Charity begins at home

The writer is a former diplomat
By: Amb. Salahuddin Choudhry

There could be no better time than now when the whole world is beset with one of the tormenting unknown diseases, without a cure, the human kind is battling….to get involved in charitable work as the peoples of the world actually have, to the great recognition of human values, especially human kindness…. we on our great planet earth, so, are greatly satisfied and proud about.

We in our society owe it to all & sundry that we motivate our families, our children, siblings and dear ones into making a humble beginning of giving away alms and other household goods in charity to the needy. This is what we can do at homes to feel happy and even ‘narcissist’, metaphorically speaking.

Covid-19 pandemic has caused havoc past nine months and peoples have been fighting with negligible respite; a preventable vaccine like flu is a long way off, and the struggle & trauma continue to hound us all.

Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you” – Mother Theresa

Mother Theresa

Thanks to human kindness and philanthropy, the corona-affected and the economic recession victims are being provided help & support through health-care services and charity dispensation. And, situation becomes indelible with rampant poverty where immediate and constant help & service top all emergencies for alleviation by support, monetary & material.

Poverty exists everywhere in the world, from powerful industrial to developing countries. It sure affects hundreds of millions of people, regardless of their social and cultural backgrounds, and stands as a barrier to real equality and prosperity.

The UN General Assembly, in recognition of the large role that charities and individuals took to mitigate human suffering and humanitarian crises, under relevant resolution, designated 5th September as the International Day of Charity. Originally a Hungarian civil society initiative to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa, and partly as a tribute to her work and dedication to charitable causes, International Day of Charity on September 5 took off worldwide in 2012 when the UN declared it an international holiday, which provides a platform for charitable opportunities to take place.

Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to peace.”

Mother Teresa, the renowned nun and missionary, went in 1928 to India, where she devoted herself to helping the destitute and later became an Indian citizen and founded a Missionary Charity in Kolkata. She died in 1997 after 45 dedicated years of charitable service and is remembered as a woman of great faith and unmatched charitable donation.

UN wishes all Member States, international and regional organizations, non-governmental orgs and individuals alike to commemorate the International Day of Charity by encouraging charitable acts in their respective communities to raise public awareness of this event.

Like the concepts of volunteerism and philanthropy, ‘charity’ manifests real social bonding and contributes to the creation of inclusive and more resilient societies. Charity can reduce the worst effects of humanitarian crises, supplement public services in health care, education, housing & child protection. It also causes advancement of culture, science, sports, and preservation of cultural and natural heritage, as well as of the marginalized and the underprivileged.

The UN 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, adopted in September 2015, lays importance on eradicating poverty in all forms. Poverty presents an enormous global challenge for the international community and is a threat to sustainable development. In the spirit of global solidarity, the 2030 Agenda is focused on how best to meet the needs of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

Every year, charities all over the world help to save and improve people’s lives, fighting disease, protecting children, and giving hope to many thousands of people.

International Day of Charity serves to increase and enhance social responsibility across the entire world, increasing our support for charitable causes and bringing everyone together in solidarity, and create more inclusive and resilient societies.

The 17 SDGs set forth in the Agenda can be grouped into six critical areas: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership. They have the potential to transform our lives and our planet by providing the framework needed for philanthropic institutions.

The UN recognizes that civic engagement plays an important role in terms of development in creating the desired global change. Here are a few ways it can do so: 1) raise awareness about how difficult challenges are, and push for collective action in global issues; 2) enhance trust among diverse groups and build social capital; 3) eliminate societal & cultural barriers and create cohesion, and 4) build resilience through community action, and enhance the sense of responsibility for one’s community.


As good luck would have it, Pakistan is recognized as the 91st most generous out of world’s 144 nations in terms of giving away charities to the poor which are seen to have done a tremendous job providing to the affected from coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns – while at the same time a big slice of population have faced financial burdens, and yet preparing for rehabilitation.

The local charities played a pivotal role in battling the financial shocks from the epidemic and after-effects of restrictions imposed.

On this Special date, different orgs and NGOs arranged special symposiums and webinars to mark the Day and create awareness of the background and importance of IDC and to give recognition to the role a charity can play in mitigating poverty, sufferings and crises, unwelcome and of disparate sorts.

Interestingly, Pakistan, being one of the most philanthropic nations, has a somewhat diluted concept of individualism and capitalism, explains a corporate banker. People who are fortunate enough to belong to the ‘haves’ consciously make the effort to ease the burden of the ‘have-nots’. And, indeed, all the philanthropists make a humble beginning at homes because they consider it their duty – a concept that rings especially true in crisis conditions, such as Covid-19.

