Gift of the Givers search and rescue volunteers give emotional accounts of their 10-day rescue mission
Gift of the Givers search and rescue teams arrive in South Africa on Saturday, 18 February 2023 on two Turkish Airlines flights, one landing at OR Tambo International at 10h35 and the other at Cape Town International at 11h30. The Turkish Ambassador, Aysegul Kandas, embassy staff and the SAPS K9 Unit representatives received the group in Johannesburg.
In Cape Town, Premier Alan Winde, his senior staff, the Turkish Consul General, Sinan Yesildag, the Rector and senior management of CPUT and the Habibia Brigade attended the welcoming event.
“We appreciate the courtesy and care afforded by these entities as it serves as a motivation for many in our country to stand up and serve locally and internationally. By all international standards the teams excelled in Hatay, the city with almost 90 percent destruction in Turkey, maintaining humility and treating the affected with dignity and compassion. We thank South Africans for their prayer, kind words, encouragement and incredible generosity. A special thanks to the top command of the SAPS for releasing the K9 team in less than 12 hours and to ACSA for incredible support at the airports on departure and now facilitating arrangements for a huge reception on arrival. The final appreciation goes to the families of the team for their sacrifice as this intervention is extremely high risk and could result in loss of life of their loved ones”, said ift of the Givers’ founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman.
“Achieving closure is of utmost importance and our team in Hatay played a crucial role in this regard. During our operation, we successfully retrieved the remains of a mother and daughter, as well as 15 other bodies. Additionally, our K9 unit was instrumental in identifying a building where 200 more bodies were discovered and recovered.”
Tears flowed in the international arrivals terminal at Cape Town International Airport (CTIA) as family, friends, colleagues and members of the Turkish community in Cape Town embraced the brave search and rescue team that sped off to assist in Türkiye and Syria.
Gift of the Givers (GOTG) had sent a group of search and rescue volunteers from CTIA and OR Tambo International Airport just a day after the 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude earthquakes struck Türkiye and Syria, on February 6. Over 45 000 people have been killed, with the death toll likely to be far higher.
Cape Town welcome Awaiting the rescuers at the terminal were hundreds with red flowers, posters, and flying and holding the Turkish flag as they loudly sang while the Habibia Siddique Brigade marched and blew their bagpipes. The rescuers were greeted by members of GOTG, Premier Alan Winde and Turkish Consul-General Sinan Yeşildağ.
Imraan Gihwala, from Elsies River, was joined by his children and extended family to welcome his wife, Raina, home. “It was really tough. I think it was more the unknown that scared us and the fact that I had to look after two kids, four and one. But it’s been emotional, especially seeing the footage coming from there, as well as messages to her every day. It was tough, it was hard but alhamdulillah, she is back.”
GOTG volunteer and acting CPUT department of emergency medical sciences HOD Dr Simpiwe Sobuwa said: “To see an entire city collapsed, none of us have seen such destruction.”
Five CPUT staff from the department joined the rescue mission.
Dr Sobuwa said the teams had extracted 12 bodies in Hatay Province. “The situation in Syria is very dire. GOTG has sent a team with aid, so they’ve got food, blankets, and all the equipment that we bought in Türkiye we left behind to be sent to Syria.”
While thanking the rescuers during a media conference, an emotional Yeşildağ said more than 100 countries offered search and rescue to Türkiye. “We are very grateful, and about 10 000 foreign personnel went to Türkiye for rescue operations.”
Raina Gihwala broke down during the presser and said: “They took really good care of us in a very unstable environment, yet we felt so safe around the Turkish people. I think that speaks volumes for the country, the community that they have there. I pray that they can heal from the sadness.”
Rescuer Xavier Millar especially thanked Turkish Airlines for arranging special flights in order to get to the affected area sooner. The more than 40 volunteers, including equipment and aid, were transported free by Turkish Airlines.
Amid emotional scenes, Premier Alan Winde told the group they have made their families, the Western Cape and South Africa proud through their selflessness and risking their own safety to help those in need.
“I commend Gift of the Givers for the work they do both here at home and abroad in times of desperate need. The work you do is outstanding.
“The NGO is flying our flag high. These women and men who put their hands up when the call came for help are doing us proud. You are heroes, not just to us but to the Turkish people you helped too,” he said.
Fire and Rescue International commends the team on their most-needed search and rescue efforts! The word hero does not even begin to describe you.
FRI Media (Pty) Ltd is an independent publisher of technical magazines including the well-read and respected Fire and Rescue International, its weekly FRI Newsletter and the Disaster Management Journal. We also offer a complete marketing and publishing package, which include design, printing and corporate wear and gifts.