In a series of five articles, we share stories from Gift of the Givers volunteers in their own words as the organisation marks its 25th year of serving humanity. Ahmed Bham is the head of search and rescue. Find out about his experience in Haiti.
Ahmed Bham: Head of search and rescue and lecturer in emergency medical care in the North West provincial Department of Health
I lead the first Gift of the Givers team to arrive in Haiti in 2010. We comprised a team of 10 search and rescue and advanced life support paramedics. Our medical team set up a field hospital while the search and rescue team began looking for surviviors in the rubble in Port au Prince. For seven days we recovered only bodies. We moved on to the Catholic cathedral where our dogs indicated there may be a survivor. After two-and-a-half hours of searching we pulled Ana Zizi from the rubble. This 69-year-old woman had been buried under the rubble for 10 days, her first words, in French, were: “God is great.” She looked at me and said: “I love you”.
We stabilised her at our field hospital before she was shipped to a US Navy ship for further treatment. The whole time we talked, through my interpreter. When I told her we were from South Africa she said: “Look how amazing God is that he brought you all the way from South Africa to recue me.”
I think for the first time I realised that things were done through us and not by us. I believe that is why I volunteer for the Gift of the Givers; it is a spiritual organisation guided by a desire to serve and help all of humanity. We, the volunteers and staff, come from all backgrounds and are driven by the same passion and purpose. Dr Sooliman will not compromise on that principle. Everyone is given humanitarian aid and the same level of medical care and treatment regardless.
Wherever I arrive I am already looking at the logistics, how can we assist and what are the needs. It’s a calling and passion that I am driven to fulfill. As a volunteer travelling into a disaster zone, you have a picture in you mind of what its going to be like, but the reality can sometimes be overwhelming. You learn to adapt to the situation on the ground.
Every mission I have gone on has taught me lessons, has given me that feeling of contentment and self-fulfilment. In 2005, I was honoured to be selected to go to Pakistan to help in the aftermath of the earthquake. Many of my personal foundation lessons were learnt there. It was an experience that opened my soul and I learnt a lot about myself and humanity. After Haiti I was more confident in myself and I felt encouraged and motivated to study further so I could do more.
My mum passed away when she was only 38, but it was through her that I was first exposed to humanitarian work. I am still inspired by her and I can honestly say the proudest moments in my life have been away on humanitarian missions. I feel that I am fulfilling my mum’s purpose in life by serving humanity. There is also the other side of it: I get to serve and represent my beloved country and show the world what Africa has to offer. We are a unique and amazing nation. I know the spirit of ubuntu lives in us. I have not just seen it, but I have lived it many a time.
Read the next article about orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Livan Meneses-Turino, and his experience in Nepal, Haiti, and Palestine.
Our first profile was on medical co-ordinator, Dr YM Essack. Click here to read more.
To find out how beekeeper, Owen Williams, has contributed to the organisation, click here.
Emily Thomas, who works in logistics at Gift of the Givers shares her story.
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