Bilquis Bano Edhi (Hilal-e-Imtiaz), wife of Abdul Sattar Edhi, is a professional nurse and one of the most active philanthropists in Pakistan. She has been nicknamed, The Mother of Pakistan. She was born in 1947 in Karachi. She heads the Bilquis Edhi Foundation, and with her husband received the 1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service. Her charity runs many services in Pakistan including a hospital and emergency service in Karachi. Together with her husband their charity has saved over 16,000 unwanted babies.
When Bilquis Bano Edhi was a teenager she was not enjoying school and managed to join a small expanding dispensary as a nurse in 1965. At the time the Edhi home was in the old city area of Karachi known as Mithadar where it had been founded in 1951. The small number of Christian and Hindu nurses who worked there had just reduced in number. The founder, Abdul Sattar Edhi, recruited a number of nurses including Bilquis who, unusually, was from a Muslim background.
Her future husband proposed to her after recognising her talents and allowing her to lead the small nursing department. He had recognised her enthusiasm and interest during her six month training program where she had learnt basic midwifery and healthcare. They were married when she was seventeen and her husband was nearly twenty years older.
Their honeymoon was unusual in that the newlyweds discovered a young girl with head injuries at their dispensary just after their wedding ceremony. Bilquis Edhi said that she did not regret the time lost in consoling the twelve year old's concerned relatives or supervising blood transfusions as now that girl is married with children - that's what is really important. The Edhi Foundation's unofficial website uses the line 'Making a difference and changing lives forever'.
Edhi took over the management of the jhoolas project, the first of which had been built by her husband in 1952. These 300 cradles are available throughout Pakistan where parents can abandon unwanted children, or those that cannot be raised. They carry the message in English and Urdu 'Do not kill, leave the baby to live in the cradle'. A small minority of abandoned children are disabled but over 90% are female. This alternative is thought to have reduced the number of dead babies who are killed by their own parents given the alternative provided by the Edhi Foundation to leave the unwanted babies in the cradles. The Edhi project is also responsible for burying dead babies found by the police.
The couple have four children who are involved with the Edhi Foundation and the management of the Edhi village, the fleet of ambulances, the mental home, the schools and the offices in Pakistan and London.
Edhi and her husband have received a number of awards in recognition of their work. In July 2007 they were publicly recognised for their work by President Pervez Musharraf who made a contribution of 100,000 rupees (from his own pocket) and he particularly noted that their work provided social services to the poor of Pakistan without any discrimination. This contribution contrasts sharply with another offered by President Zia ul-Haq which was turned down because of the strings that were attached.
It also contrasts with the 100,000 dollars that her husband gave to Pakistani workers in the USA affected by the 9/11 bombing. Despite her husband being received by Presidents and her own appearance on Pakistani television the couple still live modestly in a two room apartment which is part of one of their orphanages.