Devoted community leader and preacher, Samuel Singh, is a ‘Special Person’
By Leon Suseran
Our ‘Special Person’ this week is proof that one can definitely make it in this life, despite overwhelming challenges, and when everything seems to be against you.
You can say that Samuel Seepaul Singh went through it all. He was born into a poor and humble family with many other siblings. His father walked out on his mother while they were very small, leaving him (young Samuel) to start fending financially for the family. Then, as if that was not enough, his mother died when he was just 11 – a hopeless situation indeed.
The young Singh children were without both mother and father. Samuel slept in cardboard boxes in the streets and did many odd-jobs just to help his eight other siblings to survive since he had taken up the responsibility to ensure their needs were met.
Samuel Singh was born at Essex Street, New Amsterdam, in 1963, in what he described as a very quiet and peaceful town, until after the disturbances in the 1960s, when the family migrated to Lad Lane, a bit further in the town.
He attended the Vryman’s Erven Government School and later the St Aloysius R.C. Boys’ School. The family later migrated to Vryheid/Lochaber after his father had “walked out on us and my mother was a single parent and we were given a home to stay there and then my mother took ill there and we moved back into Strand in a logie home and then she took ill and died”.
He had just finished writing the Common Entrance Exams and was just about to enter secondary school “but I never went to secondary school because each and every one of us, as children, had to fend for ourselves. So at the age of 11-plus, I started to work”.
So what was the impact of his father walking out on the family?
“It had a great impact on all of us as children and our mother had to struggle, and we saw her many days doing things children don’t want to see their parents do…and my father, at that time, I don’t think he was family- oriented.”
Samuel started to work at age 11 at Trotman’s Hardware Store, checking nails, and earned 10 – 25 cents per day. He later worked at Faaz Cinema, sweeping, etc. “Life took a big twist”, he reflected. He even recalled picking up glass bottles off the streets to sell for cash “just to keep the family together”.
“I was even taking care of my sister who was older than me….I was one who took a close interest in the family”.
Their father “reconciled” with the family at age 74 “and we all got close together for the last 14 years of his life. I still felt that he had done a great injustice to us”. His children nevertheless forgave him and received him back into the family.
When asked, Samuel reflected that he was essentially robbed of his childhood since he had to ignore the things young boys at his age would engage in and start earning little bits and pieces for his siblings’ survival.
As a young man he applied to the Guyana Defence Force but was not accepted. He later tried his luck with the Guyana National Service and was successful “but then I could not financially afford the basic package that they ask you for, so it was a ‘no-no’ dream then. So I spent almost the first half of my life on the road… sleeping here, spending times in clubs, sleeping in lumber yards, working odds-and-ends jobs”.
He met a pretty young lady in 1987 and they got married and his life finally had some stability.
“I was able to put things together and was able to save some money and work and life was a little constructive then. I met her and we courted and got married in 1989 and the union brought forth four children and we are very happy today.” Interestingly, too, in 1989, Singh recalled how he “obeyed the Gospel”. He became deeply involved in the Church of Christ and started a “dynamic” journey where he was afforded the opportunity to travel across the Caribbean, preaching. “Life just took a different turn,” he reflected.
After marriage, he was able to secure a job and spent some time preaching across Guyana – and even spent three years in Matthews Ridge from 1994.
“It was really beautiful to work amongst the native Amerindians and I learned a lot from them”.
Still feeling that something was missing from his life, he resigned from a job he held at Carnival Cruise Lines and returned home and became more involved in the church. In 2000, he took up the ministry in New Amsterdam, as a full-time Gospel preacher, a post he holds to this date. He attended various workshops and training seminars across the world as well.
Singh, who now resides in Smythfield, New Amsterdam, recalled how he was instrumental in forming the New Amsterdam Action Group. He was one of three Guyanese picked by the Diplomatic Corps in Guyana back then to become involved in a Government training workshop in Ottawa, Canada, in 2004, and studied Local Government and solid waste management.
Singh was instrumental, too, in starting the first Community Policing Group in his village in the 1980s and had Inspector Pearson “who was there every single night in Smythfield— we never had crime in this area”.
