Sohini’s discovery of a young boy and his amazing story, and how he inspired her to leave an upscale London legal firm to become a solicitor who helps change lives, one drop at a time. Plus one of the best foods to help fight overwhelm.
In addition to this story, at the end of this episode I’ll share with you the best food to help fight overwhelm, because our guest today went through something that was pretty emotionally intense.
Our guest, Sohinipreet Alg
Which brings me to say that I am super excited to be joined here today for our story by Sohinipreet Alg. Sohini is a solicitor – a lawyer – who has an incredible story for us about how she left what could have been a very financially lucrative career to take a very different direction as a solicitor, all because of a young boy. She is compassionate, determined and very caring, as you will hear.
So Sohini welcome to the Clean Food, Dirty Stories podcast! I’m really happy to have you here today!
Sohini: Thank you for having me Barbara, I’m excited to be here.
Me: Super! So Sohini, why don’t you start by telling us what kind of work you were doing before you met this young boy, when you first got started as a solicitor?
Sohini: OK well I think that was quite early on in my training contract, so I was doing various areas of law at that point. I hadn’t finalized what I wanted to do, which area I wanted to go into. Immigration was actually not something that I wanted to go into, but as you’ll see I kind of just fell into that.
My main area of interest was kind of a corporate, commercial area of law, so I was mainly concentrating on that.
Me: And is there any reason why you were concentrating on that to start with?
Sohini: You have to do a few seats in your training before you qualify. So they gave me a commercial seat, and an immigration seat, and also a housing and litigation seat.
Me: What’s a seat? Is that just like a temporary post, or something?
Sohini: It’s about 6 months, 6-8 months of training in each area over a period of two years, and then at the end of the training you kind of naturally go into one of those areas and specialize in that.
Going for the money
Me: OK. So then your story I guess would begin… How did you find the corporate seat, first of all? Did you do that one first?
Sohini: I did, and I really enjoyed that. It was something that I thought I’d like to go into just purely because of the financial side of it I think. A lot of people obviously end up going into law or anything similar thinking “oh yeah, the money”! So I think I was probably quite similar in that way.
I didn’t have a real interest in law in that sense, I did a History and Latin degree so completely different to law. But I didn’t know what I would do with my history and Latin degree, so I thought ‘the corporate and commercial side of it’s gonna make a lot of money so let’s try and do that!’
Very long hours
So first I went into a firm which had quite a strong corporate field and that was the first seat that was given. And I enjoyed that, it was very cutthroat, very long hours.
Me: That’s what I was going to ask, yeah, I mean, what was the atmosphere like? What kind of hours were you working?
Sohini: Well it would easily be…you’d start at eight o’clock and you’d be finishing at maybe ten or eleven o’clock at night.
Me: Wow! And was that normal even for people that were…once they’d finished their training?
Sohini: Absolutely, people would just continue into the early hours of the morning if necessary. So if you’re working on a deal, if you’re working for an organisation or a company, they expect you to be at their beck and call so you’d be available 24/7 really.
Sohini: It wasn’t actually too bad compared with some of my seniors. So yeah, it’s pretty difficult.
Me: But you enjoyed it!
Sohini: I enjoyed it, well not as much as I actually then enjoyed other areas as you’ll see but especially because I thought that was what I wanted to do and that was what was going to make me money. So that’s what I was seeing more than anything else.
Me: And you did 6 months there and then what happened? Then was it the immigration seat?
Defending the homeless
Sohini: No, then I went to do a public law and housing seat. So it was kind of…I was dealing with local authorities, dealing with a lot of homeless people, dealing with landlord/tenant issues, nuisance, etc. It was a completely different seat, it was more personable, more client contact. That was quite nice actually, I enjoyed it. There was a lot of appearing in courts etc and assisting barristers and solicitors.
