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
"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
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 email@example.com)