                “As a nation, we might not have a lot, but we have big hearts,” said a Pak-origin British, “Just visit any village and they will open their homes to you; putting others first is our culture. We’ve seen sufferings. We have empathy and compassion. We might even have too much of it, as widespread education will be required to convince the masses that social distancing is not the same as abandoning your neighbour.”

With the coronavirus not going away too soon, Pakistanis have been giving far more than the required 2.5% of zakat (mandatory alms-giving), while others who don’t earn enough to qualify for zakat are offering as much charity as they can. Amid the pandemic, Pakistani people are bonding together to assist the less fortunate in a unique and inspiring way. Here, we should remember what the new WHO DG had to say: “It’s not time for celebrations, it’s time for preparations”, as we do not know the future.

Regretfully, “the country’s weak healthcare infrastructure is unable to bear the influx of COVID patients without the support of aid groups and philanthropists,” according to the Pakistan Medical Association, which works to protect physicians’ rights. Doctors and paramedics – many of whom laid down their lives exposed to coronavirus patients – have repeatedly appealed to the government to evolve realistic policy and provide proper med-aids.

As said earlier, Pakistan being known for immense charity work in the world, it will be logical to insert here some of those philanthropists, whose contributions are matchless & immeasurable.

Abdul Sattar Edhi was a prominent Pakistani philanthropist, social activist, ascetic and humanitarian. He is the founder and head of the Edhi Foundation, the largest non-profit social welfare organization in the world. Edhi helped the destitute and sick for more than 60 years, filling the hole left by a state that had largely neglected the welfare of its citizens. Funded by donations from fellow citizens, his 250 centers across the country take in orphans, the mentally ill, unwanted newborns, drug addicts, the homeless, the sick and the aged.

Bilquis Bano Edhi, wife of Abdul Sattar Edhi, is a professional nurse and one of the most active philanthropists in Pakistan, now runs the Edhi Foundation, after his demise, along with her sons. Their charity operates many services in Pakistan including a hospital and emergency service in Karachi. Together with her husband they have saved over 16,000 unwanted babies. She’s so rightfully called, “The Mother of Pakistan”.

(“Not all of us can prevent a war; but most of us can help ease sufferings—of the body and the soul” –Ruth Pfau)

Ruth Pfau, a German by birth, was one of the most famous and respected humanists on earth, and Pakistan got blessed as she became the most loved foreigner to settle in the country.

Pfau’s “life-exchanging” experience, with a Dutch Christian woman survivor from a WW-2 German concentration camp who dedicated herself to “preaching love and forgiveness“, had had a telling effect on her life. Pfau, well respected by Muslims in Pakistan who were the majority of patients at the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre, never talked about religion, yet “her faith, service, and love” were demonstrations of the spirit that inspired inter-religious dialogue.

In 1960, aged 31, Pfau decided to dedicate the rest of her life to the people of Pakistan and their battle against leprosy outbreaks. She started medical treatment for the leprosy patients in a hut in this area. In 1979, she was appointed as the Federal Advisor on Leprosy. Pfau went to distant areas of Pakistan where there were no medical facilities for leprosy patients. She collected donations in Germany and Pakistan and provided her services to hospitals in Rawalpindi and Karachi. In recognition of her service to the country, she was awarded Pakistani citizenship in 1988.

Due to her continued efforts, in 1996 the World Health Organization declared Pakistan one of the first countries in Asia to have controlled leprosy. In the words of former Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi: Dr Ruth Pfau may have been born in Germany, but her heart was always in Pakistan. She came here at the dawn of a young nation looking to make lives better for those afflicted by disease and in doing so found herself a home. “We will remember her for her courage, her loyalty, her service to the eradication of leprosy and most of all her patriotism.”

On her demise, 10th August 2017, Ruth Pfau was given a state funeral in recognition of her extraordinary service to Pak nation.

Agha Hasan Abedi was seen as a modern Robin Hood, taking from the West and giving to the Third World. His bank, Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) built hospitals and schools in Pakistan, and the BCCI foundation gave millions of dollars in scholarships and research grants and set up Advancement of Science and Technology (FAST) in 1980 to promote computer science. In 2000, the foundation created FAST National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences.

Dr. Mohammad Ramzan Chhipa is one of the leading philanthropists in Pakistan whose love for humanity forced him to leave everything else and dedicate his life for the poor and needy with the priority to serve and save humanity. His Chippa Welfare Trust established the largest Ambulance service in Pakistan with a big fleet and network of centers.

