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Abdul Sattar Edhi: the salve on Pakistan's wounds

Sunday December 04, 2011 06:56:11 PM, Rahul Dass, IANS

New Delhi: In conflict-hit Pakistan, his men are amongst the first to reach when terror strikes or when disaster does. Abdul Sattar Edhi, 83, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the 16th time and whose charity organisation already has branches in 13 countries, says he will be happy to train Indians too.

The renowned Edhi Foundation attempts to reach out to all corners of Pakistani society, running hospitals, maternity centres, destitute homes, welfare centres, field and air ambulance services, blood and drug banks, missing persons services... the list goes on.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Nov 28 nominated Edhi, one of Pakistan's most revered men, for the Nobel Peace Prize.

"I am from India," Edhi told IANS in an interview over telephone from Karachi.

"I am ready to train Indians," said the 83-year-old who was born in India's Gujarat state and is based in Karachi.

He said that a group of people from Mumbai had got in touch with his foundation to start work.

The Ramon Magsaysay award winner recalled that former prime minister I.K. Gujral had asked him to come and work in India.

"We today serve people in 13 countries, have 1,800 ambulances and 450 centres spread across the country," Edhi said.

To ensure speed and efficiency, Edhi foundation operates its own fleet of aircraft.

"We have three aeroplanes and a helicopter. We plan to acquire a new helicopter as the existing one is getting old."

Pakistan is hugely dependent on the Edhi Foundation.

For years, Edhi ambulances have been racing to pick up victims of terror attacks across Pakistan.

They respond during disasters equally promptly.

On Oct 8, 2005, when a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck Pakistan, the Edhi Foundation was right at the forefront of the rescue and rehabilitation work. More than 70,000 people were killed, mainly in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

The nature of the work in conflict zones has meant that not everybody is supportive. On Aug 20, for instance, during sectarian violence in Karachi, an Edhi ambulance was attacked in the Orangi area.

Peter Oborne, a documentary maker who travelled with an Edhi ambulance driver, wrote in The Telegraph in April: "...suddenly a call would come through from the operations room: emergency! We'd scramble into the ambulance and tear off, klaxon blaring, cutting our way through the Karachi traffic. Sometimes we'd be coming to the aid of someone who'd had a heart attack, sometimes to a traffic accident, but more often to the scene of violence".

Ambulance driver Saleem, who had been working for the foundation for over two decades, told the newspaper that he had been one of the first at the scene at a failed assassination attempt on former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in October 2007 in Karachi in which 130 people were killed.

The 'charity empire' had humble beginnings.

Edhi's first ambulance was an old vehicle which he called the poor man's van. He would go around the city providing medical help and burying unclaimed bodies.

The Edhi Foundation website describes him as a man who is always dressed in grey homespun cotton, has a hands-on approach to work, sweeps his own room and even cleans the gutter if need be.

"Apart from one room, which he uses for his living quarters, the rest of the building serves as his workplace in Mithadar, a locality of old Karachi that is full of narrow streets and congested alleyways," the website said.

The statistics speak for the work done by Edhi's organisation.

The foundation has so far trained over 40,000 nurses. Some 20,000 abandoned babies have been saved and about a million babies have been delivered in the Edhi maternity homes.

His secretary Anwar Kazmi told IANS that Edhi had been nominated 16 times for the Nobel Peace Prize and bore no grudge that he had never got it.



(Rahul Dass can be contacted at rahul.d@ians.in)


 





 

 

 

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