Me: Were you assisting…I mean I just want to get an idea because I know nothing about law. So were you assisting…for example with the homeless people, were you assisting the homeless people? Or…I mean to me I kind of see it always as two sides, right? There’s the side of the homeless person and what they want and the side of the, I don’t know, the council and what they want.
Sohini: I was working primarily for the individual so it would be for example the homeless person. So I wasn’t working for the local authority, I was working for the individual in that situation.
Me: And how did they…so was that pro bono? Like how did you get paid?
Sohini: Yeah, well it’s Legal Aid, so our firm also had a Legal Aid contract with the government as well. So if you aren’t able to pay and you can prove your financial situation, you do get free access to legal care.
Sohini: The government paid for it. We just had to basically at the end of the case prove that we’d put in x number of hours and this person wasn’t able to pay privately and so we were paid accordingly from the government.
Me: With the homeless people, what kind of things would you help them do? Did you help them get housing then?
Sohini: Exactly. So it would be where they were refused temporary housing and they could prove they were homeless, there was criteria that they had to follow. Sometimes it’s pretty difficult to prove everything. Or it was just that they had temporary accommodation but they got kicked out of the accommodation because they’d spent too long in the accommodation etc. Basically it was just trying to get them housing when they deserved the housing and the local authority wasn’t giving it.
On into the world of immigration…dragging her feet
Me: Wow, OK. And then from there you went to immigration, I guess?
Sohini: Yes, my final seat was immigration and that was the seat that I really didn’t want to go into.
Me: And why not? What were your thoughts about it before you went into it?
Sohini: I think it was just…Well, I didn’t think there was much money in that area also, and I was also concerned because it’s a very fast-paced, very rapidly moving area of law and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get to grips with. It’s an area that you need to just keep retraining and keep on top of it because the immigration rules change that quickly. And there are so many…there’s a variety of countries that people can come into the UK from, and there are different rules according to where you might be applying from. So it was just such a difficult area, that’s just what I thought, it wasn’t something that I wanted to move to naturally.
Me: Right, so then you started going into it not really wanting to do it, and then what happened?
Discovering new aspects of herself
Sohini: Yeah well I think not even a couple of months into the seat, just a few weeks into the seat I quickly became very absorbed with the area actually. I was doing longer hours in immigration than I was when I was doing the commercial seat.
Sohini: Yeah, and I think that was purely because I enjoyed it that much, and I felt that compassion that I didn’t have initially, I didn’t think I had in me.
Me: Oh wow! That’s honest!
Sohini: Yeah, so it was just quite overwhelming when I joined. I mean the firm that I was with, they have an excellent track record with immigration law and it’s one of the biggest departments in the UK. So we had a variety of immigration clients. We had private clients, we had Legal Aid clients, we had asylum seekers, you know it was all sorts of clients, people who were in the UK unlawfully or illegally trying to legalize their stay. There was just such a variety and listening to people’s stories, finding out what their background was, why a lot of them really felt the need to live in the UK, what had happened in their past, it was amazing. Hearing the stories was just amazing. Very heartwarming and very humbling as well.
Me: And so speaking of stories, this brings us to the story that you mentioned, right? That seemed to affect you the most, is that right?
A young boy…under a truck
Sohini: Yeah, exactly. I think it was because I hadn’t come across many such cases before. But it was a young boy who…and I think it was early in the evening and I was getting ready to actually leave the office. We got a call that there was a young boy who had entered the UK unclaimed. That was assumed. He couldn’t speak any English and he’d come under trucks. He was kind of held on under the trucks, so the truck drivers didn’t even know that they’d picked him up in Calais for example.
Me: Oh wow, how was he under the truck? I think you said he was strapped? Like somebody had…
Sohini: He was strapped under the truck so…
Me: So somebody presumably strapped him under the truck, right? Because he came from Afghanistan, right?
Sohini: I mean you’ll find a lot of kind of people who help or assist asylum seekers to cross the borders in very dangerous ways. We all know about what’s been happening with you know, people crossing the rivers and things like that and people go to extreme lengths and this boy was very young, you could see that straight away.
