“I always do things to help people. I don’t care about race, colour or creed. I deal with principle.”
By Leon Suseran
Today, when some persons serve in various capacities, whether in organisations or in their communities, they look forward for something in return, some material gain of sorts. This is certainly not the case with our ‘Special Person’ this week. He has selflessly served, and continues to serve, the Berbice community.
Ramesh Maraj possesses that extra special quality of one who has served his region with distinction, in several notable capacities and positions, from agriculture to education and even fraternally.
Ramesh was born at Rotterdam Village, a far-flung community along the East Bank Berbice corridor, to Jasodah and Danesh Maraj, cattle and rice farmers in the area. He quickly learned the tools of the trade and became entrenched in the rice- farming and milling business. His family established one of the first, if not the first, rice-milling facilities in Berbice.
“They (my parents) used to sell milk, and Rotterdam was owned by the La Cruzes, and they became the fourteenth persons to buy it (the village) since ownership of the village changed hands regularly.”
Briefly reflecting on his childhood, Maraj revealed that he used to be more in the fields. With respect to education, he attended the Friends Primary School and later, the Berbice Educational Institute, “and I used to read a lot– the newspapers and Indian Magazines, and I tried to follow good company”.
RICE FARMER AND MILLER
The family, he reflected, had the “first modern rice mill” in Berbice and they bought a lot of machinery.
“We used to mill for the Cuban market and the mill started to work in March 1961.” His father passed away in October of that same year, leaving young Maraj to continue in the footsteps and carry on the family business, while giving support to his mother.
He was just 21, but he received a lot of help from his brother-in-law.
“I used to follow up some workshop training and mechanics, and when the combine used to come in those days, they came in crates, so my uncle had a combine and when they loosed it up, I went with the mechanic and watched them how they fit it up.”
“We carried on the work and my mom steered the family.”
He recalled how “rough” those days sometimes were when he used to drive a truck and transport paddy in the night “for farmers to get the mill to work…I used to mill rice at a cent a pound; a bag of 180 pounds”.
Maraj proudly claims that he was “the first and youngest rice farmer and rice miller in Berbice. At that time, we were doing 300 acres of rice, in 1962, when I took over from my dad”.
“The rice industry had a pick-up in 1958 and 1959, and Burma could not take all the paddy, and we put up a mill and we milled for the Cuban market and the Ivory Coast,” he recounted.
He spoke highly of the Fung-a-Fat and Mooksands families. “They were so good to us because they were very close to my father, and they checked us out to see how we were heading.”
Commenting on the career he loved back in the day, rice, and its presence today in Guyana, he said, “ the industry has been developing during the past couple of years and what I must say, is that when the government got these markets, the industry picked up from the early ‘90s and then you found that around 1998, 1999, there was a little drop and it picked up back during the last three years…better quality of paddy, yields and a lot more machinery came in during the last three or four years and farmers got back into their lands and they produced high-yielding paddy and got favourable market prices”.
However, he said that this year is a very tough one, given the cost for reaping and moving and “combines cannot reap all the paddy in the field, because of the weather— I know a lot about combines”.
ADVOCATE FOR THE RESIDENTS
He recounted a memorable incident whereby he had sued the Reynolds Bauxite Company for dust pollution back in 1971.
“It was one of the biggest cases in this country. I advocated on behalf of residents; their complaints and concerns with the dust and harmful effects that emanated from the company’s operations. There was an immense dust nuisance in Rotterdam on the rice crops and trees. I managed to get the assistance of Dr Fenton Ramsahoye and I had to talk to the President in getting a decision—It was a public nuisance and I had people along with me, who gave evidence, such as Dr Neville Trotz of the University of Guyana and Dr Mohamed Saheed Khan, a plant Pathologist with the UN, who was Principal Agricultural Officer at the Guyana School of Agriculture at Mon Repos at the time.”
Maraj won the case and the company compensated the people. He and his brother-in-law operated the rice mill until 1975.
“At that time, they wanted me to do expansion in the mill and it was not feasible…and they took over the mill and they brought new machinery. It never worked out. Eventually everything was sold, but the land is still there.”
SERVICE BEFORE SELF
In 1962, Maraj played an integral role in the formation of the Berbice Road Safety Association at the New Amsterdam Traffic Department as well as the Berbice Chamber of Commerce and Development Association. These were the first in a long list of organisations he would have given his service.
