Pankaj Shah can be typically found navigating his way through the plains of Kenya, pointing out exotic wildlife to tourists. These days, he has traded the thrill of the great outdoors for an experience that is even more rewarding — feeding his fellow Kenyans. So far, he has delivered over 24,000 food packages to needy families. This is enough food to feed a family of five for over two weeks!
Pankaj was called to action when the first coronavirus case was reported in Kenya on March 12th. The following week, all schools and businesses closed down. This left many Kenyans locked in their houses, without a way to buy groceries or receive fresh produce. According to Reuters, “one old woman told [Pankaj] she hadn’t eaten for days – her sons had stopped supplying her because they have no work.”
With the situation growing more dire by the day, Pankaj knew that he had to do something. With a few friends, he set up his headquarters at a local school that had been closed. They call themselves “Team Pankaj”and like their founder Pankaj, they hail from Kenya’s Asian community. In addition to food hampers, Pankaj is also requesting Kenyans, who have the means, to donate 4,000 Kenya shillings each (US$40). This will help offset the cost of the hampers.
Pankaj cites his inspiration for this work; a chance encounter that took place 30 years ago in Nairobi. While he was driving, a wheel spun off an old pickup truck in front of him. The wheel hit right into his brand-new Mercedes. Pankaj’s anger quickly subsided when he met the truck’s driver — Mother Teresa. He ended up volunteering with her for three months and even adopted a baby girl from one of the orphanages this charitable icon worked with. Pankaj reflects, “the accident brought an unlikely friendship between a “young, wild” businessman and the world-famous missionary who cared for the poor.”
Once the coronavirus began to shake Kenya’s economy and society’s wellbeing, Pankaj remembered his role model, Mother Teresa, and what she would do. “That’s the inspiration for the rest of my life,” he states. Moved by Mother Teresa’s selflessness and compassion, Pankaj thought beyond himself and considered those living in the slums, now forgotten and struggling. He rallied all of his friends together and they have been working tirelessly to make sure each poor family is fed and healthy.
As Mary Wangui, 29, points out, “you can’t hug a child to sleep when they are hungry.” This is exactly what Pankaj is helping solve, with a bit of Mother Teresa’s guidance and magic.