Me: How old was he about do you think? Roughly?
Sohini: I think he was probably about nine or ten.
Me: And do you have any idea how long he was strapped under that truck?
Sohini: He was strapped for quite a number of hours. So he had come from Calais, he was strapped from Calais and he came into Dover, so yeah, he risked his life.
Me: At least six or seven hours, right?
Sohini: Yeah, a very long time.
Going to Dover
Me: So what happened? They called you and they said what? Did they say “Can you come? There’s a boy that’s just entered the UK”?
Sohini: Basically I think the lorry driver then realized when he stopped at Dover that somebody had just come over under the truck. And the boy couldn’t speak much English but I believe as far as I can remember the truck driver tried to call the local authorities etc and they didn’t know what to do. They called the firm I was working with because they knew that the immigration team was pretty big and we dealt with a lot of asylum cases at that time. We got a call and they asked us to come to Dover to speak to the boy and find out what it is that he wanted to do in the UK.
What to do first
Me: So what was your reaction when you first saw him? Like you arrive in Dover and then you see this boy…
Sohini: It was just… gosh, the fear on his face, I still remember that. It was just…he couldn’t speak any English, he didn’t know where he was, he’d left his family behind, didn’t know what had happened to his family. He didn’t know what was going to happen to him. So there was just this kind of overwhelming fear in his eyes that I still remember. That was quite upsetting.
Me: What did you do at that point? Because you couldn’t…I mean, you didn’t have a language in common, so…
Sohini: No, we had to wait for a translator, we did have somebody come to translate so that was really helpful. Then I had to sit with him, find out what was happening, why he’d come to the UK, where his family were, which country he’d travelled from, etc.
Me: And so what did he tell you?
A boy’s harrowing story
Sohini: That he’d left Afghanistan because of the troubles that were happening there, that a lot of his family members had been killed…I think he had another couple of siblings who had all dispersed as well so his parents…his father had been killed, his mother said that they needed to flee. His mother couldn’t leave because there were elderly people that she was looking after so she told the kids to leave and he was the only one who seemed to have made it to the UK.
He didn’t know what had happened en route to his siblings. So he was just terrified and he was just so worried for his family, he didn’t know what happened to his siblings or his mother. But we couldn’t get in contact with them, we didn’t have contact details for them.
Me: So I suppose he never found out, I imagine.
Sohini: No, he never found out.
Getting him help
Me: And then what did…you’re with the boy, you’re with the interpreter, you find out what happened, and then what did you do? Because presumably he has to sleep somewhere and get food, so who did all of that?
Sohini: Well, he was initially put in a detention center.
Me: What’s a detention center?
Sohini: It’s basically a lot of people that come into the UK for example unlawfully or awaiting decisions, they’re held in detention centers. They have specific ones where children can be held. So he was held in the detention center and that was quite distressing for him.
Me: I’ll bet.
Sohini: My main aim was to obviously put in his asylum claim as soon as possible and try and get him in with a local authority so that they could care for him and he could get the right provisions. So that evening I still remember going back to the office and he remained in contact with me. He had access to a telephone number and he was just so scared. I tried my best to kind of prepare an application and try and get him suitable accommodation as soon as possible after meeting him.
Me: Yeah, of course. Do you remember how long he had to stay in the detention center?
Sohini: He was there for about a week.
Psychological as well as physical help…
Me: Wow. And so…oh you mentioned, I think you mentioned to me that they gave him a place to stay but then he also had mental health assessments or something like that? How does that work?
Sohini: Basically we had to first of all verify his age and make sure that he was in fact a minor and wasn’t an adult because we did find a lot of people who were trying to claim to be younger than they were so they’d get preferential treatment. So we had to establish and confirm his age. We also had to find out that he was OK. He’d been abused, there was a lot of violence used against him. So he had to have assessments taken. He had medical assessments to make sure that he was OK.
