September 6, 2023

Rector’s eNews – 6 September 2023

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Tomorrow we are due to honour Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, a distinguished humanitarian, by welcoming him Ad Portas to Michaelhouse. Rightly, we reserve this distinction for very few who have served humankind in an exceptional way and with little regard for their own wellbeing. Dr Sooliman follows the path of other awardees such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and this is an indication of the esteem with which he is held throughout the world.

Dr Sooliman qualified as a medical doctor in the high noon of apartheid days in 1984 at the then University of Natal Medical School and he then ran a successful medical practice in Pietermaritzburg.

But, in 1992, he received a message from his spiritual leader in Istanbul, Turkey. The message was from Sufi Sheikh Muhammed Saffer Effendil al Jerrahi and it said, “My son, you will form an organisation. The name will be Waqful Waqifin and that name is translated into Gift of the Givers. You will serve all people of all races, of all religions, of all colours, of all classes, of all political affiliations and of any geographical location. You will serve them unconditionally.” Dr Imtiaz Sooliman immediately heeded the calling and continues to do so to this day.

Following that life-changing day in Turkey in 1992, Dr Sooliman returned to South Africa, left a flourishing career as a medical doctor and established the Gift of the Givers Foundation.

Dr Sooliman has travelled to some of the most desolate, war-torn and disaster-struck areas of the world, heading relief missions. Through his work with the Gift of the Givers, he and his teams have responded to the needs of countless peoples affected by a wide range of natural and man-made disasters such as floods, famine, tsunamis, earthquakes and wars. These include trying via negotiations to free a teacher who was held by militants from Al Quaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, helping local citizens in Iraq in the aftermath of the war between Iraq and the forces of the Western Alliance, building a nursery for women and children in Mauritania, delivering supplies to refugees in war-torn Syria, rescuing people in Haiti and later Nepal from the aftermath of earthquakes, assisting in Malawi with the provision of food to flood victims, and supporting towns with water shortages in South Africa such as in Beaufort West and Fraserburg. Dr Sooliman has facilitated the establishment of hospitals, run clinics, created agricultural schemes, dug wells, built houses, developed and manufactured an energy food, renovated fishing boats, offered scholarships and provided food and shelter to millions. His transition from a doctor to a humanitarian has been seamless and simple as he has been driven by the same basic principles that led to his becoming a medical doctor: respect, care, professionalism and dedication but there is something else that fuels Dr Sooliman’s passion for humanitarianism and that is his unwavering belief in the common humanity that unites us. His fervour for, and his belief in, humankind is what motivates and energizes him and this all stems from his faith.

Whenever disaster strikes or pleas for assistance are sounded throughout the world, he and the Gift of the Givers are ready with an immediate response, swiftly rallying the organisation’s network of doctors, nurses, relief workers and other professionals and dispatching humanitarian and medical supplies to disaster areas. The Gift of the Givers Foundation is the largest disaster response non-governmental organisation of African origin on the African continent.

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman has received a number of awards including Honorary Doctorates from, for example, Rhodes and Stellenbosch Universities and special medals from the Presidents of a number of countries. He is recognised as one of the most influential Muslims in the world and he is a shining example of one who encompasses the qualities which are fundamentally important to Michaelhouse: those of integrity, compassion, courage and humility and he has demonstrated throughout his life the will and the capacity to serve others. He is a true leader and an inspiration to humankind. He epitomises the notion that one must serve to lead. He is a humble man and it is with humility that, we at Michaelhouse, are due to receive him tomorrow Ad Portas and honour him as a truly exceptional person.

This afternoon, we have the official opening of our padel courts which are the donation of Mr Des Sacco, a long time benefactor of Michaelhouse in conjunction with another very great friend of the school and benefactor who does not wish to be named. The three courts stand proudly with their blue surfaces in the midst of a complex of tennis and squash courts and have been immensely popular already with the boys really enjoying the opportunity to play this new sport which has “caught on” so quickly throughout the world. We are immensely grateful to our benefactors for their generosity and for their support. And we can assure them that these courts will be enjoyed and used for many years to come. Thank you!

Early on Saturday morning the boys in the C Block will leave on the C Block Journey which will have been the subject of much discussion over the past weeks and months. As most will know, this is a difficult undertaking as it is physically and mentally challenging. Over the next 13 days, the boys will be engaged with walking, paddling and cycling and spending a period by themselves in the solitude session. Generally speaking, they experience immense satisfaction at the conclusion of the Journey, and their sense of achievement and maturation is palpable. We wish them well as they face this significant challenge.

This week we will celebrate our different heritages in the school in Heritage Week. We will include photographs of this in the next eNews.

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