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Cynthia Sooliman La Grange

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman: Faith and spirituality

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman is the founder and chair of the Gift of the Givers Foundation, the largest non-governmental disaster-response organisation of African origin in Africa.

Gift of the Givers has distributed R6 billion in aid in 47 countries over the past 31 years. They have brought relief to survivors of the Rwandan genocide, the Haitian earthquake, the Ukrainian invasion, the KwaZulu-Natal floods, the Gaza airstrikes, and countless others.

In 2023, Hortgro donated R250 000 to support Gift of the Givers’ efforts to help Western Cape communities affected by the September floods.

Service is the essence

“Challenges will always be there — they’re nothing new,” said Sooliman. “How you deal with challenges is the issue.”

He believes that mindset is critical to overcoming obstacles. Individuals can strive for physical fitness and health, but a negative attitude will destroy them. In contrast, a positive mindset makes anything possible.

“There are only two things that give you a positive mindset and hope: faith and spirituality,” said Sooliman. “And the essence of faith and spirituality is service. It’s what happens when people start helping each other, and we make progress.”

The 27th of April 1994 is the greatest day in the history of South Africa, according to Sooliman, not because a black government replaced a white one but because South Africans were prepared to reject vengeance and violence in favour of working together.

What is needed now is for South Africans to continue cooperating to rebuild our country, stated Sooliman. We shouldn’t wait for the government to do it for us.

“If we want to fix this country, we need to change our internal being,” he said. “We don’t need money. We need four important qualities: spirituality, morality, values, and ethics.”

Dignity for everyone

Sooliman asked the audience to imagine all South Africans collected in one place and dressed in one uniform. “You won’t know who is who, but you’ll know everyone has the same wants and needs. We all want peace, security, water, food, health, education, freedom of expression and religion, and the opportunity to grow and develop.”

He pointed out that we must set aside our egos and identity politics and embrace our shared humanity. We should want other people to have those things we want.

Jobs are one of those things. Unemployment destroys people’s self-esteem, dignity, and hope. Sooliman suggested his audience consider creating more jobs for young people to give them opportunities to learn and progress and to keep them away from crime.

Sooliman himself was a newly graduated doctor when apartheid was implemented in 1984, shattering his dreams of becoming a specialist physician. He remembers realising that he had two choices. He could give up, or he could have faith.

In 1992, after a life-changing conversation with a spiritual teacher, Sooliman embarked on his first disaster-response mission to bring aid to the war zone in Bosnia. His subsequent career has validated his belief that by serving people and restoring their dignity, you give hope.

“Positivity and hope are a source of mindset change,” he said. “And the moment we can work together, with faith, spirituality, positivity, and hope, we can fix South Africa.”

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