Recently the South by Southwest film festival showcased a documentary titled “These Birds Walk”, giving Americans a glimpse into the lives of runaways and orphans in Pakistan and the surrogate family figures that care for them. The attention of the documentary is poised to elevate the international status of Abdul Sattar Edhi, heralded by some as the world’s greatest living humanitarian.
Edhi began working for the poor in 1951 after being forced to flee his hometown in India to Karachi. He began by begging for alms and using the money to help the poor. Now he has a wide network of facilities that provide food, shelter, medical care and adoption services. As if battling the struggles in Pakistan was not enough, his foundation has also given funds to disaster relief in New Orleans, Bangladesh, Southeast Asia and Afghanistan. Edhi runs his foundation from a two bedroom apartment in Karachi above one of his clinics, has never taken a salary and owns very few personal items.
The film showcases his humility and his insistence on focusing on the real story—the people he helps, rather than featuring his own life. He tells the camera, “You heard from people about me. You read books and news articles. And now you are filming me. If you want to find me, you will find me among the people. I came from ordinary people, and to find me, look among ordinary people. My story is there.”
With a portrait of a country where “street children” are a common occurrence, where children born out of wedlock are abandoned or abused, and many children run away from domestic violence, the need for Edhi’s work becomes clear after just a few minutes of viewing the film. Beyond that, however, the documentary aims to reach people on a personal level. Director Omar Mullick notes how touched he was by one woman’s reaction, because her tears were from the memories of her own experience as a runaway. The film is currently making the rounds in the festival circuit and will play in theaters this August. Check out the trailer below: