By Sharmain Grainger
An abused woman and another barely able to make ends meet, along with representatives of a Non-Governmental Organisation and disability organisation were among the beneficiaries of donations from the Demerara Charitable Foundation recently.
The Foundation represents one of the newest humanitarian organisations to be established in these parts and is the brainchild of telecommunications expert, Mike Singh – a son of the soil.
Singh migrated many years ago and currently is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Telkom Caribe Group, a telecommunication company based in Miami, Florida. The Group also has offices in Abu Dhabi, the United States and South Africa.
Though a thriving and much sought-after business icon, Singh’s secret passion has always been to reach out in meaningful ways to the vulnerable of the society. And to him, there was no place like home to realise his passion.
It was for this reason, he disclosed during a recent interview with me, that he conceptualised and eventually established one year ago the charitable foundation. The Foundation is therefore one that embraces the mission to help the poor and socially underprivileged, Singh disclosed, even as he shared his belief that this could be realised by “reaching out to the less fortunate members of society who have fallen through the cracks.”
“In Guyana today there is a huge gap, wider than the Grand Canyon, between the rich and the poor…you are either extremely rich or you are extremely poor; there is no middle class anymore in this country,” Singh opined.
Even as he made reference to the faction of the population yet struggling to make ends meet, Singh intimated that it had long become clear to him that there was need for something to be done.
“My idea was to do more for the needy, to provide after-school tuition and one free meal every day for the school children…to reach the more socially underprivileged in Albouystown, Tiger Bay, Agricola – the places people wouldn’t normally focus on – the folks who are not fortunate to live in the Le Ressouvenirs and Pradovilles and Republic Parks; the ones who are not fortunate to drive in a Mercedes or go to a private school…our goal is to help them,” Singh said.
Endowments of mainly food supplies (including rice donated by Nand Persaud and Company) were handed over during the past week to Founder of Monique’s Caring Hand Support Centre, Dr Dawn Stewart-Lyken, and Mr Omar Cooper and Yvonne DeAbreu of the Guyana Disabled Organisation.
Both organisations are involved in helping many vulnerable persons of the society, therefore Singh was only too willing to collaborate with them to help realise his vision.
According to Singh, who imported most of the items donated, shipping support was forthcoming from Laparkan Shipping Company and Sea Freight. But help has also been coming from a number of individuals, including reputable personalities such as his father-in-law, Mr Keith Park; Mr Bernard Crawford, the former head of the now defunct Bauxite Industry Development Company (BIDCO); Mr Vibert Parvatan; Mr Cammie Ramsaroop; Dr George Norton and Ms Hazeline Bostwick, all of whom currently make-up the membership of the Foundation.
Singh’s wife, Sharon Park, has been designated Patron of the Foundation. “She is the pillar of my support; she supports me 1,000 per cent, she is very understanding….” said Singh.
But, according to him, despite immense support, realising the Foundation was not without some challenges. He recalled that even acquiring a certificate to authenticate the status of the charitable organisation would take approximately six months.
The Foundation was duly registered as the Demerara Charitable Foundation situated at Lot ‘A’ Public Road, Eccles, East Bank Demerara, and persons wishing to collaborate can simply do so on telephone number 233-2553, or find out more about the organisation by visiting its website at www.demeraracharitablefoundation.org.
But even several months after registration, Singh disclosed that the Foundation is yet to be afforded much needed tax exemptions.
“We have applied for our tax exemption status more than five months ago and we are yet to receive any official correspondence from the GRA (Guyana Revenue Authority) even to acknowledge…they came by and did the necessary audits, but so far we have not had any official correspondence or word back from GRA or the Ministry of Finance on our formal application,” Singh said.
And this state of affairs has greatly hindered the operation of the Foundation, as according to Singh, he has had to refuse in excess of 40,000 gallons of paint that was offered to the Foundation by the Atlanta-based Global Paint for Charity. This is in light of the fact, Singh said, that paying the associated duty, without tax exemption, would prove to be a very costly undertaking which he can currently ill-afford to do.
“It would cost about US$10,000 to ship it from Atlanta to Guyana and then I will be expected to pay the duty; I cannot do that…this paint if its comes we are not selling it, we would give it to every school, every community centre, we would give it to every charity-based organisation, we would give it to every Mandir, Church and Mosque…any place of worship,” Singh stressed.
“We would gladly even repaint City Hall and St George’s Cathedral, but unfortunately because the Government of Guyana has not given me tax exempt status for my organisation, I am being forced every three months to turn away this paint.”
Singh revealed that every quarter he could be eligible for no less than 10,000 gallons of paint. “I have had to reluctantly let the paint go to Haiti,” he added.
Nevertheless, the Foundation since earlier this year was able to make a number of donations, including to St Rose’s High School. During the month of Ramadan, too, donations of dates were also made to the Muslim community to help them break their fast at sunset.
Singh however asserted that the organisation is not affiliated with any religious organisation. “We are prepared to work with like-minded organisations…we will help whoever comes, irrespective of race, colour, creed or class, because poverty is not distinguished; that goes against our charter, it goes against our philosophy.”
“This organisation is guided by the principles of strict humanitarian philosophy,” Singh added, as he disclosed that the venture of the Foundation was particularly influenced by the principles of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
Convinced that those supporting the Foundation are of a similar ilk, Singh insisted that “we will not turn our backs and hearts on anyone…whether you are Christian, Hindu or Muslim, it matters not. What is most important is the common thread of humanity.”
And according to Singh, the focus will certainly not be in the city alone, but rather, he is prepared to render support to the vulnerable on a national scale.
Even as he outlined an extensive plan, Singh who resides in Miami, Florida, with his wife, recalled that he is so driven not because he was “born with a gold spoon in his mouth” but because of his very humble beginnings.
“I was not born into wealth; I grew up in a home without a television or telephone,” said Singh. He however recalled having a constant source of books which he was able to access back in the day at the National Library. He remembers migrating to England while he was just a teenager and resided in Canada and the United States as well.
“I have not lived in Guyana for over 30 years…I have lived mostly in the West – Canada, United States, in Europe and elsewhere – I am a thought leader in the world of telecoms,” disclosed Singh as he related how he had been able to make a name for himself globally.
A simple search of his name on Google would reveal a number of entries highlighting his extensive portfolio. However his professional achievements certainly have not exceeded his passion to render support to the vulnerable. And so through his organisation he expects that support will be limitless once there are no hindrances.
“Once this organisation gets its tax exemption status, there is no holding back…the sky will be the limit,” Singh pledged, as he spoke of having access to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Aga Khan Foundation in Africa, and the Clinton Initiative, among other reputable organisations that can lend much needful support to Guyana.
Alluding to the late Michael Jackson’s ‘Man in the Mirror’, Singh said that his desire is to “be the man in the mirror by being the agent of change”, a task that will see him doing whatever is necessary to ensure that he reaches as many persons in need as possible. This move, he intimated, will be in keeping with his father’s words “the greatest good you can do is to lift another human out of poverty.”
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