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Kindness of strangers sees 3-year-old in India reunite with mom in Australia

[Aug. 11, 2020: Times of India]



It was a comment by a stranger on her Facebook post that first got Neha Sandhu from Goondiwindi (Queensland) intrigued. On social media, Sandhu had been trying to help residents of Australia who were stuck in India with flight information and relevant contacts. This time, it was a more urgent appeal — a woman, Greeshma Patel from Port Lincoln, had mentioned that she hadn’t seen her daughter, nearly three years old now, for 10 months as the toddler was unable to return from India.


The two women got talking and Sandhu learned that Patel’s daughter, Prisha, had travelled to Ahmedabad (Gujarat) to spend some time with her grandparents in October 2019 and was to return in April this year when Covid-19 curbs hit. Applications for exemptions for the grandparents to travel back with Prisha to Australia were rejected four times.


The fifth application was approved with a rider that only one grandparent could accompany the child. “Neither of my elderly parents could travel while leaving the other back home alone in times of Covid-19. My husband and I could not travel with our 10-month-old son. When I came across an online post by a woman offering help to stranded Indians, I approached her,” Patel told TOI.


The woman, Sandhu, immediately started searching for someone who was on way to Australia and would be willing to bring the girl back with them. “It’s not easy for a mother to stay away from her child for so long. I understood what she was going through and wanted to help her in any way I can. But there was a deadline we had to meet,” said Sandhu. A private chartered flight was leaving from Delhi for Australia on July 31 and if Prisha wasn’t on it, there was no saying when another flight would become available.

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Sandhu was part of several online and WhatsApp groups formed to help Australians stranded in India. “I found out contacts of some travellers who were planning to take the flight and told them about the matter. They said they didn’t want to take on such a big responsibility.” But on July 27, when Sandhu approached someone on a WhatsApp group, they responded. Shailesh Thorat, a 32-year-old supply chain management consultant, was planning to travel to Brisbane with his wife Neha Soni and the newlywed couple agreed to speak to the family.


“We wanted to unite the mother and the child. We did panic a bit after saying yes since it was a huge responsibility. But a video call with Prisha as well as her mother convinced us we were doing something kind,” said Soni.


Now that Prisha had company, the next challenge was to ensure the three got tickets on the chartered flight which had 150 seats. Past few Vande Bharat flights to Australia had been cancelled as the country strengthened border curbs affecting flight movements. No information was available on new flights.


So Sandhu informed the Australian High Commission in India about Prisha’s case. An AHC official then requested the flight organiser Arun Sharma, a resident of Sydney, to prioritise the child. “We were made aware of Prisha’s situation and once we had undertakings from her parents that they were okay with the couple travelling with the girl, we ensured that seats were reserved for them.”


Prisha was driven to Delhi from Ahmedabad by her grandparents and uncle while Thorat and his wife also started from Palampur (Himachal Pradesh) a day before the flight. “We had decided to meet a day earlier to give Prisha enough time to get comfortable with us,” said Soni. But they needn’t have worried. “When Prisha saw us at the hotel she immediately hugged us. She knew that we were going to take her to her mother,” said Soni. Since Prisha only spoke Gujarati, the couple learned some basic words from her grandparents in the language to communicate with her. “To keep her entertained, we played games with her. She slept most of the time or played on her tablet,” said Soni.


As Prisha started her 13,000km journey over the Indian Ocean, her mother also travelled to Adelaide and informed the authorities at the airport about her arrival. As the flight landed in Adelaide, an announcement was made for Prisha — her mother was waiting for her and she was to be allowed to deboard first.


“The minute the mother and daughter were reunited after so many months was precious. We were so proud to be able to play a part in it,” said Thorat.


Prisha is currently serving her quarantine period in a hotel with her mother. She often video calls the couple who brought her home. The families plan to meet in-person once their quarantine is over. “I thanked the couple with a gift each but now would like to know them better,” said Patel.....Read More


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