‘Best among people are those who benefit mankind’

2010-01-28 00:00

LOCAL nonprofit organisation (NPO) the Gift of the Givers Foundation, (GoTG) featured in headlines recently after its search-and-rescue team returned from disaster-relief duties in Haiti.

The organisation is remarkable not only because it is the only NPO that has its own search-and-rescue team and is able to mobilise large-scale disaster-relief resources at short notice, but also because it is growing when many other NPOs are struggling for funds and even closing down because of the economic recession and changing donor trends.

The organisation’s chairman and founder, city resident Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, said both the organisation and donations in cash and kind are growing “exponentially”. In 2009, its budget was about R35 million, while he expects the 2010 budget to be R40 million.

Sooliman believes that the key to the group’s success is the quality of its work. “People see what we do and how we work and they want to be a part of it. We have 21 different projects, all professionally and efficiently run. Our operations are transparent and we take the media with us so people can see how we operate.

“We embrace all groups regardless of colour or beliefs. We are a Muslim organisation, but Islam tells us to respect all people so we help everyone and anyone. I will not let my staff wear traditional clothing because it could put people off. We also don’t use the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islam’ because I don’t want anyone to feel they are not welcome. We work with any faith group and have partnerships with several churches including the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist and Dutch Reformed Church.”

Such is the effectiveness of the group that people are queueing up to donate to it, to partner with it and to help. “I am about to go and receive a cheque for R5 million from a corporate donor,” Sooliman said. “People have a smaller amount of money to give to charity so they want to give it where they know it will be well used. We are already partners with the government and other organisations are lining up to partner with us. We have so many people volunteering to help I can’t use them. Highly skilled, honourable people like accountants, editors and managing directors offer their skills and want to be a part of us. On the plane home recently an off- duty SAA pilot came and asked how we could use him. I still have to find a way to do that.”

Sooliman said one of his planned projects for 2010 is to design and manufacture a field hospital to deploy as part of its disaster-response programme. “We are already the only NPO in the world that can hire its own planes and send a search-and-rescue team, medical teams and supplies to disaster areas. The next logical step is to be able to send our own field hospital too.”

When the hospital is completed and ready to be deployed, perhaps Sooliman will find a way to use that volunteer SAA pilot after all.

What is gift of the Givers?


LAUNCHED in 1992, the organisation has a spiritual origin. In accordance with the explicit spiritual instruction of the Grand Sheikh of the Sufi order, Al-hajj Muhammad Saffer Nureddin Jerrahi, a Sufi teacher, the foundation’s principle and motto is: “Best among people are those who benefit mankind”.

The group’s logo is symbolic, pointing to its spiritual origins. It signifies the “hand” of God over the hand of man signifying positivity and hope. According to the website, the foundation and its donors strive to be “a symbol of hope by being facilitators of God’s aid, distributing it from him to all of mankind”. It strives not only to serve people, but also to safeguard the honour, dignity and respect of all recipients of assistance.

The group has offices in Pietermaritzburg, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, and employs about 30 staff. It has donated R360 million in aid to 25 countries, including South Africa. It is currently the largest disaster response NPO of African origin. It is characterised by its rapid, large-scale and innovative responses to natural and unnatural disasters.

It offers a broad range of responses to crises through its 21 different projects: alleviating physical suffering, material needs and emotional suffering through disaster relief, primary health- care clinics, feeding schemes, water purification and wells, new blanket and clothing distribution, food parcels, bursaries, educational support, toys for the underprivileged, agricultural self-help schemes, job creation, counselling services, drug rehabilitation, HIV/Aids workshops, skills development and life-skills workshops.

The organisation manufactures and sells Sibusiso, a ready food supplement created by Sooliman and now accepted and approved by the national government and on national tender. It is reportedly the first groundnut-soya high-energy protein supplement effective in improving the condition of patients with HIV/Aids, TB, malnutrition and other debilitating clinical conditions.

The organisation also works to promote education to address the underlying causes of social problems on the African continent. Hence, the foundation funds bursaries for students in the School of Agricultural Sciences and Agribusiness at UKZN.

The group has been acknowledged through 46 different national and international awards, citations, and commendations, including three awards from heads of state.

— www.giftofthegivers.org

Who is Dr Imitiaz Sooliman?

BORN in Potchefstroom, North West Province where he started his schooling, he moved to KZN and matriculated at Sastri College, Durban, in 1978. He qualified as a medical doctor at the then University of Natal Medical School in 1984.

He did his medical internship at King Edward Hospital in 1985, and then worked in private practice. He was always involved in religious and civil society organisations and it became clear that his purpose was to help alleviate suffering. He founded the Gift of the Givers Foundation in 1992 on the advice of his spiritual teacher from the Halveti Jerrahi Sufi Tariqat order in Istanbul, Turkey.

He has been its chairman since its inception. In 1995 he received the Convocation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Freedom and Endeavour from UKZN. The citation described him as “...a man of principle, a man of many ideas and a man of action.”

It continued: “Dr Sooliman actively seeks to build bridges between people of different cultures and religions, engendering goodwill, harmonious coexistence, tolerance and mutual respect, presenting seminars and motivational messages to people from a wide range of communities in Africa. His message of reconciliation and selfless compassion-motivated humanitarian assistance has made a considerable contribution to alleviating hunger, suffering, conflict and distress in South Africa, Africa and internationally.”

He has received numerous awards including awards from two successive South African presidents: the President’s Order of The Star of South Africa (the highest civilian award in the country) from President FW de Klerk in 1993; and the Pietermaritzburg Civic Commendation Award from President Nelson Mandela in 1997.

Sooliman does not draw a salary from GoTG, but runs his own consultancy based on his experience with the organisation. He is married to Zohra and they have five children, who are also involved in the Foundation’s work.

— Professor Eleni Maunder, citation speech





• 1992 Established in August.

• 1993 Designed and developed the world’s first and largest containerised mobile hospital; deployed in Bosnia.

• 1995 Designed and developed the world’s first containerised primary health-care unit; 20 units deployed in South Africa that have treated three million patients. In partnership with Department of Health, clinics treat about 40 000 people per month.

• 1997 Established GoTG Careline, toll-free telephone and face-to-face counselling service.

• 1997 Launched bursary scheme with R20 000.

• 2003 The only charity organisation permitted to land a plane in Baghdad after Gulf War II to deliver aid to the Iraqis.

• 2003 First organisation to receive R60 million from the government to deliver 204 000 emergency food parcels in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

• 2003 Established first tollfree Drug Crisis Line in SA.

• 2003 The first NPO to respond to the Iran earthquake.

• 2004 Created first groundnut-soya high-energy protein supplement, Sibusiso Ready Food Supplement.

• 2004 First African agency to respond to the Darfur crisis in Sudan.

• 2004 First NPO to respond to Sri Lanka tsunami.

• 2005 First NPO to respond to Somalia tsunami.

• 2005 First African NPO to respond to Niger famine.

• 2005 One of the first organisations to respond to Pakistani earthquake victims.

• 2005 Largest contributor to Malawian president’s “Feed the Nation Fund” to provide food parcels for famine victims.

• 2006 Established Open Source Centre in KZN, second largest in SA.

• 2006 First international agency to fly aid into Lebanon (100 tons).

• 2008 Opened Durban office.

• 2009 Opened Cape Town office.

• 2010 R2 million in bursaries to be disbursed.


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