Abdul Sattar Edhi for the Nobel Peace Prize

covernavedhi.gifSelfless.  Compassionate.  Love of humanity.  Unshakable principles.  There are few people in the world – or at least those we may have heard of – who can exemplify such characteristics in earnest.  Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife, Bilqis Edhi live and work in Pakistan, and have irrevocably changed the course of lives for hundreds of thousands of people in the close to 60 years of their selfless dedication to the poor, indigent, battered, women, children and families who have suffered unimaginable tragedies, accidents, natural disasters and abandonment. 

In a current campaign to nominate Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi for the Nobel Peace Prize, I hope that anyone reading this post who may never had heard of Edhi, learn about him, but also be moved to nominate him or find the proper protocol to do so.  At Adil’s Blog, “All Things Pakistan“, he is taking the initiative to formally submit a bonafide application for the nomination of Dr. Edhi for the Peace Prize.  If you have any personal stories or would like to share an inspiring story relating to his work, do place your comments below or preferably on All Things Pakistan’s entry on Nominating Abdul Sattar Edhi, so that it can be included in some way to support the nomination of Dr. Edhi. 

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to 94 individuals and 19 organizations since 1901.  There are many well known and respected international and movement leaders among the praiseworthy individuals and numerous humanitarian and UN agencies have been bestowed the honor of being recognized by the Nobel Foundation.  I respect all winners like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Aung San Suu Kyi, International Commitee of the Red Cross , UNICEF et al. – and their lifelong work and the work of the organizations to no end.  It is however, the lesser known, the obscure, who work on their cause or life’s calling with such dedication and passion in some lesser known corner of the world, which I find to be the more intriguing and inspiring Nobel Peace Prize contenders.  People like Rigoberta Menchu (1992, Guatemala. Campaigner for indigenous human rights), Wangari Maathai (2004, Kenya. For her contribution to sustainable development and democracy), and last year’s laureate, Muhammad Yunus & Grameen Bank (2006, Bangladesh. For their efforts to create eco/social benefits though microcredit) (my previous post here) have done so much without prior large scale international recognition.  This is one way we learn what goes on in parts of the world that don’t make the daily news headlines.  It seems in more recent years, the winners have been ‘hidden finds’ and not the usual heads of states or international leaders.  This trend has its merits, as it relies on people to nominate individuals/entities which are doing so much good, but the rest of the world may not know of it.  Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi, Mrs. Bilqis Edhi and their foundation are definitely one of those hidden finds which the Nobel Foundation must consider and not ignore.

There are plenty of sources (some listed above, as well as this very well researched article written in the issue of Saudi Aramco World in 2004-same link as photo above, as well as this comprehensive recent article relating to his nomination in Hong Kong’s The Standard – Weekendfrom December 16, 2006) whereby you can read about his life’s work, his philosophy and remarkable achievements in bringing comfort to people is desperate needs.  During the worst ever natural disaster in Pakistan, the October 8, 2006 earthquake in Northern Pakistan, Edhi had a fleet of 300 ambulances at work and later committed to build 10,000 one room tin apartments for those who lost everything in the quake.

As in many developing countries where the social, health and emergency services are dependant on marginally funded government budgets, Edhi has filled this gaping hole.  What is remarkable is that one person has made this difference.   With an annual budget of close to $35 million (according to the recent HK Standard article and $10 million in 2004, per Saudi Aramco’s article), makes the Edhi Foundation one of the largest welfare charities in the world.  His principles refuse him to accept contributions and donations made by governments (international or domestic) (from Saudi Aramco World):

In the 1980’s, when Pakistan’s then-President Zia ul-Haq sent him a check for 500,000 rupees (then more than $30,000), Edhi sent it back. Last year [2003], the Italian government offered him a million-dollar donation. He refused. “Governments set conditions that I cannot accept,” he says, declining to give any details.

His foundation survives on the private contributions from Pakistanis living in Pakistan and abroad.   In a nation where people are doubly reluctant and wary to donate their monies to just ‘any’ charity organzation, Edhi’s foundation is not among them.  There is an unbelievable amount of trust, which is why people will donate to his organization.  They see his ambulances at work and in action.  They know that Edhi’s volunteers are usually the first at site at an accident or other catastrophe.  They see results, and it is as simple as that.   The Edhi Foundation also holds the record for having the largest volunteer ambulance fleet/service in the world (over 700).  There are over 300 Edhi centers which work around the clock and provide an unbelieveable variety of desperately needed social, medical and educational services not available to most of the country’s poorer population. 

Armed with only a primary school education, and the example of his mother, who taught him his life lesson: creating a lifelong awareness for the need of social welfare and simple humanity towards others, Dr. Edhi has revolutionized the social welfare infrastructure single-handedly.  “Every day before school, my mother would give me two paisa and say, ‘Spend one on yourself and give the other away,’” Edhi remembers. “It was her way of creating an awareness in me of the need for social welfare.”

