Change the world


Dr Imtiaz Sooliman is a finalist in The Herald Citizens of the Year Awards in partnership with Nelson Mandela University.

To give without expecting anything in return. To serve all people of all races. To save lives and offer people a chance at hope.

This is what drives the world-renowned Gift of the Givers Foundation, a lifeline for people from all walks of life since its inception on August 6 1992.

Its impact in assisting to push back day zero in Nelson Mandela Bay has been immense after arriving in the city on June 16 and overseeing the drilling of 26 new boreholes over two months.

These efforts, in addition to reviving four existing municipal boreholes and upgrading three previously drilled boreholes, have added eight-million litres to the constrained water supply.

But Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, who has championed the 30year humanitarian journey in 45 countries, including SA, would not think twice about doing it all over again.

The organisation, founded on an inspirational message from a Sufi spiritual master at a Dhikr (Islamic meditation) in Karagumruk, Istanbul, has to date spearheaded 30 relief missions, in some cases delivering supplies without medical teams under testing conditions.

The cost of rendering the aid has been R4.5bn.

For this contribution, Sooliman has added The Herald Nelson Mandela University Citizens of the Year 2022 award in the civil society category to his brimming awards cabinet.

The fitting tribute for a life dedicated to spearheading humanitarian and relief missions around the globe settles alongside a Global Citizen Award that Sooliman received in 2016.

“Every award is given with respect, love and care from those who choose to present the award,” Sooliman said, humbled to be recognised once more.

A principled patriot, Sooliman has honoured every award bestowed on him and his organisation, even “expanding our cabinets to ensure that it is displayed, no matter where it comes from”.

Though a career as a medical doctor was in the pipeline for Sooliman, who qualified in 1984, his family history of assisting people in need surpassed all else.

“We have a family history of assisting those in need on a much smaller scale,” Sooliman said.

“The principles learnt — those of care, compassion and giving — are the same.

“Further, our Islamic teaching is very explicit — prayer without service to humanity has no value.

“I was given a spiritual instruction which I wholeheartedly accepted.

“It necessitated me to respond to a calling substantially greater than my medical practice. There is just no comparison.

“There is no way I could have done two highly demanding professional jobs at the same time.”

Sooliman said a primary focus for his foundation continued to be uplifting society, particularly in SA, where a priority was to intervene in areas of need and improve the quality of life.

Coupled with this is its vision to bring dignity, ease pain and suffering, save lives and give people hope.

His passion for humankind, which has earned Sooliman nine honorary doctorates locally, keeps him going and wanting to aid countries beyond the borders of SA.

He said, adamantly, that this noble pursuit did not have an expiration date.

“We are part of humankind internationally.

“Where there is a crisis, as fellow human beings we are duty-bound to assist anywhere in the world.

“Where possible, [we should help] in the same way we’d expect the world to respond to our challenges.

“There is no expiry date on human suffering as long as we are of a universal community.”

Despite this legacy, Sooliman does not want an overzealous celebration of his humanitarian work, which includes delivering more than 120,000 food parcels to seven countries each year.

“If people offer a silent prayer for my family and bear witness to the service rendered, then I have successfully fulfilled my obligation to my spiritual teacher.

“Nothing else is required,” he said.

The top 10 category winners will be celebrated at a formal black-tie gala awards ceremony, which will be held on Friday September 9 at 6.30pm at the Radisson Blu Hotel.

Corporate and single tickets are available for supporters who would like to join the celebratory event.

Contact Berna Ulay-Walters, The Herald marketing manager, to book your seat:

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 24 August 2022 written byTshepiso Mametela

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