After a month of delays the Israeli government has granted permission to a South African humanitarian organization to send a shipment of aid to Palestinian refugees. The foundation known as the "Gift of the Givers" has helped communities in crises across the globe for over a decade.
Dr. Imtiaz Sooliman and his wife Zohra established the Gift of the Givers foundation in 1990 when he heard of a hospital in northern Mozambique that could not pay its medical staff and had no surgical and medical supplies. Within a few days they had received about $100,000 from fellow Muslims to help the hospital.
Dr. Sooliman, a Muslim, said his parents and grandparents taught him to seek out those in need and that charity is a basic tenet of the Muslim faith. Beyond that, he said, he was taught by a teacher of the Sufi order that the best people are those who work for the benefit of mankind.
"And I met a Sufi teacher, and he said the only mission in life of a Muslim, of religious people, is to serve mankind irrespective of race, color, culture, religion and country. He said all your prayers, all your devotions in life only have one purpose: it is to promote peace and justice and to serve humanity. If you do that, you are the best of people," Dr. Sooliman said.
In 1994, the Gift of the Giver's foundation assembled and fully equipped a mobile hospital for the people of Bosnia. That hospital, said to be the largest of its kind, is still in use in the city of Mostar. The foundation also sent humanitarian missions to assist the victims of the genocide in Rwanda and to communities devastated by earthquakes in Turkey and India and by a volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
While most of the donations for projects come from individuals in South Africa's Muslim community, the foundation has received support from other groups because its projects target any community in crisis, not only Muslims.
"And then in 2001 when we did the India earthquake. I am a Muslim, I am an Indian-South African, but you get other Indians who are Hindus and the people mostly affected by India earthquake were Hindus, more than 90 percent. But we as a Muslim organization set up relief for India, for the Hindu people and 80 percent of the donations for that earthquake came from the Hindu community in South Africa," Dr. Sooliman said.
While Dr. Sooliman's foundation responds to communities in crisis around the world, they also run several projects in South Africa. These include setting up and equipping clinics in remote rural areas; a telephone counseling service for individuals in crisis; a fund for poor students; and a feeding scheme.
The Gift of the Givers mission to the Palestinian refugees leaves South Africa for Eilat in Israel on Thursday. From Eilat the shipment of medical and basic foods supplies will be trucked to Ramallah for distribution. Included in the shipment is equipment for a surgical theater and an intensive care unit. Water purification sachets, drugs and basic food items are also included. Dr. Sooliman said Christians in the Palestinian territories are being forgotten in the current conflict and that the Church of the Holy Nativity will also benefit from the shipment.
Dr. Sooliman and the Gift of the Givers foundation have received dozens of awards including, in 1993, South Africa's highest civilian award for humanitarian services, The President's Order of the Star of South Africa.