SONJA & QADIR
“She is a miracle in my life.” says Qadir, of his new friend Sonja. “When I feel something inside, I share it with her. She makes me feel stronger.”
The two are the very first friendship match made by our new hub in Manchester. Seeking a new life here in the UK, Qadir is originally from Pakistan. Before he met Sonja, he had never had a female friend.
“Mostly in my country, you don’t have friendships between boys and girls,” he explains. “Here it’s freedom…everyone is equal.”
He describes himself as quite shy, so at first the prospect of his new friend was a little daunting, but Sonja, a freelance TV production coordinator, gradually put him at ease. “I try to emphasise the similarities between us, rather than the differences,” as she says.
“And with HostNation, a lot of thought goes into who you are paired with so it becomes quite easy to blend the befriending into your daily life. Qadir has made it so easy. Whenever I suggest something he always says yes! He’s so open-hearted. He wants to be part of everything.”
By concentrating on shared interests like cooking and nature, their friendship has flourished. Sonja only knows a little about the hardships that have brought Qadir here to make a fresh start, and so is sometimes surprised to find that an everyday activity she has suggested is new for him.
“One night we went to this free classical concert in a music store,” she says. “He hadn’t been to anything like that before, and he had his first-ever glass of bubbly too afterwards. It was really a night of firsts. He seemed to be taking it all in his stride but then we bought pizza and his eyes just lit up – turned out it was his first pizza since he got to the UK! There’s always so much to celebrate with him.”
Qadir smiles. “When she bought that pizza, I almost cried,” he says. “Sonja is really nice, friendly and caring. She has such a soft heart.”
The two friends have also done yoga classes, gone dancing and visited a botanic garden – all the while practising Qadir’s English and helping him settle into Mancunian culture.
One of his favourite outings was a simple walk in the country. “It was another first for him,” explains Sonja. “We drove to Derbyshire, went walking in the hills and watched a blood moon rising. He just loved it!”
The trip was extra special for Qadir. Housed in an inner-city hotel, he has next to nothing to live on while he seeks a refugee visa. “I hadn’t been in the countryside in the whole two years I’ve been in the UK,” he says. “The view of the hills and the moon was so beautiful.”
The impact of the friendship with Sonja on Qadir’s life has been powerful:
“Before, I felt uncomfortable communicating, but she makes me feel stronger. I am happier and more confident – now I can speak to all kinds of people.”
Sonja finds that befriending has definitely been a two-way street. “I find him really inspiring,” she says. “Despite how little he has, he spends a lot of his time volunteering for charity as he really wants to give back. He’s very open so I love spending time with him.”
This has made it easy for her to fit befriending into her life, she explains. “It’s doesn’t feel at all like I have to make a special effort. I just feel I’ve been introduced to a friend.”
She found the process also made things easy. “HostNation is very welcoming and informative. It’s left up to you how you want to spend your time, but at the same time HostNation is so supportive. You feel very safe. I would definitely encourage people to do it. You’d be surprised by how great it is!”
Sonja and Qadir are now well beyond their initial three-month commitment and have every intention of staying friends. “Honestly, from beginning to end I connect with her and I feel she is a special person,” declares Qadir. “She is an angel in my life.”
For Sonja too, Qadir is here to stay: “I can’t imagine NOT seeing him. He feels like part of my life now.”
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