We don’t need an award, we have SA’s love, says Gift of the Givers

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, right, founder of Gift of the Givers, said he was deeply grateful to the South African public who have demonstrated love and acceptance for all that the humanitarian aid group has done and continues to do.
Image: Michael Pinyana

While the Gift of the Givers team was deeply honoured by the social media call for it to be nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, the love and acceptance from South Africans was the only award of real value the humanitarian aid group treasured.

Founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman told TimesLIVE on Wednesday that his team was deeply grateful to the South African public, who had demonstrated love and acceptance for the work they had done and continue to do.

“That is infinitely more priceless than any award, thanks or recognition from any head of state. To live in someone’s heart is not ordinary, it’s special. To live in the hearts of 60 million people is priceless. No award, no thanks, no recognition from anyone can supersede that.

“We are deeply honoured and touched by the love and the sentiments expressed by South Africans in the last 48 hours towards us. It fills us with intense joy and contentment and drives our team to continue being servants to the nation,” he said.

Just minutes after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that SA would be nominating the Cuban medical brigade for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, South Africans took to social media to demand answers on why Gift of the Givers was not in line for the prestigious award.

Sooliman said when he got the instruction from his spiritual teacher in Istanbul on August 6 1992 to form Gift of the Givers, several points were emphasised.

“You will serve all of mankind unconditionally, irrespective of race, religion, colour, class, culture, geographical location or political affiliation. You will serve them with love, kindness, compassion and mercy. You will expect nothing in return, not even a ‘thank you’. Expect to get a kick up your back for what you do. If you don’t, that’s a bonus. Remember, whatever you do is done through you and not by you.

“It was clear this was a spiritual instruction. We expect no thanks, no awards, no pat on the back. We can’t take any credit because things are not ‘done by us but through us’, and we have experienced this on an ongoing basis, knowing there is a higher hand above what we do,” he said.

While Gift of the Givers has fed thousands in SA and around the world, provided aid in drought and war-stricken areas, helped in fire-ravaged communities and even lent a hand in rescues during hostage situations, the Covid-19 pandemic was “unlike any other disaster Gift of the Givers has encountered in its 28-year history”.

“Such was the unprecedented nature of the virus, its spread and threat of death, it became clear that government alone was not going to be able to deal with it. Given that the pandemic constituted a health or medical disaster, the response by Gift of the Givers was comprehensive and designed to cover both medical and humanitarian needs,” it said.

“As a leading disaster relief organisation, Gift of the Givers immediately made its resources available and became party to relief solution development and – as a locally based non-profit organisation – opted to focus its attention on, primarily, efforts to assist in South Africa.”

Gift of the Givers responded by rapidly developing and implementing vital interventions, including provision of medical supplies, reducing the cost of testing patients, and enabling access to water and food.

“We have delivered protective materials including masks, gloves, coveralls, Hazmat suits, head and shoe covers, sanitisers, reusable surgical gowns, scrubs, non-contact thermometers, pulse oximeters, intuboxes, triage tents, blankets, mattresses, pillows, hygiene, maternity and baby packs. We have provided medical equipment including video laryngoscopes and have commenced the rollout of 70 life-saving High-Flow Nasal Oxygen (HFNO) machines,” the organisation reported.

“Our activities have benefited 200 hospitals and health centres throughout SA.

“Gift of the Givers’ R10m refurbishment at Mitchells Plain Hospital included converting a wing into a dedicated 60-bed Covid-19 oxygen facility. The month-long renovation has provided an immediate solution – and a permanent facility – for the hospital to utilise as may be deemed fit, post-pandemic.”

In addition, the aid organisation set up a 120-bed Covid-19 facility at Bhisho Hospital amid rapidly rising rates of infection in the Eastern Cape.

“The hospital, which was receiving Covid-19 patients from Fort Hare and other regional facilities, was transformed into one of the Eastern Cape’s dedicated facilities for Covid-19 cases and urgently required beds, screens, PPE and window tinting. Gift of the Givers was pleased to be in the position to assist with establishing the necessary Covid-19 facility here, delivering 120 beds and mattresses and 200 pillows.

“We have carried out 20,000 PCR Covid-19 tests nationwide, having set up dedicated teams for this purpose.”

At its call centres, inboxes and staff were 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. Gift of the Givers has delivered 130,000 food parcels in SA, and 40,000 in Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe, collectively,” the organisation said.

“In addition, we are supporting a number of feeding centres and delivering fortified nutrient products to starving children.”

BY Nivashni Nair

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