t touch my ambulance. He would respectfully let me pass for he knows that when he dies, it is Edhi who will take care of his coffin and burial. Furthermore, the police supports me extensively as well.”
- Abdul Sattar Edhi Foundation is in Guinness Book of World Records.
“There aren’t any projects of this scale on a private level. Government, yes, but not on a private level. We have been honoured for being the largest private self service foundation by the Guinness Book of World Records. It doesn’t make me proud, for this was not a one-man achievement, but I am glad to contribute to the society in this capacity.”
- He loved to travel, and ran away as a child.
His work, later in life, took him to places he had dreamed of as a child. In different circumstances though. “I love traveling, so when I was a kid, I got on a train and went all the way to Bombay. But then I got scared, for I was only a child, and returned home,” he narrates.
Remembering his most memorable work trip, he said, “My most memorable trip was when I went to Lebanon with my wife. It was such blatant blood shed there. I stayed there for about 40 days and was moved around every other day, for I was told that intelligence had reported that Israel will harm me. I went there to help the people of Hezbollah, when no political or religious party had extended their support. I went there to serve people who needed me.”
- Edhi believed in Red Cross.
“I am a Red Cross’ international life member. My ambulance service project was inspired from them – it is the most essential tool in case of emergencies, which are very frequent in our part of the world.”
- He said no to capitalism, and blamed excessive spending for our nation’s demise.
“I do not support industrialist and they disapprove of me as well. I get no donations from them whatsoever. We can enforce a completely Islamic system in our country, where there are equal rights and opportunities for everyone. That will also ensure peace, which is direly needed in our country.”
He further added that the culture of excessive spending, from extravagant weddings to over-the-top lifestyle, is at the root of all evils.
Abdul Sattar Edhi has left the world but his mission and foundation stays. Let’s support his cause, and continue what he started. Contribute, volunteer or just say a prayer for his soul – do as much or as little as you can. But don’t let his service go unrewarded. Let’s show him that we are a nation that he believed us to be.
Rest in peace Edhi Sahb.