“My son, you will form an organisation. The name will be Waqful Waqifin, and that name is translated into ‘Gift of the Givers’. 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. You will serve them unconditionally.”
Doctor Imtiaz Sooliman is a man of God. And after receiving this message from his spiritual leader, Sufi Sheikh Muhammed Saffer Effendi al Jerrahi in Istanbul, he followed the calling.
Sooliman passed up his career as a medical doctor to head up the missions undertaken by the relief organisation, travelling to some of the most desolate parts of the world. Through his work with Gift of the Givers, he has responded to floods, war, famine, tsunamis, kidnappings and earthquakes.
He has put up hospitals, run clinics, created agricultural schemes, dug wells, built houses, developed and manufactured energy food, renovated fishing boats, offered scholarships, and provided shelter and food to millions. Sooliman has rescued Mozambican flood victims, rebuilt houses after Khayelitsha’s New Year fires, and distributed aid packages to the families of the Marikana miners.
The transition from doctor to humanitarian was simple. He is compelled by the same basic principles that led to his decision to become an MD: respect, care, professionalism and dedication to service. But there is something else that fuels Sooliman’s passion to do this type of work; he speaks of a common humanity that unites us. His passion for, and belief in mankind are what drive him, and his reason for doing comes from his faith in something bigger than himself.
Born in 1962 in Potchefstroom in the North West, the importance of community in Sooliman’s life can be traced back to this small, four-district town. What he recalls most from this period is the sense of community. He and his family lived in what he describes as “one sort of complex…not like the complexes of today which are far more modern. They were simple structures in those days and there was a lot of love. People ate in the same kitchen, they cooked on the same stove, they shared things together, they always laughed together, and everything was done together in the same yard.”
This sense of community extends to his work with Gift of the Givers. When an international call for help is sent out, Gift of the Givers responds by rallying its network of doctors, nurses, relief workers and professionals. Humanitarian and medical supplies are collected and sent to the disaster area. This is done without prejudice or judgement. The organisation’s motto, “Best Among People are those who Benefit Mankind”, sums up the principles of the foundation. Sooliman sees the world as one large community, one that he feels compelled to do his part in uplifting.
Sooliman’s warmth and kindness are palpable. He speaks fast, comfortably sharing anecdotes with the ease of an old friend. The laughs are plentiful, the stories are told with a swift and animated flair and his gaze never leaves the face of the person with whom is he is speaking. Despite all the tragedy he has been witness to, Sooliman never fails to see the humour within the situation. “Bombing, shelling! Bombing, shelling!” he chants, imitating the song of a doctor he encountered while working in war-torn Syria to establish a hospital. He recognizes the necessity for humour in these situations and understands how essential it is for the outlook of those in these circumstances.
Since its inception in 1992, he has grown Gift of the Givers into Africa’s largest disaster relief organisation. It is responsible for a series of firsts: innovating the world’s only containerised mobile hospital, the world’s first groundnut-soya high energy and protein supplement, and they possess Africa’s only “life locator”, a device used to detect people alive under rubble.
As the leader of the foundation, Sooliman has travelled to some of the most war-torn regions on the planet. He has braved bombings in Syria, witnessed the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and has been held at gunpoint in Bosnia. He has been in some of the most dangerous situations imaginable – often by his own volition – yet his uncompromising commitment to serving his fellow man leads him to place himself in these circumstances time and again.
Following the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Gift of the Givers was one of the earliest international responders to the tragedy. While Haiti had a mounting death toll of over 300,000 lives, Gift of the Givers sent three rescue teams to the region, and over 500 tons of aid supplies. Sooliman, along with the foundation’s search and rescue team, set up a temporary hospital in the region and were generously equipped with donations amounting to over R13 Million from South African donors.
Sooliman has also been a continuous supporter of the people of Palestine, which remains a cause close to his heart. Since 2002, he and his team have been providing aid to the people of the region in the form of food and medical supplies, as well as through the establishment of a Childcare centre in Gaza. Established in the eastern Gaza strip, the aim of the centre is to help preserve and increase the skills of Palestinian children that have been weakened by poor living conditions. In the past four years, Gift of the Givers has delivered over R30 Million in aid to the region.
“All over the world, our doctors and engineers are praised not only because they are highly skilled but because they show such heart, passion and commitment. Victims are amazed how our teams touch them, hug them and show them so much compassion,”