The Richest Poor Man

Many TCKs (including myself) have, as a result of their good fortune, had abundant resources on hand to aid their movements. There are numerous forums for expats moving from country to country, giving them a concise breakdown of every detail they need to prepare themselves. For the younger generation, whether they be children, students, or young professionals who are settling into their new abodes, the internet has created a virtual guide which provides parachute landings, with extra foam to cushion bottoms from any fallout through the teething process. As TCKs we should be thankful, as previous generations had it much harder. But this hardship was countered by some with unrelenting resilience. One of these men was Abdul Sattar Edhi.

Born in 1928 in the small village of Bantva near Joona Garh, Gujrat (modern day India), Edhi had the ground shifting beneath him from a very young age. In his formative years, he saw his mother suffer from physical illness, which gradually debilitated her and, by extension, him. By the age of 11, his mother had become paralysed, and consequently fell victim to mental illness. This was all in the decade leading up to the partition of India: the greatest modern-day mass migration of people. Families were uprooted from their ancestral homes and sent to arbitrary camps with no more than the clothes on their back and the hopes and dreams of a new beginning.

Upon his mother’s illness, Edhi threw himself into her service—bathing, clothing, feeding, and looking after her medicinal needs, all whilst seeing her drift further, physically and mentally. By the age of 19, Edhi had been struck by a double blow. The passing of his mother and the independence of Pakistan came in quick succession. Edhi and his family moved to the port city of Karachi and started from scratch.

Edhi never forgot the pain and suffering his mother went through, and used that as impetus for a career in the provision of social services to those in need. Starting with a humble $500, he worked tirelessly to create what is now the largest welfare organization in Pakistan with over 1800 ambulances, 300 welfare centres, 24-hour medical dispensaries, countless hotlines for missing people, and shelters for women and the elderly.

But arguably more remarkable than these services was his relentless service to the children of Pakistan. He established orphanages which housed over 50,000 babies, and has had countless placed into loving families. Edhi also took the watershed step of getting formal identification documents made for abandoned or fatherless children. By Pakistani law, a father’s name is needed for official paperwork, with everything from National Identity Cards to social welfare services being provided on this basis. Edhi gave his name to the fatherless, and has over the years ‘fathered’ hundreds of thousands of people. To this day there is a cradle outside every Edhi centre to curb infanticide. The cradles provide a place for helpless people to drop their children and know that they will be in a safe, nurturing environment.

Through all this, Edhi maintained a simple and modest life. Content with just two sets of clothes, he slept in a windowless room adjoining the office of his charitable foundation. It had just a sink, a bed, and a hot plate. That’s all he needed for his greater vision.

What makes these achievements even more impressive is the adversity that Edhi encountered through his lifetime of social work. He was accused of advocating births out of wedlock when he began placing cradles outside Edhi centres. In October 2013, one of his facilities was broken into and over USD $500,000 were stolen. But more stinging and persistent was the continuous criticism he received for offering his ambulance services to religious minorities. To this, his response was always consistent and simple—‘No religion is higher than humanity’.

Edhi passed away in October 2016. He was given a state funeral, and was honoured by Google on his would-be 89th birthday (28th February, 2017) with a Google Doodle. Needless to say, these accolades would have all been secondary and inconsequential to Edhi. His solitary concern was the service of his people.

Edhi is one of the gems of humanity. Nicknamed the ‘Angel of Mercy’, ‘Father Teresa’, and ‘The Richest Poor Man’ (my personal favourite), his achievements are purely aspirational for the vast majority of mankind.

His mother’s death affected him greatly, and he held tightly to that during the struggle of partition and subsequent nation-building endeavors. Being uprooted and displaced was the norm for a large swathe of the Indian subcontinent during partition, however it was his resilience which can be a guiding light for TCKs as we traverse the world searching for meaning and happiness. There will always be obstacles, but there will also be key moments in our lives that will shape us greatly and guide us through the adversity we shall inevitably encounter living out our TCK aspirations. Edhi is testament to that and a role model for such resilience.



In January 2018 we will begin writing a monthly newsletter exclusive called TCK TOWN HEROES, where the very talented Danish Khan will introduce us to a third culture trail blazer who is changing the world for the better.

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