By Ashok Ramsarup :: A leading South African humanitarian aid organisation – Gift of the Givers – has reached another milestone. This comes in the backdrop of the deadly Novel Covid-19 virus that had gripped the entire world. Despite the pandemic, the Pietermaritzburg-based organisation has etched its name as the leading humanitarian aid group in Africa as it celebrates its 28th anniversary.
Gift of the Givers Executive Director Dr Imtiaz Sooliman reflects on the 28 years of humanitarian aid in Africa and some parts of the world following spiritual guidance in 1992. It all started in Turkey when a Sufi spiritual leader Muhammad Safer Efendi Al Jerrahi instructed Dr Sooliman to pursue a humanitarian aid venture. The spiritual teacher was from the Halveti Jerrahi Sufi Order.
He fondly remembers the day when the Sufi leader told him after the evening prayer: “My son, I’m not asking you, I am instructing you to form an organisation, and the name will be Waqful Waqifin which translated is “Gift of the Givers”.
“You will serve all people of all backgrounds, of all religions, of all colours, of all classes, of all political affiliations and of any geographical location in the world unconditionally”, said Dr Sooliman.
In the months leading up to the anniversary, South Africans witnessed the diversity and intensity intervention in the Covid-19 pandemic. Gift of the Givers, the largest disaster response non-governmental organisation on the African continent, delivered a variety of protective materials, including masks, gloves, cover-alls, Hazmat suits, head and shoe covers, sanitisers, re-usable surgical gowns, scrubs, non-contact thermometers, pulse oximeters, into boxes, thirty-seven triage tents, blankets, mattresses, pillows, hygiene, maternity and baby packs.
Dr Sooliman said the organisation also provided medical equipment including video laryngoscopes and have commenced the rollout of 70 life-saving High Flow Nasal Oxygen (HFNO) machines. “Our activities have benefited 180 hospitals and health centres throughout South Africa. The seven million Rand refurbishment of an entire wing dedicated to Covid-19 at Mitchell’s Plain Hospital near Cape Town in the Western Cape is ready for the opening ceremony and patient intake,” said the 58-year-old doctor.
In addition, Dr Sooliman said dedicated teams had been set-up to carry out over 20 000 PCR Covid-19 tests in the country. One of the challenges Gift of the Givers is facing global warming caused by rising gas emissions it is affecting the atmosphere. Drought is a major challenge. Dr Sooliman said: “Fortunately, the organisation have drilled 400 functional boreholes in the past 24 months, benefitting thousands of people in disadvantaged communities.
“The desperation has been more intense recently as water sources dry out. Hunger is a bigger crisis than Covid-19. Our call centres, emails and staff are flooded with requests for food. We have delivered aid to areas where children are eating plants to survive or eat anything that comes off a dump site,” said Dr Sooliman.
The humanitarian aid organisation delivered 130 000 food parcels in South Africa, and 40 000 in Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe, as well as fortified nutrients respectively. The organisation provided 3.2 billion Rand in aid to millions of people in 44 countries in its 28 year history.
Dr Sooliman lauded every individual, professional, organisations, business, corporate, government entity, local and international media, the staff, volunteers, counsellors, medical teams, search and rescue teams, family and the Almighty for this achievement making the impossible very possible in their endeavour to serve all mankind unconditionally.
One of the highlights Gift of the Givers programme involved was in the 1990s. It undertook the first relief aid programme in war-torn Bosnia. It designed, developed and deployed the world’s first containerised mobile hospital in the city of Mostar.
Dr Sooliman added: “This had been solely a South African engineered hospital that comprised 28 containers, including theatres, an intensive care unit, an X-ray unit, a physiotherapy unit, a casualty unit, orthopaedic wards, an outpatient unit, a dental unit, sterilisation unit and an incubator unit.”
Ashok Ramsarup is award-winning senior journalist of South Africa