Gift of the Givers: 25 years of philanthropy: Owen Williams


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. We find out more from beekeeper, Owen Williams.

Being involved with Gift of the Givers gives Owen Williams a sense of purpose. (Image: Owen Williams)

Sulaiman Philip

South African humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers, the largest African organisation of its kind, has brought aid and comfort to people in need in 43 countries.

It has ongoing feeding programmes in South Africa, humanitarian missions in war-torn Syria and has helped to free South African hostages in Yemen and Mali. The group, founded and led by Dr Imtiaaz Sooliman, has helped to deliver water to drought stricken areas of South Africa and fed refugees in Somalia.

William’s met Dr Sooliman while trying to rescue bee colonies that had survived the Knysna fires. (Image: Honeywood Farms)

Owen Williams: Beekeeper

I met Dr Sooliman for the first time on 15 June 2017 as Knysna was dealing with the fires that devastated the area. In hindsight it seemed that our paths were destined to cross.

The day before, I got a phone call from Grant [Liversay, one of my partners in Honeychild Honey] asking how he coud help with protecting our hives. We had saved a few hives but the bees were starving; we needed to get sugar to make syrup to feed the surviving bees. We abhor artificial feeding, but it was either that or lose the colonies we had rescued.

Despite his efforts – and Grant is not a man who understands the word no – we were only able to find a few broken bags of sugar from local supermarkets. Remember, the region had gone from extreme drought to a fire storm and back again. We were not the only beekeepers in dire straits.

Grant had heard of this humanitarian organisation whose station was located in the mall. So he went up to them to ask if there was any chance they could spare a few bags of sugar. I can only imagine their thinking when faced with this manic, slightly built redhead asking for sugar. After explaining his need, Emily [Thomas], felt it was important enough to speak to Doc.

I feel I should point out that Gift of the Givers was working around the clock but Doc wanted to know more about, as Grant said, “this bee story”. I don’t believe in co-incidence, but when the call came Meagan [Vermaas, William’s partner] was giving free therapeutic massages and I was delivering basic goods donated by the community.

We met Doc, explained the need and how unique the Cape Honey bee was. Immediatley he wanted to know how Gift of the Givers could help, but he also wanted to see the bees. Back at Honeychild me, Meagan and Doc were all kitted out in beekeeping gear inspecting a colony I had rescued from the side of the N2.

We pulled a frame from the hive, and right there in the middle of the comb was the queen. The sun was just beyond the apex and Doc’s face was lit up by the sun. I could see through the veil as he watched the queen and bees working. He looked so amazed and serene.

Doc wanted to know how his organisation could help; he wanted to know our objectives. He suggested we set up an NPO – Hope for the Honeybee – and then Gift of the Givers donated R250,000. We ordered pollen substitute, bought sugar for syrup, collected data on losses, designed a strategy for feeding stations and contacted renowned bee scientists.

From what I can tell, Hope for the Honeybee and the support from Gift of the Givers is a world first. In the middle of the kind of human suffering that we saw in Knysna, that they took the time to consider the plight of honey bees speaks to the aura of love and caring that surrounds them. I remember that look on Doc’s face when he was inspecting the hive, and my vision became clear. What we are doing is about the survival of the honeybee and benefits humankind as a whole. There are no personal agendas, just this aura that comes from giving.

Through Hope for the Honeybee we are tools that spread the help that springs from Gift of the Givers. I read about the landslides in Freetown; hundreds have died. In the past I would have said a silent prayer. This time I found myself wondering if Gift of the Givers might be headed there and if there was a way I could go along.

Williams joined the Gift of the Givers humanitarian mission in Knysna after meeting the team. (Image: Gift of the Givers)

Read the next profile on Emily Thomas, who works in logitistics at Gift of the Givers.
Our first profile was on medical co-ordinator, Dr YM Essack. Click here to read more.
Ahmed Bham is the head of search and rescue. Read his story here.
Orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Livan Meneses-Turino, shares his experience in Nepal, Haiti, and Palestine.

Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See Using Brand South Africa material.