He also started the first Community Development Council (CDC) in Smythfield. “We were able to do all the internal roads…I was instrumental in that and also implemented the Drainage and Irrigation workers to work here.”
Singh raised over $180,000 in the 1980s and was able to repair many roads in the Smythfield area. He is well-respected as a community leader as well as a spiritual leader.
In 2009, he was encouraged to join the New Amsterdam Lions Club. He was inducted a bit later on and became Third Vice President. He eventually became the 51st President, in June of this year.
For all his humanitarian and community work over the years, Singh received a Certificate of Appreciation from the Lions Club. He also received an accolade from the Churches of Christ in the USA. He was able, too, to implement numerous social programmes in the church, including a school-feeding programme which has been ongoing every Monday, whereby 150 less-fortunate children in Berbice would receive a hot meal. “We serve a hot meal every pension day at the N/A Post Office as well,” he noted.
As current President of the Lions Club, he continues the missionary work through that body. Twenty poor children in the town were outfitted with school uniforms and books as well as bags for the new school year. Before his tenure is up, he is hoping to touch many more aspects of the lives of the less fortunate.
Singh was also selected by the then Social Services Minister Priya Manickchand to sit on the board that interviews persons to qualify them for Public Assistance. He was the Public Assistance Chairman for three years from 2009 to 2012.
August was the final month in that exercise and he is currently awaiting whether the board will be re-appointed.
Singh is also a trained Mediator, having completed the USAID Mediation Programme, and will join the other trained mediators and dispense this vital service to Berbicians once the Mediation building is completed shortly.
He was involved, too, in politics, being the Chairman of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP/C) in New Amsterdam for nine years, but gave it up recently, since he believed it would have conflicted with his religious preaching and church leadership.
“I cannot speak to a congregation of a mixed audience and then there is the perception in the minds of people… they might think I am prejudiced which I am not, so I try to walk away from that”.
Samuel’s passion for humanitarian work stems from the fact that “I grew up having nothing and I saw the great need, and I thought that I can play a part in doing something for my fellow human beings. As I grew older, I realised that I didn’t have the opportunity and could use my life to allow others to have the opportunity. I am amazed when I do something to help someone and see the smiles on their faces.”
It still astonishes Singh that he came from having basically nothing in life, to having a family, respect, and a beautiful home.
“It’s just amazing how God works. Not only did I succeed in life, but I was able to pass the morals on to my children. My eldest son is now studying Theology in Trinidad.”
Singh noted that what he did not get from his father, “I was able to build myself and pass it down with the help of my wife, and I could not have done this without her help”. He also believes his Mom would be most proud of his achievements.
“I believe that wherever she is right now, she is looking down, smiling on me and if I had the opportunity of one wish, I would ask the Lord just to allow me to see her one more time. I believe she would tell me that she is proud of me”.
Sadly, his other siblings are all separated from each other, living apart. Since their Dad walked out on them, life has never been the same. He stressed that judging from his situation, poverty is no excuse to remain down in life.
“Ignorance is the excuse, when you know something and you don’t do it”.
Apart from all the service and religious work, Singh is also an antique collector. In his verandah, he has a table full of antique bottles, some hundreds of years old. He has been doing this for over 25 years, but started to become more serious about it in 1994 during a visit to an antique shop in New Orleans, USA. He brought back a few items to Guyana and added to his collection. Among the many pieces, Singh probably has one of the oldest man-made objects in the country, a 13th Century jar.
His life otherwise is quite simple. “I enjoy family time with the wife and kids. I read the daily papers — I am particularly fond of the Kaieteur News. I read it every single day— and then I look at the (TV) news. I also spend some time online.”
In concluding, Singh was understandably reflective.
“If you are going to achieve anything in life, it has to come from staying focused on your education; on what is important for you. There are many distractions and we need to be careful. Anyone can achieve their goals if they stay focused, but the key to any success is education. Don’t ever run away from that fact.
I urge the young people to keep away from drugs and alcohol—stay focused and don’t allow people to influence you. Once you achieve a good education, the doors of opportunity will open up. God, too, is important in our lives and we need to pay attention to that as well”.
Samuel Singh continues to stride ahead confidently and his life has now become one of service to his fellow brothers and sisters. He is truly a man of courage and fortitude.