Giving selflessly is second nature to Gawa Sayed, as she comes from a “giving family”.
Ms Sayed, 62, from Lansdowne, was honoured with the Leah Tutu Unsung Heroes Award for her extraordinary service to the community through her voluntary work at Gift of the Givers – Africa’s largest humanitarian relief organisation.
The award was presented to Ms Sayed by the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, at an event in Panorama last night, Tuesday November 15.
She started helping out at Gift of the Givers in 1996, but it was only after she had resigned from her job, that she got more involved with the organisation.
In 2006, Gift of the Givers founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, asked her to open up the organisation’s first Johannesburg office.
Ms Sayed was introduced to Dr Sooliman after he invited her then 10-year-old daughter, Rabia, to their home, as she had memorised the Qur’an at a very young age, and was a well-known Qari-ah (reciter).
Soon, Dr Sooliman and his family became family friends of the Sayeds.
Explaining what being part of a “giving family” is, Ms Sayed said: “God has given us so much, and we must honour our Creator. We must show our gratitude by sharing what we have. My husband and I used to say we wish we were very rich, then we could save the world, but then we realised that you don’t have to have money to do charity work. You can just give of yourself and don’t have to wait until you have millions. My family and I like to give and like looking after others, and doors have just opened for us. We are more blessed just by giving.”
As much as she loves what she does, Ms Sayed admits that it does come with challenges at times.
“Things don’t always run smoothly, but you must not allow that to put you off. It can only strengthen you. It’s amazing that I can tackle two or three projects at a time and not get tired. In fact, I feel rejuvenated every time – even though we work long hours at times. We love what we do. It is so fulfilling.”
When Ms Sayed learnt that she would receive the Leah Tutu Unsung Heroes Award, it was overwhelming for her. She was nominated by one of the funders of Gift of the Givers.
“I just simply could not believe it. What we do is for the less fortunate and to please our Creator. An award is the last thing you think of. I am humbled and thankful for the award, but my greatest reward is seeing the look on a child or a senior person’s face when you give them something. When a child’s face lights up, it’s my biggest reward. I must add, however, that I am glad and honoured that the work we do is being recognised. I hope this will inspire others to do so as well.”
Ms Sayed has been described as a key member of Gift of the Givers. Under her supervision, Gift of the Givers continues to provide community outreach initiatives and disaster relief support across the Western Cape.
Some of the projects she was instrumental in include leading relief efforts during the 2008 xenophobia crisis by providing shelter and daily meals in various camps in Gauteng; renovating and replenishing the Sarah Fox Children’s Convalescent Hospital from 2008 to 2013; and managing and maintaining 15 feeding schemes around Cape Town, which includes areas such as Philippi, Kraaifontein, Delft Main Road, Delft South, Blikkiesdorp, Strandfontein, Paarl, Stellenbosch, KTC Clinic Nyanga, Gugulethu, Tafelsig, Freedom Park, Bonteheuwel, Petra Life Style in Mitchells’ Plain and Nyanga.
She also helped at the Athlone School for the Blind with renovation, new beds, cupboards, linen, towels, curtains, kitchen utensils, equipment and feeding in 2011. She was instrumental in establishing the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s (CPUT’s) emergency medical services projects in Lwandle, Strand, in 2012, and, in 2013, building 103 housing units after the New Year’s shack fires in Khayelitsha.
In 2014, she was also a key figure in the building of a village constructed with 71 houses in Alexandra, Johannesburg.
And, to put another feather in their cap, Dr Sooliman was honoured with the Global Citizen Award presented to him in London last week, by international citizenship advisory firm Henley & Partners.
Gift of the Givers, under Dr Sooliman’s leadership, raised more than R2billion in aid, for 42 countries, including Somalia, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Bosnia and Haiti.