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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy -
Bollywood actor Sonu Sood has proved to be a real-life Superhero. He has become a saviour for stranded migrant workers who are unable to commute to their hometowns due to the lockdown in India.
Moved by the plight of these workers, who with their families and belongings in tow, set out on foot to reach the safety of their homes thousands of miles away, the actor not only organised buses to take them to their hometowns, but also arranged for their daily meals. The actor also opened the doors of his hotel in Juhu, Mumbai to offer shelter to frontline medical workers.
In an interview with City Times, Sood talks about his philanthropic journey and the cause that has become so close to his heart.
You have proven to be a real-life hero for thousands of needy people. What was that one moment when you felt you couldn't just sit by and watch this happen?
What triggered me to take up the cause of migrant workers was those visuals of people walking with their young children, going on these unending jour- neys. Imagine a father encouraging his kids to walk by telling them 'we will reach Bihar soon, UP will come soon'. They have to walk thousands of kilometres?and when these kids grow up, think of the memories they will have - of their parents walking thousands of kilometres to reach home. I didn't want those kids to grow with such memories, so I thought that I should do something for them.
Does social activism run in your blood? What inspired you?
I had no formula to help these people, my only intention was to not see these poor workers walk on the highways. So that's how it all started. My first step was to help migrant workers from the state of Karnataka, about 350 of them. I organised all the permissions, ar- ranged a bus and sent them home. So that's how it all started. Slowly I arranged transport for other migrant workers - from Bihar, UP, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and other places. And before that, I offered my hotel in Juhu as a shelter for medical staff working on the frontline. In the case of migrants, I still have work to do and ensure all migrants reach home safely. So far, I have sent 18,000-20,000 people to their respective states and reunited them with their families.
How did you manage to organise things?
Initially, I started it all by myself, but slowly many people joined in. Me and my close friend Neeti Goel had started a food drive, distributing food to the needy. One day, we spotted these migrant workers on the highway walking, and we were both convinced that we had to do something. We requested them to stay back and that we would do something for them, but I had to win their trust first. Once I sent the first batch home, word spread that I was helping migrant workers. Then, the trust factor kicked in and people started calling me. All those people who had planned to walk home now stayed back and waited for me to get the permissions and arrange transport for them. It was a huge responsibility on my shoulders to ensure that these people reached home safely.
What are some of the challenges you had to face?
The journey is long and I have miles to go, but my support system is really helping me out with the tasks and move ahead. I have a team of about 50-60 volunteers who are just feeding people. The whole venture and the journey are very challenging and tough. I know that there's still a lot to be done and I'm still connect- ing those dots and getting there.
Are you not scared when you go out to meet people during these times?
The initiative that I took, I can say is easily the most important phase of my life. I never thought it would go to this level. Initially, I thought, I would be helping out a few hundred people, then it reached thousands and now I'm helping everyone. Everything just happened automatically. But I feel so blessed that God chose me as an instrument to help these poor people and I will keep on helping them, whether it's feeding them, or helping them reach home. This is my duty and now I'm working at least 20 hours a day, I wish that I had at least 30 hours a day to accomplish more.
What's the best compliment you've received?
The best compliment I got from migrant workers?is when one of them called me to tell me that he's named his kid Sonu Sood Srivastav. So I told him?that it can't be Sonu Sood Srivastav, it should be Sonu Srivastav and he said, it's not only my family but many families who have named their kids Sonu Sood, with their surnames attached. So that was very special and it will stay with me forever.
Do you think you have found your greater calling?
Yes. I just wish that I could reach out to more and more people, but the journey is still on and I'll leave no stones unturned to make my parents, who are?in heaven and guiding me, proud of me. I clearly remember my mother's words, 'Your success can only be measured by what you can do for others'. I'm just trying to walk on the path that my mother taught me.
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