Marking a milestone

Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman. PHOTO: MOEKETSI MAMANE
Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman. PHOTO: MOEKETSI MAMANE

CHANGING the world, one intervention at a time.

That is what Pietermaritzburg-based humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers has been doing for 27 years. The non-governmental organisation, which was founded on August 6, 1992, celebrated 27 years yesterday.

It has seen R2,8 billion in aid delivered to 43 countries.

The disaster agency primarily provides search-and-rescue efforts, but also delves into agricultural sustainability, educational support and counselling.

Clad in his trademark green shirt bearing his organisation’s logo, founder Imtiaz Sooliman told The Witness that they are grateful for the support received from within South Africa and outside its borders.

“The biggest joy is seeing the growth of the organisation — how we’ve developed over the years in terms of our staff, our infrastructure and how we’ve accessed so many communities.

“It shows consistency and that we are well supported. Most importantly, we are continuing to help so many more people and have expanded our projects,” Sooliman said.

He said he started the organisation after a defining moment during a trip to Istanbul. “I met a spiritual teacher that gave me an instruction to form an organisation, serving people of any geographical location, all races, religions and classes and to serve them unconditionally and expect nothing in return and it will grow. I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now,” he said.

“It was only in 2004 when the [Asian] tsunami happened that I realised how big the organisation was getting.

“In the last three years it has grown through the roof and there are so many projects happening simultaneously in so many different categories. There has been no planning, it just happens … as it unfolds, we take it on.”

Sooliman and his 102 permanent staff and 220 highly-skilled volunteers have supplied the desperate and destitute with tons of food aid and medication shipped or flown to disaster zones, and dispatched dozens of medical staff and rescue crews to treat them and dig them out of rubble.

“We help all people irrespective of race, religion, colour or class ... If there’s a need and we can intervene, we do that.”

Some of the interventions Gift of the Givers have done include building hospitals in Bosnia and Syria and rescues in Haiti in 2010, where a woman was rescued alive from the rubble after an earthquake. They were also part of rescue teams that assisted in Nigeria after a church collapse in which 81 South Africans were killed. Recently they also sent aid to Mozambique when it was ravaged by Cyclone Idai.

In SA, Gift of the Givers has set up bursaries, built clinics, paid for poor patients’ expensive operations that government cannot afford, provided water to drought-stricken communities, and helped rebuild homes after fire and flood incidents.

In 2003, the organisation became the first in South African history to receive R60 million from the SA government for humanitarian aid in KZN and the Eastern Cape.

“Every day you see the suffering of the people and you realise how fortunate you are. That you and your family are fine, that your children are fine.

“When you see the difficulty on the other side, giving back is a way of saying thank you, I’m not on the other side.

“I have witnessed people suffering for a long time and it’s sad.

“You can’t rest when you’ve witnessed suffering. When you get up, you know you have to do something ... there is always someone in the world who needs your help,” said Sooliman.

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