Ansar Burney, a lawyer by profession and Pakistan’s first human rights activist, who stood up against brutalities against prisoners in Pakistani jails in 1980s. He has helped over 700, innocent prisoners from countries all around the world locked up on false charges, sane persons detained in mental asylums, illegal immigrants and labor camps, and instrumental in stopping child abuse and human trafficking.

Sir Adamjee Haji Dawood was a renowned businessman-philanthropist in British India and later Pakistan. Adamjee established schools, colleges and hospitals in various parts of India and Burma. A philanthropist to the core, Adamjee never refused to support a deserving cause, esp. the financially deprived students.

Shehzad Roy, singer-turned philanthropist, established Zindagi Trust in 2002 which strives to improve the quality of education available to the average Pakistani; notably, he pioneered the concept of “I-am-paid-to-learn, that offers working children an alternative to child labour; makes them aware of their rights as children, as workers and as citizens, and motivates them to education course instead of spending time in car-repair shops & other general stores. The Trust also sponsors continuing education of top graduates into mainstream secondary schools.

World famous philanthropists:

For the benefit of readers, this scribe pens down here in brief some extraordinary people in the field of charity and philanthropy, hoping their human services will work as iconic to make impression on our society.

Bill Gates, American business magnate and philanthropist, and cofounder of Microsoft, focuses most of his time on philanthropy, running the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alongside his wife, issuing grants for initiatives and programs across the globe, focusing on agricultural development, emergency relief, global libraries, urban poverty, education, and most importantly global health care.

The Foundation is known for hundreds of charity contributions including polio-virus related orgs: $300 million to Rotary (‘END POLIO NOW’) when I was its President in Manchester, and $500m to Pak Govt. 2-yrs ago. It has also donated millions to WHO, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, for TB & Malaria; and UNICEF. Bill Gates, lauded Pakistan’s efforts in the fight against the Covid-19 outbreak, esp. the dual challenge of overcoming the pandemic and saving people from hunger due to the lockdown.

Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of holding company Berkshire Hathaway, is not only one of the wealthiest people in the world, he’s also one of the most charitable. In 2006, Buffett vowed and committed 85% of his wealth to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as other foundations set up by family members.

Andrew Carnegie (US): “No man can become rich without himself enriching others. The man who dies rich dies disgraced”. Scores of the world’s wealthiest people have taken to his philosophy, donating their riches to hundreds of causes.

Hopp-established Dietmar Hopp Stiftung, a foundation that supports local education, sports, and health causes in his hometown in Germany, including the Heidelberg Institute for Stem Cell Technology and Experimental Medicine (HI-STEM), etc.

Ted Turner, former CEO of Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) and vice chairman and director of AOL Time Warner, is the current chairman of Turner Enterprises, a diversified holding company. In 1997 he pledged $1 billion to the UN foundation, which promotes causes related to women and population, children’s health, environment, world peace, and security.

Huntsman, reportedly survived prostate and mouth cancer, established the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. Many of his charitable donations have been to colleges and cancer-research centers. He and his wife also agreed to join Buffett‘s Giving Pledge, promising to donate 50% of their wealth.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, is one of the youngest self-made billionaires in the world. The social-media mogul has signed the ‘Giving Pledge’ and promises to donate at least half of his wealth in his lifetime. Last year, Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla made a big donation of $25 million in the fight against Ebola. Through the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, he gave $75 million to San Francisco General Hospital.

Sulaiman bin Abdul Aziz Al Rajhi cofounded Al Rajhi Bank with his three brothers. It grew into one of the world’s largest Islamic banks and earned Al Rajhi a 10-digit net worth. In 2013, he shifted his focus toward philanthropy and endowed his holdings in the bank to his Endowments Holding Company, which supports educational, religious, health, and social causes, including the Arab Institute for Arabic Language.


As is titled, this essay’s essence in endowed in the concept/maxim: “charity begins at home……” this is how we as human beings dedicate our lives to the welfare of our families first which in turn move to groups to a society and to nation that carry the potential to become a formidable entity. That is why, we need to observe and celebrate every year the International Day of Charity.

There are so many ways to get involved with the Day of Charity like organizing our own events, collecting funds, volunteering with good cause or simply raising awareness for a charitable org. The best is to do a fundraising event.

All these efforts and initiatives can come about through our own families to begin with. As we move up, we may face challenges, but got to take them on for success. The success in charitable work brings about the coveted satisfaction & happiness coming from mitigation of human sufferings, physical and mental…..and we all get a crown on our tarbush in the end !!

The writer is a Rotarian and former senior diplomat of Pakistan. He can be reached on [email protected] & @Saladinch