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The orphan who picked a big heart

Photo/Diana Ngila  Abbas Gullet, Kenya Red Cross Society secretary-general during the interview.
Photo/Diana Ngila Abbas Gullet, Kenya Red Cross Society secretary-general during the interview.  

To fully comprehend Abbas Gullet’s connection with Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), you have to understand that, in many ways and forms, the organisation is not just a job for him; it’s, amongst many things, his redemption.

Born in Garissa, Gullet lost his parents when he was still an infant. A family, that was not a part of his ethnic group, took him in and they moved to Mombasa.

His adoptive father became more than just a father to him; he became the model who would later shape him as a man and as a professional.

For 11 years, Gullet volunteered for KRCS before he was employed. Over the years he has worked pretty much in every corner of the world.

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Are you a big hearted guy?

I don’t know, people say so. Thing is I have gotten so much from my adopted parents and from my country.

They didn’t have to take me in, but they did. I also went through my primary and secondary education on government bursaries.

And so when life has been so kind to you, you have to feel a need to give back.

You have to be humble enough to want to offer yourself in any capacity and these ambitions fit in our mandate here, at KRCS, of alleviating human suffering.

Who are your strongest influences?

Mrs Salhan Rahemtullah and her husband Soud Suleiman Saleh Mizra, who worked for BP Shell in Garissa. They were like my bosses but most importantly they were my parents.

I’d love to peek into your bucket list.

Well, one, I’d like to take this organisation into the next level of self sufficiency, the first of its kind in the region.

Secondly, I’d love to work on my spirituality more – by going back and understanding the Lord Almighty better than I have.

Then I’d love to have a farm and you know, grow produce and all.

That’s all good, but isn’t there something else you’d like to do; I don’t know, scale a mountain, BASE jump, buy a red Ferrari and dye your moustache…

(Shakes head) No, I’m not drawn to such things.

Who is the one person in the world you would love to sit down for dinner with?

My wife. (Laughs). I’d love to have more dinners with my wife than I do.

I leave home in darkness and I come in darkness because of my very demanding work.

But in this life its family that counts the most. It’s saddening to know that the older the kids become, the sadder you get and wish you would have more time with them.

What does the wife do and how big is your brood?

My wife is a businesswoman and operates from home, mostly. I have two boys and two girls, the oldest being 21 years old and the youngest 10.

Are you a good father?

(Laughs) That’s very interesting. (Thinks) I think my kids are better placed to answer that.

But I think I try, of course I can be a better father, there is definitely room for improvement.

What do you do for fun when you aren’t riding the world of suffering?

I love sports, in my younger years I played cricket and football.

I watch a lot of sports now, but as I grow older I find myself getting interested more in farming.

So you live in a palatial home with a huge farm at the back teeming with tomatoes and things?

(Smiles) I live on Kiambu Road, and no I don’t have that kind of farm you are describing. It’s a humble abode.

I suppose working for this organisation exposes you to some jarring human suffering. In all your years what are some of the experiences you will leave the job with?

The post- election violence is definitely one of them. It was ghastly.

When most of the humanitarian organisations were leaving the country, KRCS was one of the few who got to work and I can tell you that. It was a dark period.

Also, in 1995, the Tanzanian government woke up and asked millions of refugees in Ngara, North Tanzania, to move from the camp.

They moved with all their possessions on their backs; it was deeply saddening to see women and children, chased and moving like animals to nowhere.

What does wealth mean to you?

(Shrugs) Nothing. It’s what’s in the heart that counts, not what’s in the pocket.

What does Gullet do over the weekend when he has some free time?

He plays chauffeur. Normally, during most weekends, when I’m free, I drive my kids wherever they want to go; to their Arabic classes or movie or whatever.

I sit on the driver’s seat and take instructions. (Laughs)

In retrospect what would you do differently with your life?

Look, I’m inclined to think that things happen the way they happen for a reason.

Fate makes sense. Here is how things turned out for me: at some point I wanted to be a hotelier in the 70s when the tourism was the new hot thing.

As it turns out, we have built many Red Cross hotels, which sort of fulfils that dream.

Then I wanted to become a doctor, but here we offer life saving measures with our ambulances and all.

So you see things have turned out well.

How do you see yourself retiring?

(Laughs) Probably go back to Mombasa put my feet up, read and meditate.

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