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| GoodDeeds

April 12, 2024
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Sonia Virdee: The Gift that keeps on Giving

Few days ago, we braved the numbing morning weather and set out to talk to a lady whose extraordinary work we’ve been hounding on social media platforms. Upon arrival at her family home in South B, we were welcomed by a rather fierce growl from “Simba”, their 7 year old Rottweiler. But the nervousness of the dog growl was quickly washed away by a smile and a cheerful welcome from Sonia Virdee into their home.

Sonia was living and working in the UK. She had flown home briefly to spend some quality time with her family, before the Covid-19 pandemic struck. The crisis had caught the entire world by surprise, and so was our ill prepared Kenyan government. Having flown in from a foreign country and tested negative for the Covid-19 virus, Sonia was still forced into a quarantine facility in one of Nairobi’s high-end hotels within the city. To guarantee her family safety, she had no option but to oblige to the government directives and guidelines. Her stay at the hotel was distressing and agonizing. The food was dreadful and unpleasant, compounded by the fact that she had to share a room with an unfamiliar lady, who had jetted into the country as well from a different country.

After the 14-day stay at the hotel, it was time for Sonia to check out, but woefully, she and her family could not be able to raise the accrued amounts. As luck would have it, a group of philanthropists stepped in to clear her bills, on condition that she pays back once she is financially stable. When Sonia left the hotel, flights in and out of the country had been banned. She couldn’t travel back to the UK to work and in return pay the “quarantine debt”. So her stay in Kenya signified the beginning of her journey to giving back to the less fortunate during this Covid-19 crisis.

Sonia informed the “philanthropists” that she will raise enough money to pay them back and she pledged to do something in return, to better lives of other Kenyans who had been hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis. Walking around the streets and slums of Nairobi, Sonia was dismayed by the state of difficulty that the pandemic had heaped on mankind. Stories of job losses were demoralizing, wails of the homeless were depressing and cries of starvation were soul crushing.

Sonia began to mobilize her friends and a group of volunteers from the Asian community with strong support from her humble family and the (Siri Gurdwara Ramgarhia Railway), the Sikh temple in South C. Her journey to restore faith in mankind had started.

Food and monetary donations streamed in from well-wishers and she tasked herself to strategize on how well she could lift the lives of other Kenyans.

Her first stop was a visit to Kariobangi slums, where a number of the slum residents had been rendered homeless by the demolitions carried out by Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company, in a bid to reclaim the land where more than 5,000 families have been living since 2008.

The inhumane demolitions of homes of people during this economic crisis were a toll order, but she was determined. Sonia with the help of other volunteers set up a kitchen at the Sikh temple in South C to prepare hot meals for the afflicted families, children, and the elderly and people Living with Disabilities. Sonia, her friends and family worked tirelessly day and night to ensure that no one slept on an empty stomach. With the few monetary donations received, they purchased blankets and “Maasai shukas” to keep the homeless families warm at night.

But her acts of kindness rubbed the wrong shoulders. One day, as she traversed deep into the slums of Kariobangi, to distribute food and clothing, hired goons descended upon her and her taxi driver. At gunpoint, she was told to leave Kariobangi and never come back. At some point, a machete was brandished across her face, slightly cutting her upper lip. Sonia left Kariobangi with head held high and with renewed inspiration, she decided to do more. Nothing was going to stop her from achieving the goals she had set out.

With gas on the pedal, Sonia, her family and friends have expanded their food-cooking venture. On a day-to-day basis, they make sure that someone starving across the city has a hot plate of food and a warm blanket.

Street families who’ve often been ignored by society have been beneficiaries of Sonia’s acts of kindness. Smiles on their faces tell it all.

Sanitary towels from supporters of the cause have come in handy to help girls and women who cannot afford them. The family has also mobilized friends from the medical field to carry out medical check ups and provide medicine to families that cannot afford medical care during this time.

“It’s been a refreshing experience so far”, says Sonia, who at this time is running late for training and a meeting with other well-wishers.

As we wrap up our conversation with Sonia, her mother, a beautiful, jovial middle-aged lady walks in with a tray of hot coffee and cocoa. As she places the tray down on the coffee table, she asks us to keep Sonia in our prayers and thoughts. Sonia, the gift that keeps on giving and a mother of a 10 year old daughter has stage 3 cancer, another disastrous monster that has threatened and ravaged mankind for decades. Silence engulfs the atmosphere, but we promise to keep Sonia in our prayers and thoughts as she fights the battle. Amidst, the silence, Sonia passionately tells us, “No one can help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” We embrace as we exit their home and promise to see each other again.

Posted in Giving
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