We all deserve a chance and that is the intent of this facility: to give people a chance at a better life” – Pandit Sugrim
When a naked, presumably homeless young woman is left to wander the streets without anyone attempting to render assistance, it is a clear indication that societal values have collapsed. This was the observation of Pandit Suresh Sugrim, Chief Executive Officer/Administrative Head of the Humanitarian Mission of the New Jersey Arya Samaj (NJAS), which also has a presence in Canada.
Although he migrated to the United States many years ago, Pandit Sugrim, who was born and raised in Berbice, would often visit Guyana.
It was during one of his many visits to the Ancient County that he observed an unclothed woman casually meandering around the Berbice Stelling area. The sight, though alarming to Pandit Sugrim, appeared to be a normal sight to almost all of the people within the vicinity.
“There were many religious leaders and other individuals that were at the Stelling, but not one took a piece of cloth to wrap that young girl’s naked body. I hurriedly got into my suitcase and got out a piece of clothing and covered her… I also gave her a few dollars and she went along her way,” recounted Pandit Sugrim.
The encounter bothered him so much that he recognized the need to address the glaring situation of poverty that existed in that section of the country.
Upon his return to New Jersey, he shared his experience with the Board of Directors of the NJAS and plans were soon after made to expand the Humanitarian Mission to Guyana.
Beginning in 2005, the NJAS plugged support into sections of Berbice with the aim of helping alleviate the poverty situation. A hand-out tactic was embraced, whereby the mission would cater to the physical needs of individuals in dire need. The mission helped poor families construct homes, helped single mothers send their children to school, helped children with heart conditions access surgery, among many other noble undertakings.
“We did pretty much anything that helped to get people through the struggles of life,” disclosed Pandit Sugrim. But according to him, “we eventually came to the realization that we had spent millions of dollars in hand-outs but that wasn’t the solution to Guyana’s problems. After many years, there were still many people in poverty who were simply expecting to continue to receive hand-outs from us.”
By 2011, the NJAS was re-evaluating its support to Guyana, and an informed decision was made to change the mode of support.
The decision, Pandit Sugrim noted, was premised on the Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Teaching the people of Berbice to “fish” will take on the form of an Empowerment Center at 21-26 Ankerville, Port Mourant, Corentyne, Berbice. The center, which was officially commissioned on August 9, 2015, will facilitate educational programs for out-of-school youths and young mothers, job training, counseling and other social services.
“People would agree that there are many [social] ills that have been destroying and rocking the foundation of families across this country… There are issues such as suicide, domestic violence, other forms of abuse, and there are even problems with alcohol and diseases such as HIV that are happening in Guyana right now and we have to do something to deal with these,” said Pandit Sugrim. He is promoting the Empowerment Center as a possible solution.
The realization of the center, which is currently undergoing finishing touches, was made possible through the support of local donors and others in the US and Canada who helped to raise in excess of US$300,000. The center was constructed on land leased by government.
While the facility will be managed by a board of directors, Pandit Sugrim disclosed that he has decided to return home to give his full support to its operation, because he is confident that it is poised to evolve overtime.
He is hopeful that other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) would collaborate with the center to ensure that the needs of the society are effectively addressed. “We can’t do it alone… We are looking to prepare people for the world of work. We are looking to teach young women to sew and have what they sew sold right back [in] the community so that they can earn a living,” disclosed Pandit Sugrim.
It is also hoped that the center could facilitate daycare services for single parent mothers as they learn a trade to empower themselves. The intended targets for support will not only be women. According to Pandit Sugrim, the center will be reaching out to young men too. Even deportees are expected to find a refuge if they so desire, since efforts will be made to create activities that can ensure that they make an honest living.
In essence, Pandit Sugrim is of the view that the center would be one that addresses the underlying problem of poverty in the society in the quest to bring about needed changes. Realizing the needed changes, he pointed out, would require that entire communities work together.
“Sometimes there is nobody there to hold people’s hands when they are in a crisis, and so it is our hope that we can have a center that offers a 24/7 counseling service, even as we empower our people,” informed Pandit Sugrim.
Attempts have already been made to garner support from the government to aid the not-for-profit operation of the center which is expected to touch the lives of many. “We all deserve a chance and that is the intent of this facility: to give people a chance at a better life,” asserted Pandit Sugrim.