During its upcoming graduation ceremonies in April, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University will confer an Honorary Doctorate on Imtiaz Sooliman, the founder and director of Gift of the Givers, the largest disaster response NGO of African origin.
Through Gift of the Givers, Sooliman, who gave up a career as a medical doctor in pursuit of his passions in humanitarian aid, has been instrumental in changing the lives of millions of people in more than 40 countries around the world.
Gift of the Givers delivers life-saving aid in the form of search and rescue teams, medical assistance, nutritional support, water and basic necessities. It is also the first such agency to be accredited by the Proudly South African foundation.
Sooliman has put up hospitals, run clinics, created agricultural schemes, dug wells, built houses, developed and manufactured energy food, renovated fishing boats, offered scholarships, been involved in hostage negotiation, and provided shelter and food to millions through the organisation he founded.
Gift of the Givers is responsible for a series of firsts: innovating the world’s first containerised mobile hospital, the world’s first groundnut-soya high energy and protein supplement, and they possess Africa’s only “life locator”, a device used to detect people alive under rubble.
As the leader of the foundation, Sooliman has travelled to some of the most war-torn regions on the planet. He has braved bombings in Syria, witnessed the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and has been held at gunpoint in Bosnia.
He has also been a continuous supporter of the people of Palestine, which remains a cause close to his heart. Since 2002, Sooliman and his team have been providing aid to the people of the region in the form of food and medical supplies, as well as through the establishment of a Childcare centre in Gaza. Established in the eastern Gaza strip, the aim of the centre is to help preserve and increase the skills of Palestinian children that have been weakened by poor living conditions. In the past four years, Gift of the Givers has delivered over R30 million in aid to the region.
In 2003, his organisation became the first in South African history to receive R60 million from the South African Government for humanitarian aid in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. In total, Gift of the Givers has delivered R1.5bn in aid to 41 countries in a 24 year period.
Among Sooliman’s numerous awards, he has received the President’s Order of the Star of South Africa (the highest South African award), an Excellence in Health Care Award from the South African Medical Association, the Presidential Award for assistance in the Pakistan Earthquake from President Pervez Musharraf, the Paul Harris Award – Rotary International’s Highest Award and in 2010, the Order of the Baobab in Silver by President Jacob Zuma.
Sooliman has been involved in several associations, religious organisations and school-governing bodies progressively as a student, medical doctor and an active member of civil society. He is also an honorary black belt in karate and has been entered into the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame.
Sooliman was born in 1962 in Potchefstroom in the North West province. He began his schooling there and later moved to Sastri College in Durban. He qualified as a medical doctor at the then University of Natal Medical School in 1984.
He is receiving his degree of Doctor of Philosophy (honoris causa) from NMMU for his contribution to society through his humanitarian work and substantial contributions in advancing the frontiers of scholarly knowledge, both nationally and internationally, through social engagement in the form of health and education.
The Chancellor’s Medal will be introduced by the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University at the April 2016 graduation ceremonies.
The award has been inaugurated in the name of NMMU’s Chancellor, as the titular (title-holding) head of the University.
NMMU Chancellor Santie Botha said the Chancellor’s Medal would be awarded annually to individuals who have made a “substantial contribution to society as a whole”.
“Their contribution can be through teaching, research and/or social engagement which has had a major positive impact on society at large.”
NMMU’s Honorary Doctorate Degree and its new Chancellor’s Medal are the University’s highest levels of awards.
Other institutions conferring a Chancellor’s Medal include Pretoria and North West universities. Similar awards at other universities include the University of Cape Town’s Chancellor’s Award, Wits University’s Gold Medal and the University of Johannesburg’s Ellen Kuzwayo award.
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