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In Edhi’s footsteps

July 27, 2016


The writer is a former civil servant.
The writer is a former civil servant.

“I HAVE a handicap, I was a civil servant of the British Empire. My role in the last 30 to 40 years has been to do research and present results. I have powerful friends. We see ourselves as model makers. As an old man, I should know what is happening in Pakistan. We are living in a state of transition, like China. Every 200 or 300 years, there is a period of strife. I happen to live in one of those periods. I am committed to discovering the institutions of the future. Old institutions are dying, new ones are not born. This is my temptation: to show stability in a chaotic situation.”

These are the words of Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan, the founder of the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi. Initiated in the 1980s, the project brought modern sanitation to the one million-strong community of Orangi and also raised their standard of living by introducing the facility of microfinance. It is a fascinating tale of how an idea can transform lives.

Convinced that he could not be of fruitful service to the people for whom he was engaged, Dr Khan resigned from imperial service in 1945. His resignation was understandable: the service at that time was meant to rule and not to serve the people. Since then, however, that concept has become obsolete and a new one needs to emerge — social work through service. In other words Edhi-isation of service is the future. There are a few other inspiring examples where civil servants have gone beyond the call of conventional duty and influenced millions of lives.

Social work through civil service is the future.

Mr Muhammad Amjad Saqib of Akhuwat Foundation is one example. Akhuwat Foundation is changing the lives of many by providing interest-free loans with little to no collateral. The idea originated from a donation of only Rs10,000: today the volume runs into billions. It is far better than income support schemes in the sense that it does not leave the self-respect and self-reliance of the individual compromised. In fact, in many cases, the borrowers become the donors as well.

Twenty-six years ago, Dr Asif Mahmood Jah, a civil servant, established the Customs Healthcare Society Pakistan, which runs a charity hospital in Lahore. As patron in chief of the institution, Dr Jah takes out time daily after his office hours to provide medical treatment to poor and needy patients during the more than two decades that the institution has been in existence. Besides the hospital, the organisation has also established healthcare clinics, schools and mobile hospitals across the country to provide healthcare as well as educational facilities to the underprivileged.

In 1989-90, Dr Zafar Qadir — then political agent and head of the district government in Kohlu, Balochistan — conceived the idea of launching an English medium, co-education, modern educational institution in the foothold of the Marri tribe to combat poverty and crime through educational endeavours and to encourage community development through a consultative process.

The first school was established in Kohlu in the year 1989. The student strength initially stood at only 30 students. Today, the organisation, which was subsequently named Taaleem Foundation, educates 4,000 students per year. Thus, to its credit, Taaleem Foundation has been successful in providing access to quality education in Balochistan where even the state has failed to do the same.

Mr Syed Javaid Nisar, a successful civil servant and an inspiring trainer for years at the civil services academy moulding the young civil servants into able officers, has established Medibank, which provides free medicines to all the major hospitals in Pakistan.

There are many more such examples. Civil servants by virtue of the nature of their jobs are in an ideal position to facilitate people; they have the resources to help and serve. I have always advocated better perks and privileges for civil servants; these are indeed important but so is the spirit of public service that must be inculcated among civil servants. When one embarks on the journey of civil service it has to be for public service. This has to be an informed decision, a choice that only those should make who are ready to offer sacrifice in the line of duty. For civil servants in Pakistan who have to face many financial constraints and political pressures, even doing their duty diligently is social service.

Lastly, the typical bureaucrat with a bloated ego will have to give way to the polite social worker that hides somewhere inside the same persona but gets overpowered by materialistic influences. The service must recognise and appreciate the social entrepreneurs because they are the true agents of change. Accolades for Abdul Sattar Edhi are perfectly fine but a truly fitting tribute to the man who let his actions speak louder than words would be the Edhi-isation of civil service.

The writer is a former civil servant.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2016