Imtiaz Sooliman - All people in our country, irrespective of where they come from, have that ubuntu spirit: to give up their own to help somebody else

Founder, Director and Chairman of Gift of the Givers

IMTIAZ SOOLIMAN is the Founder, Director and Chairman of Gift of the Givers, which celebrates its 25th Anniversary on 6 August 2017. Thus far the Pietermaritzburg headquartered organisation has disbursed in excess of R2 billion in aid to needy individuals and communities.

As a young boy, Dr Sooliman grew up in his family's Potchefstroom shop, where his father helped customers in need with loans and preferential pricing. Later, he lived with his mother in Durban, who he said, as she gave monthly to the poor, taught him the necessity of helping others, even if it was just one food parcel.

Dr Sooliman matriculated from Greyville's Sastri College in 1978, following which, he completed his medical degree at the then University of Natal's medical school. After he qualified in 1984, he completed his internship at King Edward Hospital VIII and then established a private practice in Pietermaritzburg.

Dr Sooliman's work as a humanitarian began while providing medical care at the Nacala Hospital in northern Mozambique, as part of the Islamic Medical Association's relief work efforts.

After watching children drinking muddy river water, he decided that he needed to do more. On his return to South Africa, he set about fundraising. Within five days he had raised R1 million, which ensured that 30 boreholes were dug and that malaria medication for the use by the Mozambican authorities was provided. This effort was followed by an involvement in humanitarian projects caused by the Gulf War in Iraq and then by the Bangladesh cyclone in 1991.

In 1992, while visiting Istanbul in Turkey, Dr Sooliman was introduced to a Sufi Sheikh, an Islamic mystic, who instructed him to form an organisation called the Gift of The Givers. The Sheikh said to him, "You will serve all people of all races, of all religions, of all colours, of all classes, of all political affiliations and
of any geographical location, and you will serve them unconditionally."

Over the following two years, his involvement grew to the point that Dr Sooliman closed his medical surgery in 1994, in order to pursue his humanitarian commitments full-time.

Since then, Gift of the Givers has delivered lifesaving aid in the form of Search and Rescue teams, medical personnel, medical equipment, medical supplies, medicines, vaccines, anti-malarial medication, high energy and protein supplements, food and water to millions of people in 42 countries, South Africa included.

The organisation has 21 categories of projects, which include bursaries, agricultural self sustainability, water provision, counselling and life skills services, entrepreneurship and job creation, establishment of primary health care clinics and medical support to hospitals, winter warmth and supply of new clothing and shoes, sports development, feeding schemes and food parcel distribution, supply of household and personal hygiene packs, educational support and toy distribution, provision of housing, care of the physically and mentally challenged, orphans and the elderly as some of our diverse activities.

The organisation has also undertaken a number of innovations, which include the world's first:
  • Containerised mobile hospital comprising 28 units
  • Containerised primary health care unit
  • Groundnut-soya high energy and protein supplement
in the use of severe malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, TB, cancer and other debilitating conditions.

Africa's largest Open Source Computer Lab has also been established.

These efforts has earned Gift of the Givers, 113 individual and organisational accolades and awards, including four Presidential awards.

Gift of the Givers is the only organisation in South Africa to have received Awards from two successive South African Presidents, including the President's Order of the Star of South Africa (the highest civilian award in the country). Some of the other awards received include the Four Outstanding Young South Africans Award, Lenasia Human Rights Award, the Community Service Award and the Paul Harris Award from Rotary. In 2006, Gift of the Givers received a Presidential Award from Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, for the Pakistan earthquake. In 2010, President Jacob Zuma honoured Dr Sooliman with the Order of the Grand Counsellor of the Baobab: Silver award. In 2016, Dr Sooliman was awarded the prestigious Global Citizen Award® by the international advisory firm Henley & Partners.

The Gift of the Givers has recently launched a first-of-its-kind mobile app to facilitate simple, seamless and secure donations. "With society having become so heavily invested in the technological age, our aim as a charitable body was to move into this space, providing donor organisations as well as the general public ease of access to our activities, enabling them to become involved and so make a telling difference in the lives of the needy," said Dr Sooliman. The Gift of the Givers app is available, free of charge, on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Dr Sooliman believes that it's the conditions of others less fortunate than him that keeps him going. "You want to help over and over when you see the pain and suffering of others. The most satisfying thing is the smile on a person's face when they are lifted up."

Source: Morton, Shafiq Imtiaz Sooliman and the Gift of the Givers, 2014, Bookstorm (Pty) Ltd

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