Me: Physically OK, yeah.
Sohini: Exactly. He was referred to a psychiatrist as well for mental health assessments and that all contributed, assisted his asylum claim because obviously we could prove that he wasn’t lying and that he did go through the torture that he said had been inflicted on him. So that was all important to his case.
No more contact…
Me: Yeah. And so once you got housing for him, did you find out what happened to him later on?
Sohini: He was…as far as I can remember, he was then put into a foster home I believe it was. So someone looked after him. Unfortunately we’re not able to maintain contact on a personal level with a client.
Me: Of course.
Sohini: Which is a shame because I would have liked to, you know, find out how he’s doing etc. I still do wonder, actually.
Me: Of course, yeah.
Sohini: Although I came across many such cases afterwards and even continue to do so right now in my professional life. But because I think that was the first one I came across, it stayed with me all these years. So yeah, I would like to know actually how he’s doing, but…I’m sure he’s doing well now.
Me: How long ago was this then?
Sohini: This was, oh gosh, about ten years ago.
Me: Wow, so he’d be about twenty now.
Sohini: Yeah. He would be, yeah.
What Sohini decided
Me: Wow. Oh! So then…so then after, having experienced all that, what did you do next? I assume you…I mean you said that you decided that that was why you wanted to go into immigration, but what kind of thoughts were going in your head when you were thinking about making that decision as to what part of law you wanted to practice?
Sohini: Well I think it really kind of hit me that I’m more inclined to work with people on a personal level and I just felt so satisfied and kind of content knowing that I had helped him in some form. He was so appreciative, you know, at the end of his asylum claim when he got asylum and he got accommodation, he got leave to remain, etc. Just the appreciation that he had, it was so, so nice to see. And that just beats any other feeling I had when I was in my commercial seat! It was absolutely something that I knew that I had to carry on doing.
Me: Yeah. That was really nice that you felt that from him as well, right? Despite the…some things go beyond language barriers, don’t they.
Sohini: Exactly, definitely.
What Sohini does now to help people
Sohini: So… what do you do now? What kinds of things are you doing now for people?
Sohini: I set up roughly about three years ago my own immigration business, and I continue to do immigration. After I finished my training contract I was working in the City in London for an immigration firm, so I continued doing immigration law. I’ve since set up my own and I deal with all sorts of immigration matters. It is all private immigration matters, but I help applicants with discretionary leave, asylum seekers have asked for my help, I help private clients with work visas and I help a lot of organizations with their tier 4 visas etc. So I do a cross-section of immigration and applications just now.
Me: OK. Wow. And so how can people find you if they want help with any of these things?
How to find Sohini
Sohini: My website is probably the best place to find information on, and that’s www.elmrose.com and the firm is called Elm Rose Consultancy and you’ll get an idea online about what services we provide. And they can pick up the phone and call me, I’m available at any time. So everything’s available on my website, you can find out a bit more there.
Me: Yeah, if anybody needs help with that kind of thing, right? Especially as it’s such a…I don’t want to say hot topic, but well yeah, hot in the sense of controversial hot, right? It’s just…it’s a bit unreal, right?
Sohini: Especially with Brexit just now, the European clients that I have. Their case is now just to kind of confirm their right to be in the UK.
Me: Yes of course.
If you’re in the UK and feeling concerned…
Sohini: There’s a lot of concern just now. I’m even happy to speak to people just to allay their concerns or fears about what’s happening in today’s climate.
Me: That’s fantastic, that’s really good to know because I’m sure there are definitely people listening who may be thinking ‘I’m not British, what’s my situation’ and all that stuff. Yeah, thank you for that. Sohini thank you so much for sharing this story with us.
Sohini: Thank you for having me.
Me: You’re very welcome! Yeah, I’m just very grateful that there are people like you out there that people can reach out to, you know? Because I think having lived in two foreign countries now, it can be quite a scary thing. It’s good to know that people have someone like you to help them out when it all gets a bit scary. So thank you!
