This perpetually burning building

  • The people who make the country bearable


On April 15th at around 16.30 GMT, a fire broke out under the wooden roof of the 850-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral, one of France’s most iconic buildings. The spire and the roof collapsed, but the main structure including two bell towers, and the artifacts inside the cathedral, were saved.

Since then, all in the space of a couple of days, French billionaires, organisations and citizens have pledged almost €900 million in donations to rebuild the cathedral. Imagine what they could achieve if they pledged instead to solve the greater issues facing the world Hunger, lack of medical care, illiteracy…the list goes on.

Speaking generally of the people of this world, Tennessee Williams said, “We live in a perpetually burning building.”

Yes, we do. And in Pakistan, the roof caved in when the first martial law was declared in 1958. The main spire collapsed further damaging the roof, when the country split into two with such cruel violence, in 1971. The scaffolding of the burning building, composed of millions of people, can be seen through the hole in the roof, and the falling embers make it a precarious place to live. People continue living here though, because they have nowhere else to go. And the fire keeps burning because the smoke is useful to shield mainly those who claim to help but aim to hurt.

It is Pakistan’s philanthropists, those with hearts of gold, who have made the place liveable. There are many such people, only some are mentioned below.

There are many organisations, to all of whom the people of this country owe a debt of gratitude. Those responsible for them are the country’s most influential people, because rather than generating hope, they actually make it come true. Although hope is useful and one cannot live without it, help in time of need is what we need most

Abdul Sattar Edhi started work as a pedlar in Karachi and then became an agent selling cloth in the wholesale market. After a few years of this work, the Memon community to which he belonged helped him to set up his first free dispensary, and then the Edhi Trust and Edhi Foundation were born which– with the help of Edhi’s wife Bilquis, established maternity homes, the largest fleet of ambulances in the world, orphanages, food kitchens, women’s shelters, clinics and nursing training institutions. Help is provided indiscriminately by the Edhi Foundation to whoever needs it.

In 2014, two years before Edhi’s death, his Foundation was robbed of £400,000 in cash. The Edhi Foundation and Edhi sahib himself have also often been targeted by Pakistan’s extremist groups.

Dr Adeebul Hasan Rizvi graduated from Dow Medical College in 1968. He worked in the UK for a while, then returned to Pakistan and set up a small urology ward at the Civil Hospital in Karachi in 1970, which became the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT). It has since grown to be Pakistan’s largest Urology and Transplantation Institute. Dr Rizvi is the President of the Transplant Society of Pakistan. In 2003 he led a team of surgeons to perform the country’s first liver transplant.

Treatment at SIUT is totally free for everyone because the founder believes that access to quality healthcare with dignity and compassion is every person’s right. Over a thousand patients are treated for free at the Institute, and to date it has been responsible for 5878 transplants, and about 970 dialyses take place every day.

In 2001 there was a plot to murder Dr Rizvi, which was foiled.

Ruth Pfau, who has been called Pakistan’s Mother Teresa, was a German whose home was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. She escaped to West Germany and studied medicine, becoming a doctor. She converted to Roman Catholicism and became a nun in 1953. Her Order sent her to India from where she came to Pakistan. She decided to spend her life here battling leprosy, and she did.

Ruth Pfau ran the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre in Karachi, which was later expanded to a larger institution and rehabilitation Centre for leprosy patients. Currently, along with the head office in Karachi, the centre has expanded to 157 health centres all over the country.

There are many other people who make it possible for the people of this country to exist. Ramzan Chhipa, who owns the Chhipa Welfare Association that runs a large fleet of ambulances in Karachi, second only to that run countrywide by the Edhi Foundation. There is the Aurat Foundation and the Agha Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), the Ansar Burney Trust and Dar-ul-Sakun for people with disabilities who could not otherwise afford care. And the Shaukat Khanum Hospital, Imran Khan’s greatest achievement to date.

There are many more organisations, small and large, to all of whom the people of this country owe a debt of gratitude. Those who are responsible for them are the country’s most influential people of all the years that Pakistan has been in existence, because rather than generating hope, they actually make it come true. Although hope is useful and one cannot live without it, help in time of need is what we need most.

As for the rest of us, we need to find out who lies behind the smoke, and why the smoke is allowed to shield them before we can put out the flames that are burning this country down to the ground.