He joined the Lions Club of New Amsterdam in 1968, the start of another journey that would take him decades down the line and make him the oldest-serving Lion in Berbice to date, 44 years to be exact. He was sponsored to join the organisation, by Vick Omrao, former Manager of Wieting and Richter in Berbice, who saw leadership and other good qualities in him.
“I was sponsored to be a member of the club and that was a very big night at the Rose Hall Estate. It was 23rd October, 1968, the same night the Lions Club was celebrating its 7th Anniversary and I was inducted.”
Maraj opined that his leadership qualities were brought out serving for the first time in such an organisation and he learned to conduct meetings, etc. He quickly moved up the ranks to become 3rd Vice President and then to the Presidency.
“I had the biggest crowd when I took the presidency– Justice Larry Ganpatsingh gave the feature address and my membership developed then from 45 to about 82, within a year’s span…a lot of people came into the club and joined. The club got so big that as a result, the East Canje Lions Club was formed, and some members went across to that club.”
In 1978, he joined the Ituni Branch of the Freemason Lodge. Again, he was sponsored “and they find that you can be a person of certain status…they come and talk to you and you have to meet certain criteria and they watch at you for a period and I was called into it.”
Later on, he would end up to be the founder/member of the Phoenix Lodge in 1993 and served Mastership. Presently, he is in three lodges and was awarded the District Award.
Through his involvement in the Berbice Chamber of Commerce, Maraj served in numerous committees in the 1980s, where he used his influence to lobby for new and improved facilities that would benefit his community in New Amsterdam, including equipment for the School for the Blind.
The following are some of the noteworthy positions in which Mr Maraj has served over the many years:
– Chairman of the New Amsterdam Water Enterprise – Today, the GWI Water Treatment Plant.
– The Rice Producers Association (RPA) where he represented issues of farmers in the East Berbice area from 1964 to 1968.
– The Executive of the Guyana Rice Millers Association, also from 1964-1968, as well as the Executive of the Rice Action Committee for Berbice from 1972-1975.
– President of the N/A Lions Club from 1984-1985 and Chairman of Zone ‘B’ from 1987-1988.
– Public Utilities Committee in 1988 and the Worshipful Master of the Ituni Lodge from 1989-1990.
– President of the Berbice Chamber of Commerce from 2001-2003
– Transport & Harbours Department (T&HD) Management Committee from 2001-2004.
– On the Board of Governors of the New Amsterdam Technical Institute (NATI) and founder-member of the Mark Lodge in 2007.
– President of the Berbice Chamber, again, from 2007-2008.
“I always do things to help people. I don’t care about race, colour or creed. I deal with principle. For instance, a lot of people come to me for recommendations and once I know their background, and it’s acceptable, I give them. If I don’t know, I will tell them as it is…because I don’t want to give a recommendation to a person and they go and tarnish my reputation.”
He reflected that serving all over helped him, since he was among many people and he admits learning from them. “You are being guided and you move on… no university, but reading and moving and mixing. It significantly enhances your learning.”
Being involved in Lionism for nearly half a decade, he has travelled all over the world. He, along with other Lions, advocated for the further development of New Amsterdam.
“We lobbied and we got the School for the Blind…and then the Lions raised funds and we built an upper-flat and the Braille Machine came in, which was funded by overseas-based agencies.”
The club, under his leadership, also refurbished the Prenatal and Postnatal clinic at the old N/A Hospital. “All of this was done with support of members”.
Today, he is lifetime member of the New Amsterdam Lions Club, and is looked to for advice by many. He is working assiduously with the current executive to “build back the club”. During the day, he quietly manages his motor spare parts store at Chapel Street in the town, and is still serving the Ancient County in many regards, sometimes just quietly behind the scenes.
Behind every successful man, they say, is a successful woman and Mr Maraj spoke highly of his wife, Chandrowtie, whom he married in 1963, stressing that she has been there all the time to give unwavering support even while he joined and was a part of the activities of numerous organisations and boards.
“She is a very understanding person, who comes from a strong religious background.”
Everyone knows the Marajs and they are highly respected in their present community at Gay Park, Greater New Amsterdam.
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