Working in the shadows, the Guyana Foundation is making a difference in the lives of those in poor communities like Breezy Point, a squatter settlement located on the outskirts of Buxton, East Coast Demerara, where half of the households are now being lit by mini solar lights.
The donation of the solar kits, which cost US$125 and consist of wiring, two bulbs and a small solar panel, is part of the Foundation’s “Gift of Light” project, which has already benefited 25 of the 50 households in the settlement. Each of the remaining households will also benefit from the project, which will soon be extended to Santa Rosa, North West District, in Region One.
The Foundation is the brainchild of former PNCR Executive Supriya Singh-Bodden, who left Guyana in 2008 to pursue work abroad. However, after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, Singh-Bodden said, she frequently thought about how she had been unable to make a difference in her own country. Helping those in need in Guyana, she explained, was something she wanted to do all her life. But during her political career, she said, she made all sorts of promises to people in her speeches but was unable to do anything.
Singh-Bodden, who now resides in the Cayman Islands, said that after she overcame the difficult period post-diagnosis, she travelled to Guyana to identify areas where she could help. “Not having the luxury of waiting for a political solution to solve all the problems of Guyana, I felt the next best thing to do… was to set up an NGO,” she said, and the Guyana Foundation was born—her way of saying that she was going to make one more try.
The organisation was registered in Guyana in January and the Board of Trustees comprises Singh-Bodden, local businessman Stanley Ming, activist Eric Phillips and attorney Nadia Sagar.
According to Singh-Bodden, since its establishment the Foundation has kept a low profile because “we wanted to get on and actually do the work …and show people what we can actually achieve.”
The Foundation, according to its mission statement, aims “to release the power of people globally to assist Guyanese to transform their communities, bring fulfillment and well-being to their families, enabling them to build relations of trust and friendship among themselves irrespective of race and beliefs.”
The Foundation is now in Phase One of its work, which involves the “Gift of Light” project, youth empowerment, women empowerment and community renewal. The work so far has been concentrated primarily in Region One—at Wauna and Santa Rosa—and Region Four—at the Breezy Point and Pigeon Island squatter settlements—where it has been literally building bridges.
At Wauna, in the North West District of Region One, the Foundation has provided community women with a commercial oven that has enabled them to bake bread for sale in their community and other parts of the district.
Singh-Bodden said the women of the community, which is located not far from Mabaruma, had written to the Foundation saying that there were some 500 Amerindian women in the village and they needed help. She said their husbands were away most of the time and their incomes were small. To supplement their household incomes, the women decided to start a small bakery but they only had a very small primitive oven, until the Foundation was able to build a commercial oven for them. “It is very big and we were able to get it up there and the ladies are now able to bake for Port Kaituma and Mabaruma. So it has increased productivity tremendously,” she said.
The Foundation has also been working in Santa Rosa, where it is seeking to improve access to potable water and better toilet facilities for the primary school students. The project is almost completed, according to Singh-Bodden, who said their efforts were as a result of a visit to Santa Rosa by Foundation members, who were told by teachers that the poor state of the water supply and sanitation facilities was among the issues affecting the 595 children who attend school there. “…When I looked at the tap where they were supposed to be getting drinking water (from) … it was totally substandard,” she said, while adding that the children would sometimes have to “go in the bush” when they wanted to use the washroom. As a result of the Foundation’s intervention, a US$10,000 donation from a Caymanian woman was given to the community to rebuild and upgrade the facilities for access to drinking water and toilet facilities.
Also at Santa Rosa, Singh-Bodden said, the dormitory which houses children from the Waini River and other communities of the North West was found to be in a “pretty poor shape” during a visit. As a result, the Foundation subsequently transported bedding and hampers for the children.
Singh-Bodden told Stabroek News that the Foundation heard of Breezy Point and decided to visit. She explained that the community, which has been in existence for some 30 years and which is home to approximately 75 children, is located alongside a huge canal owned by GuySuCo. She said that the families living there are very poor. The residents live on the right side, she said, explaining that they access their homes across narrow, makeshift bridges. She noted that the area is not regularised and so residents have no electricity nor water.
The residents have asked the Foundation to also build a bridge for them. However, the relevant authorities will have to be contacted to see whether this is possible, Singh-Bodden explained, while adding that in the meantime they are seeking quotations from contractors.
The Foundation has also done some work in Pigeon Island, another squatter settlement along the East Coast.
Members of that community are getting sick because of the lack of potable water, Singh-Bodden said, explaining that residents “are dipping water from a very unhealthy source.” She said they have since been in discussions with water authorities to get a stand pipe in the area. The Foundation, she said, will fund the amount to get this done.
Singh-Bodden said several days prior to speaking with this newspaper, the Foundation held an optometry clinic in the area with the help of students from the University of Guyana’s Ophthalmology Department. The residents of Pigeon Island were able to get their eyes tested, pressure taken and were able to get glasses on the spot. Donors in Canada also sent supplies of stationery, toys and other items for the children.
The Foundation has also built a small bridge over a canal for residents to use, distributed footwear and hosted a children’s party. “These are just very small contributions that we are making. Clearly these people need to be rehoused and the community needs to be regularised… However, in the interim, we will do as much as we can to ease some of the burden of poverty in the community of Pigeon Island,” she added.
Asked about funding, Singh-Bodden said this comes mainly from overseas. She explained that through her business connections across the world, she is able to network with individuals, companies and trust funds to see where donations for charitable work can be sought. She said that so far the response has been positive.
Talking about the Foundation’s plans for the rest of the year, she said that at the moment it is continuing to work on the “Gift of Light” project. “For the rest of the year, we will continue to monitor some of these projects, which we have started and we have plans for year end, most of which are acknowledging the richness of communities and acknowledging people who are doing very good work in the community,” she explained.
The Foundation, Singh-Bodden added, is appealing for ambassadors, such as sport personalities, accomplished businessmen, diplomats or statesmen to get onboard, to target youths in particular.
During Phase Two, which should start in about a year’s time, the Foundation is looking to garner the support of some of Guyana’s richest minds to give back in the area of literacy. She said that the Foundation is hoping to attract some of the more accomplished writers to come back home and do some work in this area. She stressed that it is important for Guyanese living abroad to give back.
Anyone wishing to make contact with the Foundation can do so via Facebook, send an email on firstname.lastname@example.org, visit the website: www.guyanafoundation.com or contact the office on telephone number 231-8139. The office is located at 118-119 Cowan Street, Kingston.