Profile of The Week by By Dr. DHANPAUL NARINE
Dr. Sonia Noel is a dynamic, hardworking and selfless motivator. She is prepared to traverse many a mile to bring comfort and cheer and to lift the spirits of others. For Sonia, no mountain is too high, and no challenge is too difficult to overcome; all it takes is belief in oneself. She is a prime example of self-confidence and the ability to triumph over the odds.
Sonia Noel was born in Bartica in Guyana. Bartica is a mining town that is at the confluence of the Cuyuni and Mazaruni Rivers. Sonia’s mom is Claudia and her dad is Patrick Noel. Although Sonia’s formative years were spent in Bartica the family lived in Robb Street, in Georgetown, for a brief period.
Education was important in the family. Sonia recalls that her teacher in primary school pushed her to learn. She responded well and made good progress in school. There were many challenges in her young life but her mom made sure that the children went to school.
Sonia became a responsible member of the family at an early age. She realized that extra income was needed and decided to help out. Sonia made plantain chips, sugar cake, and tamarind balls that she sold at school. She was only ten years old but she showed an entrepreneurial talent far beyond her age.
Sonia ‘threw box hand’ and she used the money to help the family. Her mom had become a cook for Golden Star, a mining outfit, and this meant that Sonia was responsible for looking after her siblings. She made pastries and cakes that she sold, walking the streets of Bartica.
There were times when she had to skip school but she never gave up. Sonia says that, ‘I have always been a positive person. Giving up was not in my vocabulary. I see setbacks as temporary. I pulled myself together, worked hard, and went on to top my class.’ Sonia credits her grandmother, Winefred Gibson, for always being generous and for sharing whatever little she had with others. The sacrifices made by her family have become important tools in Sonia’s motivation speeches and have inspired countless others to improve themselves.
During her school years, Sonia was involved in fashion. She said, ‘When I was in primary school I would teach the children to use newspapers and create fashionable objects. Fashion became chronic in my system and I admired my aunt Corin Gibson that was an excellent fashion designer.’
When she was eleven there was a junior competition in Bartica in which they were promoting cotton. Sonia was selected to participate. She designed her own outfits and won the first runner-up prize. This built her confidence and she thought that she could do anything. But she was humble enough to continue selling her pastries in the town.
After graduation, Sonia taught at Bartica Secondary School and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. She was attached to the children and mentored them to do better. There were times when many personal challenges presented themselves but Sonia dug deep in her being and triumphed.
The births of her daughters Shonta and Marisca were the most amazing events in her life. As a young mother, Sonia knew that she had to stay close to her children. When Marisca became ill Sonia tried everywhere to get proper treatment. Eventually, she was lucky to find Dr. Michael Sears who nursed Marisca back to health.
It came time for Sonia to spread her wings. She rented space in Bartica and started selling various items. Since she was into fashion it was natural that she would design her own line. She moved to Georgetown and set up her fashion business. This meant that she had to travel to Bartica every week to see her children. It was Leon Rutherford that encouraged her to take the children to Georgetown.
It was expensive but Sonia worked hard to make ends meet. Her business expanded and in 2002 she created a fashion show at Pegasus Hotel called ‘Simply Irresistible.’ It was a big hit and Sonia was becoming popular. She then started Fashion Week in Guyana. In 2005, disaster struck when Georgetown was flooded. Sonia lost everything. But she was a fighter and would not allow this setback to dampen her spirit.
Sonia went to Barbados to set up her business. It was a bold decision. She shared space with her friend Betty West and it was long before she was in the news again. Her fashion show hit the headlines and the reviews were positive. She became the official designer for the Barbados Music Awards.
One of the highlights was Sonia’s meeting with superstar Rihanna whom she describes as a very nice person. Sonia has received many awards in her career, including an honorary doctorate. She has taken them in her stride befitting a warm and humble philanthropist.
Over the years, Sonia has become a passionate advocate for the underprivileged. She has written four books to date and is promoting them in the United States. Her ‘Living with Intention’ tour has met with fantastic responses; the audiences have taken to her motivational speeches. She was a hit at the recent Book Fair and Literary Festival in Richmond Hill, in Queens.
One of Sonia’s admirers is the Guyanese writer and playwright Francis Quamina Farrier. At a book event in Washington D.C. Uncle Francis composed a poem for Sonia. It said that though the road may be rugged, faith is a mover of mountains. So ‘start out today with faith in your heart. And climb till your dreams come true.’ This is the mission in Sonia’s life. We salute her and wish her and her family all the best in the future.