Bilquis Bano Edhi, wife of Abdul Sattar Edhi, is a humanitarian, a social worker and one of the most active philanthropists in Pakistan. She was born on August 14, 1947 in Karachi. She heads the Bilquis Edhi Foundation, holds the honor of being awarded the prestigious ‘Hilal-e-Imtiaz’, and with her husband received the ‘1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service’. She is also the recipient of the ‘Lenin Peace Prize’. Her charity runs many services in Pakistan including a hospital and emergency service in Karachi.
It is true, as the saying goes: “There is a woman behind every man”. Bilquis Edhi is a woman of substance, for sure; and she has come a long way with Edhi for a cause that is simply great.
Bilquis Edhi – the young lass who was not very good at studies, joined the nurses training course at the Edhi Nurses Training Centre when she was in the 8th grade. Later Abdul Sattar Edhi proposed to her and they got married in April 1966. Since then, she has been working with the Edhi Foundation – A Foundation which was started by Abdul Sattar Edhi with the mission to provide aid to Pakistan’s poor and down-trodden has become Pakistan’s major relief organization under the leadership of the husband and wife – team of Abdul Sattar and Bilquis Edhi. Today, in addition to services provided in Pakistan, Edhi foundation is a major resource for assisting victims of disaster internationally.
Abdul Sattar Edhi’s possessions at the time of his marriage were a broken old car and a small dispensary. There was a maternity home on the first floor with 6-7 beds, a small room – 6’ X 6’ on the ground floor which served as an office and a similar room on the first floor. There wasn’t much else but even in those days when the newly wed couple had very limited resources, people used to leave their kids with them and Bilquis Edhi used to look after them.
Bilquis Edhi vividly remembers her first major experience at Edhi Foundation, when during the war; the bombings resulted in a number of brutally mutilated bodies which she had to wash for burial. At times only an arm, leg or head was recovered. She, along with about 60-70 workers including voluntary workers, collected and then washed these bodies.
Her current responsibilities include looking after the ladies section, giving away children for adoption – mostly looking after women-specific and children related sections throughout Pakistan. Her two daughters also work closely with me. She regularly visits Edhi Homes all over Pakistan to monitor their activities and give suggestions and recommendations on how she feels the work should be done. She is also instrumental in making Edhi Homes ‘Centers of Excellence’ – in the true sense of the word.
For the adoption of the child, she makes sure to meet the criteria for approval / rejection of couples who wish to adopt a child. And conducted interviews with couples who want to adopt a child by Bilqis Edhi. Standards have to be adopted that, even after 10-12 years of marriage the husband still does not have children, and salary Father potential must be reasonable, the father of the potential should not have alcohol problems or drug-related, and should be the age of the parent potential to be smaller than 50 and the couple should own a home. Her foundation does not give the children of couples who keep on changing their home – continue to move from one place to another. Are cared for children who are physically or mentally disabled for by Edhi Foundation. They have a separate section for them where they are cleaned, and feed them, play with them and so on. Children remain with them for the rest of their lives. Apart from children with disabilities and other children who do not get the adoption does not pose any problem at all. Edhi Foundation has more than 4,000 applications on hand. They do not have children enough to give to the people. So they are careful in the selection of prospective parents. They have “the law, Nama” in the place where they make the parents sign where it is stated explicitly that in the event of separation between the parents, the Center for the restoration of the child or allow the child to stay with the mother.
Edhi Foundation keeps expanding by adding new welfare services every now and then. Bilquis Edhi sees Pakistan’s future as bright, provided if people feel the pain and work for a better future. When she goes abroad with Edhi, they come back with lots of ideas. The couple dreams of the day when welfare facilities in Pakistan would be comparable to those we find abroad. She feels that this seems to be a distant dream. She said: “We don’t even have clean drinking water here. Load shedding is an ongoing problem. After the recent oil spill [in Karachi] when the oil tanker broke in half, people were saying that our country had gone back 20 years in time. As far as I am concerned in the last 55 years we have not moved forward. We are still where we were 55 years ago.”
Abdul Sattar Edhi and Bilquis Edhi, both think of things for the future. She told us that when Edhi comes up with an idea he writes it down. In 1976, the couple was involved in an accident which took place near a village with no airport or landing strip nearby. Around that time a building collapsed in Karachi – Bismillah Building. At that time Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was in power. Noticing Edhi’s absence from the scene of the disaster he inquired as to his whereabouts upon which he was told of the situation. Bhutto immediately dispatched a small airplane to pick them up. Edhi was admitted to the Civil Hospital in Karachi where shortly after gaining consciousness; he remarked that he would also like to buy a plane. Bilquis Edhi asked how he will be able to afford a plane as his current situation was such that if he put his hand in the pocket for some loose change, thread used to come out instead. However, Edhi never got disheartened and pulled along with conviction and dedication. By the Grace of Allah, they now have a plane, helicopters everything.
Bilquis Edhi is honored to be the life-partner of a person whose love for humanity is ‘larger than life’. She regards him as a good man – Albeit a little short tempered but good at heart. The couple has still not built their own house yet. Bilquis Edhi fondly remembered her first 4-5 years after marriage when she used to live on the roof. Later, after the birth of her four kids, she moved to her mother’s house. Her mother looked after the kids. On a daily basis she used to shuffle between her house and the Edhi Centre. After the kids grew up and got married, Bilquis Edhi’s mother passed away. The couple spends their days and nights at the Edhi Centre. In their 36-37 years of married life, there may have been at least 36 occasions when they never even came home at night. Even now when their children want to see him, they bring lunch from their home and come and eat with them.
With Edhi sahib now mainly looking after the financial aspects of the organization, the burden of administrating and co-ordinating the daily activities of the Edhi Foundation (especially the Women’s wing) rests squarely on Bilquis’s shoulders. Edhi sahib himself has publicly credited Bilquis with being responsible for no less than 70% of Edhi Foundation’s achievements. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that Bilquis is currently being considered for the UNICEF award for Women’s Welfare Work. Besides this, she already has a number of awards to her credit handed to her by various organizations, such as, The Rotary Club Award and The 1986 Ramon Magsay Award for public service (Phillipines).
To Bilquis Edhi, the most cherishing moments for the services she has rendered would no doubt be the ones that have gone unnoticed in the public domain. Two such instances according to Anwar Kazmi are as follows:
“There was a function at the Liaquat National Library and Bilquis was invited. She asked me to accompany her to this function. Shortly after the function got started, a 10-11 year old girl went on stage and started singing. Bilquis remarked how pretty the girl was. A short while later a lady approached her and told her that she had adopted this girl from her at the Edhi Centre eleven years ago.”
“A lady doctor came to me and said she wanted to meet Bilquis. She must have been around 35 years of age. She had two children with her and was crying profusely. Bilquis at the time wasn’t around so I asked her to confide in me whatever it was she wanted to say to Bilquis. She told me that 30 years ago Bilquis had set me up for adoption – my parents (who adopted me) took me to America. They looked after me, educated me and I became a doctor. When they were dying they told me for the first time that I was actually adopted and now that they are dead I believe that Bilquis is my mother. I have come from America just to meet my mother.” (Translated from Urdu)
Bilquis has had a long, fruitful, and rewarding association with the Edhi Foundation. Her contribution in administrating, training, as well as her personal involvement in looking after both the staff of the Edhi Foundation and the destitutes that are being cared for at the institution, has been appreciated by all at the Edhi Foundation. Perhaps the greatest tribute comes from the ‘maulana’ himself, who has seen her work more closely than anyone else at the institute.
Bilquis Edhi Pictures