Dec 21, 2008 News
When 74-year-old Edward Cambridge Richards says that he has spent his entire life helping the cause of humanity, he means it literally.
While most benevolent people begin such servitude in their adult years, Richards began doing this from as early as he could remember.
As a member of the Salvation Army Church, one of the world’s largest providers of social aid, Cambridge remembers as a child going out onto the streets at Christmas time ringing bells to inspire passersby to place donations of cash and cheques to “keep the pot boiling.” He also recalls ‘beating the streets’ selling donated used items such as clothing, housewares and toys to raise money for the organisation’s charitable and religious activities.
Even up to last year at the ripe old age of 73, he was braving the inclement weather in front of Fogarty’s on Water Street in Georgetown, encouraging persons to give generously to the less fortunate.
He has become a regular feature around the city, especially at Christmas time blowing his trumpet – which he has played for most of his life – to the tunes of popular Christmas carols.
He has served in every facet of the organization, from the soup kitchen which provides free meals on a daily basis to the Men’s Drug Rehabilitation Centre in Kingston, and even now remains very active.
Apart from pastoring Sunday services at various churches around the city, he is also actively involved in the charitable aspect of the church.
Relating his life’s work in the field of charity from his humble abode, which he shares with his wife Geraldine at lot UU Bent Street, Wortmanville, Richards noted that it has been “rough but pleasant.”
Most of his service with the Salvation Army has been on a voluntary full-time basis, so at times “providing for his family proved to be very challenging”, as he noted.
Even now with just a government pension and intermittent assistance from his four children, who are all grown, he continues to reach out to the needy in a tangible way.
His home is always open to strangers to offer any kind of assistance, and persons have taken full advantage of this extraordinary benevolence over the years.
On a daily basis, children, adults and sometimes even ‘drug addicts’ would ‘drop by’ for a meal or articles of clothing. Even while the interview for this article was being conducted, a young boy stopped by for a meal, which was facilitated.
There have also been many instances when persons have requested shelter, and never one to turn anyone away, the Richards have always obliged, most times giving up their own bed in the process.
Mr. Richards presently functions in the capacity of Chairman of the Prisons Aid Committee and has worked in other aspects of the prison service over the years.
Through this alliance, many released prisoners with nowhere to go have also graced his home over the years.
When asked if he was not scared for the safety of his family in these instances, Richards’s quick reply was, “As you can see I don’t have anything for anyone to steal and yes, it’s a risk, but I believe it’s a risk worth taking because it’s helping others and I can’t just assume that everyone will harm me and my family. If we do that we won’t help anyone in life because we will always be afraid…remember but for the grace of God goes you and I.”
Recalling another incident of ‘risk taking’, he related that during his days as a probation officer with the Bartica Courts, a teenaged boy was charged and put before the courts for stealing and was sentenced to three years at the New Opportunity Corps at Onderneeming.
Looking at the lad in the court as the sentence was read, Richards said he felt a pang of pity for the young man who looked forlorn and confused. He made the hasty decision to try to give him a second chance at reforming his ways.
“I stood up and told the magistrate that I would take him in…even his mother asked me if I was mad, but while they all said that he was bad, I saw all that he could become.”
The magistrate agreed for the boy to be placed temporarily with the Richards family. He stayed for six years during which time he graduated from high school. He is now making a positive contribution to society.
These kinds of selfless acts have characterized Richards’s life, and while he credits the organization to which he belongs for his compassionate nature, it is obvious that it’s in his nature to help others.
He recalled another incident while at Bartica when a foreigner who had gone into the hinterland to seek a fortune fell ill and was brought out in a critical condition.
“He was in a terrible state, he was smelly and could not walk…his feet were bandaged, the residents just brought him and dumped him under the stoop of a nearby shop, exposed to the elements of nature…it was like they were afraid to touch him since they did not know what was wrong with him.”
Despite the man’s condition, Richards reached out to him, offering him meals, and sought medical attention for him.
“Just getting him to the hospital was an ordeal by itself. So bad was his condition that no one wanted him in their vehicle… Every car that I stopped asked me ‘wheh you going wid that’. I had to hire a donkey cart to take him.”
Richards said even the medical staff at the hospital were reluctant to attend to the man because of the stench.
It wasn’t until they unwrapped the man’s leg that the origin of the smell was realised.
“It was the worst thing I have ever seen and smelt in my life…there were thousands of maggots crawling in his legs…I felt like fainting…By the time the nurse was finished scooping off the infected flesh the bones in his legs were exposed…One nurse even opined that it is better that the man died.” The injured man was released into Richards’s care and sadly passed away a few days later.
“I felt like all my hard work had gone in vain, but I knew that I had tried my best.”
An ordained minister and marriage officer, Richards continues to help others on a daily basis.
Even though his children are urging him to be cautious because of his age, with a sly smile he related that Guyanese should not be too surprised if before the festive season ends, they see him in his usual spot in front of Fogarty’s blowing his trumpet.
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