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South African Charity Galvanizes African Response to Famine

A worker pulls a trolley containing supplies to be donated to the people in need by Gift of the Givers, a South African humanitarian aid organization, at a warehouse in Johannesburg, South Africa, January 21, 2009 (file photo)

The South African charity Gift of the Givers has spearheaded the African response to the famine in Somalia. The organization is calling on African countries to do more for the Somali people.

Imtiaz Sooliman, the founder of Gift of the Givers, says that as soon as reports of the Somali famine began last month, he immediately flew to Mogadishu to assess the situation. He said that Gift of the Givers immediately went to work to assist, especially the children.

“And on the 1st of August we flew in one of four planes that came over on consecutive days inside Mogadishu. We have taken in 84 tons of supplies, focusing mainly on nutrition supplementation, general nutrition, medical supplies, medical care; I took in a team of 20 medical specialists to assist the people of Somalia. That is what we have done so far, and there is ongoing assistance being prepared as we speak.”

Humanitarian group steps up

Sooliman said more assistance is on the way.

“Tonight at 9 o'clock the fifth flight leaves with 10 tons of supplies. This flight has been sponsored by people representing corporate South Africa, and at the same time in my warehouses we are loading 25 containers of food aid comprising 500 tons, which will be shipped out on Monday or Tuesday. That consignment will be followed by another 500 tons in the next seven to 10 days, and after that another medical team we'll be sending to Mogadishu.”

Sooliman founded Gift of the Givers in 1992 after being instructed to do so by a spiritual teacher in Istanbul. Since then the organization has responded to major humanitarian crises, both in South Africa and in a wide range of other countries. The group also runs programs in this country ranging from primary health care, education, water projects, to feeding schemes and sport.

Grass roots, corporate teamwork

Gift of the Givers has some regular corporate donors, but is overwhelmingly supported by donations from individual South Africans, school children and pensioners, among others. Sooliman ascribes this support to the openness of his organization, and to its efficiency and professionalism.

Sooliman told VOA that support for Somalia from the South African government was neither strong nor fast enough. He said he has now persuaded the government to provide additional support and urged it to spread the word on the continent.

“In terms of Africa, the response has been very minimal, and I've asked them very strongly to make a big call at the [African Union] conference on the 25th of August when a donor conference has been called. And that needs to be done in a very major way to get Africa involved, because Africa needs to respond to Africans.”

Sooliman said the support for Somalia from African countries has been “miserable.”