This week, renowned humanitarian, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman scooped the Global Citizen Award for his work with relief organisation, Gift of the Givers Foundation (GOGF). On Friday, November 11, 2016, international advisory firm, Henley & Partners, honoured Sooliman at the prestigious event, which was hosted London. As the founder of the GOGF, Sooliman has provided much needed relief to numerous local communities, as well as providing aid to war torn countries, such as Syria, Libya and not forgetting the relief he has brought to many African countries. Organizers lauded Sooliman’s contribution towards improving communities around the world and “his tireless efforts to develop GOGF into Africa’s largest disaster relief organization.”
The award consists of a specially designed commemorative medal, an award certificate and a $50 000 (R719 238) cash prize, of which $25 000 is donated to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The other $25 000 is given to a charity of the recipient’s choice.
Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat, Sooliman describes GOGF as a spiritual life on instruction, where on August 6, 1992, in Turkey’s Istanbul, as people from around the world congregated at a Sufi event, he witnessed everyone being treated with equal respect and dignity.
That same evening, at approximately 22:00, he says that he and his wife, Zohra, met a Sufi teacher who instructed him to establish an organisation that will serve all people, irrespective of their race or creed – it was to be named ‘Gift of the Givers’.
“Do not expect anything in return, not even a thank you; this is an instruction for you for the rest of your life. You will serve them with love, mercy and compassion and remember that the dignity of man is foremost,” Sooliman recalls the instruction of the teacher.
The teacher then imparted what Sooliman describes as core to the instruction: “remember my son that whatever is done, is done through you and not by you.”
Speaking about memorable moments that he has experienced through his work with the organization, he asserts that every moment has made the hard work, which both he and staff conduct, “worth it.”
“Every time you see the joy on a person’s face and the relief and calmness it brings, through Allah’s grace, it is priceless. The second thing is that you are not on the other side, so it is the gratitude that you are not on the suffering side and wanting to continue to be used to help those on the other side,” he explained.
Sooliman recalls a defining moment in the lifespan of GOGF
In April 2013, with a team of 15 medical personnel in a hospital that the organization established in Syria’s Darkush, when suddenly a father rushed in with his critically wounded child.
With eight doctors working to stabilize the child, the father entered the room and proceeded to rub his hands from the shin to the feet of the child, all the while looking away, after which he was informed that his child had passed on.
Upon informing his wife of their child’s passing, she collapsed as she sobbed uncontrollably, a sight that effectively rendered all personnel paralyzed.
The father, not a fighter but a farmer, with no experience in gun control, killed his child while cleaning his gun, an incident that Sooliman asserts is not isolated, but instead represents the scourge of war and death that besieged Syrians have been forced to face.
“The irony was that we were in the best part of Syria and yet we saw so many casualties, can you imagine what is going on in Aleppo and rest of Syria.”
As co-founders, Sooliman and his wife began humanitarian initiatives prior to establishing GOGF, where he travelled around the country creating awareness about the Gulf War after which the pair responded in the form of the Iraq Relief Fund.
A few months later, following a ravaging cyclone in Bangladesh, he spearheaded an initiative in collaboration with other relief organizations.
“By that time people started to get to know me and when we announced GOGF it started growing and over the years we brought in primary healthcare teams, trauma medical teams and post rehab teams, then we started with search and rescue teams,” he elaborated.
While it is not exclusively a disaster relief organisation, in recent years, GOGF has become widely known as leaders in disaster relief.
As a means to live fulfilled lives and follow in his admirable footsteps, Sooliman encourages youth to concentrate on the “little things” and to represent what Islam stands for; mercy and kindness to all people.
“Give people good advice, take people away from drugs, be kind to the elderly, be good to your parents…[this while] exhibiting kindness in thought, word, deed and action – it doesn’t have to cost money,” he explained.