What makes Dr. Edhi, his wife Bilqis (who is a nurse) and the Edhi foundation so remarkable and unparalled, is the fact that they provide such a diverse array of social services to the neglected segment of humanity.   Baby Cradles (Jhoolas) left outside the Edhi centers, where abandonded babies are left, are taken in by Edhi Foundation and put up for adoption.  Over 16,000 (likely more) babies have been placed with new families since the cradle program was begun by Bilqis Edhi.  This adoption service has also been seen as being responsible for the drop in infanticide rates.   

Bilquis tells of the 32-year-old woman who showed up recently at the Mithadar clinic looking for her. The woman explained that her parents had just revealed that they had adopted her as an infant from the Edhi center. “I’m a doctor now, with four children of my own,” she told Bilquis. “And I wanted to show my gratitude to the woman who nursed me.”

“We both broke down in tears,” Bilquis recalls.

Edhi Foundation also operates centers/facilities for those who have mental illness.  He believes in the self-help philosophy, whereby enabling those inflicted with mental disease to care for themselves and help each other where the case may allow.  There are 17 such centers, “Edhi Homes” nationwide, caring for 12,000 people. Anwar Kazmi, Edhi’s personal assistant who has worked with him for 45 years, discusses these centers for the mentally ill (from the HK Standard article):

“They soil their clothes.” The ventilation and a daily change of clothes and bedding ensures that the women, no matter how incapacitated, maintain their dignity. And it is true, other such facilities I have visited in poor countries have a cramped and fetid odor. This place smells clean.

“It is important that people maintain their dignity and do what they can to care for themselves,” Kazmi says. The residents do all the cooking and cleaning, they handle intake of new patients and largely run the center. The efforts are augmented by a staff of doctors, psychiatrists and nurses.

The principle is that anyone who needs help receives it, making the Edhi Centers, by virtue of their size and the absence of a government welfare infrastructure, the nation’s de facto public health system.

The mere fact that ensuring human dignity and instilling self care is a principle Edhi and his centers strive to adhere to, is again something which is not ‘culturally’ the norm in many public Pakistani health facilities, unfortunately.  Despite the spartan facilities, “the patients live under far better conditions than in other mental hospitals in Pakistan,” maintains senior doctor Ghulam Mustafa.

    He has set up education centers/home for girls who either flee or are forced to flee from their families.  Before these centers existed, young girls would fall prey to prostitution and other criminal activities. 

“Society goes against the teachings of the Qur’an in mistreating women and not giving them equality,” he says with indignation. “Only 10 percent of Pakistani women know how to read and write. That’s why we try so hard to give the girls who come to us a good education. Once they get an education, they can start to take control of their lives.”

During the recent Lebanon conflict (August 2006), Edhi and his team went to Lebanon to aid the wounded and displaced.  Here is what he said to Arab News

“I knew I would have to be in Lebanon. I just can’t sit back and watch humanity suffer. I am not made that way.”  He went on to say, “So many people are being killed. Many children are dead,” Edhi said in a voice choking with emotion. “There are nearly 10,000 people in my camp. We are providing food and medicine, and I am trying to arrange doctors. I already have donated three ambulances to the Lebanese government…”  

Edhi’s stories are countless and full of the beauty of human emotion and its suffering.  He lives their lives and is not a bystander.  His autobiography(written in English by Tehmina Durrani) has some very moving details of his personal life, his upbringing, work and struggles.  But more than anything, he is pure inspiration – a man dedicated to humanity.  For this and more, he must be given consideration for a chance at the Nobel Peace Prize.

nb: pull quotes above are from the Saudi Aramco cover article.

To sign a petition to nominate Edhi for the Nobel Prize, go here.

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7 Comments »

  1. What a pleasure it was to peruse your blog wares. Great blog, such relevant and interesting content. I shall make it point to visit more frequently.

  2. Aisha PZ said

    Olive Ream -> Thank you for stopping by and taking time to read through my blog…Been to your blog and found your topics very broad and expansive!… will take more time to read your past posts!

  3. Ata said

    Edhi had a fleet of 700 ambulances not 300 ambulances please note it and The Edhi Foundation is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the largest volunteer ambulance organization in the world.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edhi_Foundation

  4. Liza said

    Be happy its your wedding date for celebration

  5. Good day very cool website!! Man .. Beautiful .. Superb .. I’ll bookmark your site and take the feeds additionally…I’m happy to search out a lot of useful info here within the submit, we want develop more strategies on this regard, thanks for sharing.

  6. Excellent blog, Edhi have 4 air ambulance too

  7. edhi said

    The whole edhi family sucks. I’ve personally met them.

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