Food to fight overwhelm
Right! At the beginning of this episode, I said I’d share with you one of the best foods you can eat to help fight overwhelm. If you’re in any situation where you just feel emotionally overwhelmed or wired and you need to relax. It’s a food that has many, many properties besides helping us relax. And that food is…celery!
Now before you start screaming and saying “Oh celery, that’s diet food, it’s absolutely horrible!”, it is not! There are delicious ways to eat celery that I’ll share with you later.
But first I would like to say just one or two benefits of celery that I think are especially cool.
Benefits of celery
Way back when, Hippocrates – the father of modern medicine so I’m told – he used to prescribe celery as a tonic for people suffering from nervous tension. I mean apparently even in his day, people still got stressed.
This is because celery has potassium which has been shown to help control blood pressure. Now Chinese medicine prescribes celery for the same reasons, in addition to its being an aphrodisiac, I had to throw that one in. Gotta try that one, right?
Another cool thing about celery is that it appears that celery doesn’t actually lower blood pressure in someone whose blood pressure is already low. I mean how cool is that!
Celery also has high levels of magnesium, as well as other minerals and essential oils, all of which can help us relax. So if you’re wired in the evenings, or if like Sohini you have super long days, try a glass of celery juice before going to bed. It actually tastes pretty good, and it tastes way different than munching on the celery sticks themselves.
Celery is also great for detox. It’s a great diuretic so it can help flush toxins and other waste out of our kidneys. Plus I think many people know that we require more calories to eat and digest celery than the celery actually contains, so it’s a great food if you’re looking to slim down which I think is how most people know about celery.
How you eat celery…the tasty way!
So how do most people eat celery? Well, I think you know that, right? We usually pick up a stick and munch on it if we’re on a diet, usually cursing the poor veg at the same time and we feel like we’re punishing ourselves.
But there are way better ways to eat celery.
One way is in a juice with other fruit or veg. You can mix fruit and vegetables in there. And one of the articles that I’ll link to has a great recipe for a green juice that I’m definitely gonna try. Let me know if you try it too!
My favorite easy way to eat celery is super easy: I just dip it in some nut butter. I’d say my favorite is almond butter. It’s really delicious and you don’t feel like a rabbit.
I’ll link to an article in the show notes that also has a recipe for a salad using celery that sounds pretty good, if I do say so myself. In this recipe they do mention parmesan so if you don’t eat dairy, just substitute the parmesan for some nutritional yeast. It looks pretty tasty so I might try that myself.
I also have an amazing recipe for my Way Better Than Waldorf Salad which takes celery to a whole new level, and I’ll link to that as well.
Have YOU got a story to share?
Which brings us to the end of this week’s story – and if you’ve got a true story to share (and you’d like to know what food could have saved the day in your situation), I’d love to hear from you!
Got a question, or a comment?
Got a question, or a comment? Pop a note below in the comments, that would be awesome. You can also subscribe to the podcast to listen ‘on the go’ in iTunes.
I hope you have an amazing day. Thank you so much for being here with me to share in my Clean Food, Dirty Stories. Bye for now!
Link to my 5 Minute Salads & Sauces recipe ebook with my Way Better than Waldorf Salad recipe: https://rockingrawchef.com/5-minute-recipes/
Medicinal uses of celery, including juice recipe: https://www.wellbeing.com.au/body/recipes/Celery-Worth-stalking.html
Other article with salad recipe: http://www.doctorshealthpress.com/food-and-nutrition-articles/10-health-benefits-of-celery
Where to find Sohini
Sohinipreet Alg is a qualified Solicitor and specialised in Immigration law. She is Level 3 OISC accredited and is a Senior Caseworker under the Law Society’s Immigration & Asylum Accreditation Scheme. Sohini has worked all over the UK, including large London city based firms, and is the Director of Elm Rose Consultancy. She has an unparalleled passion and commitment to her clients.