GIVING aid, hope and dignity to the devastated and downtrodden is a deeply spiritual matter for Doctor Imtiaz Sooliman and the members of his world-renowned humanitarian organisation, Gift of the Givers Foundation.
During his 29-years of serving people, Sooliman has earned numerous awards and commendations.
This week, his alma mater, the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s medical school recognised his efforts with a special award.
Professor Ncoza Dlova, dean and head of UKZN’s medical school, initiated the concept of honouring their alumni while they were still alive.
With Sooliman being a former medical school graduate, he became their first recipient of their award.
Dlova said they had a committee deciding candidates for awards through a fair and transparent process.
“This is our way of saying to alumni: ”Wow! You’re an inspiration!” Dlova said.
Professor Busi Ncama, UKZN deputy vice chancellor and head of the college of health sciences noticed that since Covid-19 struck, various esteemed alumni had passed on.
“We shouldn't wait for a funeral to remember them,” Ncama said.
She regarded Sooliman as a “giant of humanity”, dedicated to changing people’s lives for the better.
Sooliman was born in Potchefstroom, North West, but relocated to Durban when his parents separated.
He matriculated at Durban’s Sastri College and qualified as a medical doctor in 1984.
In 1986 he began his private medical practice, based in Pietermaritzburg but gave that up in 1994 to concentrate fully on his Gift of the Givers work, which he had begun two years prior.
Ncama said Sooliman and his team had implemented and delivered on 21 categories of projects around the world.
“They have delivered over R3.4 billion in aid to people in 44 countries, including South Africa.
“There is no work too small or too big for him.
“When there is no water in places, he’s there. When there’s a big issue in Syria, you see him there. That’s what makes him special. We can learn from alumni like him and others,” she said.
Sooliman attributes all that he has achieved to his spiritual grounding.
“It is absolutely critical because life is determined by that,” he said.
He said the world has made tremendous technological advancements over the years, yet, we can't coexist peacefully with each other.
“That’s because we have failed from a spiritual point of view, resulting in chaos throughout the world,” he said.
Sooliman suggested our country and the world needed to return to spirituality, morality and ethics.
“My spiritual leader told me that spirituality is beyond religion, it is about the goodness of a human being. He told me to always look into the soul of a person, even the ones who are perceived as bad. We must emphasise the good in them and, in time, it will overpower the bad,” he said.
Sooliman’s calling to serve humanity was confirmed in August 1992. He was in Turkey when his spiritual leader said to him: “My son, I’m not telling you, but instructing you to form an organisation (the name was given in Arabic, which translated to Gift of the Givers in English). You will serve people of all races, religion, classes and geographical locations, unconditionally.”
He was told to expect nothing in return, but to serve people with love, kindness and mercy.
His father struggled to understand why a practising doctor, who first studied for seven years and operated three surgeries, would turn his back on all of it.
However, years later, his father complimented him on his decision and did the same before he died.
“I don’t do this for recognition, we don’t look for money or do fund-raisers. People, corporates, international businesses come to us with donations and we provide an account of how we used it,” he said.
Sooliman prefers working with full time staff because volunteers could let you down at critical times. He said some medical staff and search and rescue professionals assisted on some projects.
Armed with three phones, Sooliman is a man in demand.
It is just as well that he likes challenges. For the first time in it’s history the foundation responded to three disaster areas simultaneously in 2019, when cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
And, they had the floods on the south coast of KZN to contend with at the time.
Fortunately, he has an understanding wife and family, who are also involved.
He has never had a succession plan for the organisation, he said he was just led to the projects over the years.
Recently, younger members of his team have led the way with excellence, “they love being in the field”.
Sooliman said he was not proud of what has been achieved, just “happy and content”.