KARACHI: Services of Abdul Sattar Edhi and Perween Rahman were recalled on Wednesday at a talk titled ‘Saving humanity: remembering legends of Pakistan’. Meant to pay homage to the two legends, the event was held at the department of social sciences, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology.
Shedding light on his father and his contributions to humanity, Faisal Edhi said that Edhi sahib belonged to a small town called Bantva in Gujarat. “His mother, and my grandmother, was able to turn his attention to charity and social work from the start,” said Faisal Edhi.
“She would hand him two pennies every day before he left for school with the advice to spend one on himself and one for the good of any poor fellow. But when my father returned sometimes with the admission that he had spent both pennies on himself, she would call him a heartless tyrant who eats the poor’s share,” he said. “Her reaction to his spend-thriftiness was something he could never forget,” he added.
“Whenever my father wanted to help others he turned to the common man. It is that common man who helped us build the Edhi Foundation,” he said.
While sharing aspects of her younger sister Perween Rahman’s life, writer and researcher Aquila Ismail said that Perween’s was a simple but complicated life. “Her life was based on principles such as being true to oneself, being fair to everyone, being fair to nature, being fair to animals and leading life with equity and justice,” she said.
“My sister got gold medals in nine out of the 10 semesters she completed in Dawood College for her architectural degree. Then as soon as she graduated she was hired by a big and reputed architectural firm. But watching others designing cool landscapes and houses made her anxious. She couldn’t see herself doing it so she ran away. In her panic she didn’t even stop to take her salary,” said Aquila.
“Perween had witnessed homelessness in East Pakistan as a child. She knew what it felt like to have things totally out of one’s control. She wanted to help the common people, not the elite class. So she ran to her teacher, town planner Arif Hasan for advice, and he sent her to the social scientist and development practitioner Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan,” she said, adding that Dr Khan’s philosophy was to watch and learn from people how they are helping themselves.
“This was 1982. Perween would roam about among the people of Orangi, who had been left to fend for themselves by the government without being given any facilities such as water or sanitation. After researching for months she came up with the pro-poor model where a liaison could be created with the government by letting the people do part of the work such as putting in lines for water and sanitation and the government to give them connections, etc,” she explained.
“The Orangi Pilot Project is a development NGO. Perween’s work with them and the model they created later spread to other colonies such as Pak Colony, Manzoor Colony, etc. From there it was adopted for the development of various places in Sindh and even Punjab now. Her way of helping the poor help themselves was also followed in five countries, including Bangladesh and Nepal, and it is also taught at universities abroad,” she said.
“She was also researching goths and settlements where the poor were being deprived of their rights and ownership of land on which they have lived for generations. She made the government regularise several such settlements but it also earned her the wrath of the land mafia, which eventually resulted in her assassination,” she shared.
“I was living abroad when I heard that Perween had been shot dead. When I rushed here I saw so many people outside her home. It seemed as if the entire city was there,” Aquila recalled.
“But at the time I just wanted to take my mother away from there. I felt that my sister lived for Karachi and Karachi killed her. But gradually I realised that she lived for Karachi, which was mourning her murder. Now I have decided to take up her work. We have introduced several new projects as well but we are not working on land. It is just not worth getting killed for,” the older sister said.
Keeping hope alive
Later, answering a question regarding hopelessness in these times, Faisal Edhi said that losing hope was not a good thing. “Look for hope around you. When you start thinking about the poor, that in itself is a positive change,” he said.
“There is no need to look to the government for hope. The government has totally failed in the service sector, in health, education, housing. Karachi is a big city where 70 per cent of the textile industry’s produce is exported in exchange for dollars. But even after earning so much revenue there are no services extended to the common people here.”
The debate then turned to donating human organs and whether it was right to donate Edhi sahib’s eyes. “My father’s eyes are still alive. I wish I knew which two people are seeing through them,” he said, adding that around the time of Edhi sahib’s passing he had thought about this becoming the cause for a debate and he was glad that people were talking about it. “Awareness needs to be spread on this issue,” he added.
The event was presided over by veteran journalist and columnist Zubeida Mustafa. She urged the students to think about the things they had heard during the talks. “Think about why so many people here can be at such a disadvantage while others are enjoying their lives, and think about what you can do about this,” she said.
Earlier, Szabist dean of social sciences Dr Riaz Shaikh shared his memories of watching Edhi sahib accepting donations from common middle-class people while sitting on the floor in Quetta. He also informed students that Perween Rahman earned a salary of Rs33,000 from the Orangi Pilot Project though she could have made millions designing big houses for rich people.
Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2017