“It frustrates me so much that we continue to watch lives destroyed by poverty and neglect…We have had the intellectual capital to fix this country for the betterment of all but we have lacked the will. We have no excuse.”
By Jarryl Bryan
There is nothing more patriotic than a born and bred Guyanese who emigrates, gains an accredited education overseas and then returns, like the prodigal child, to his or her homeland to right the many wrongs affecting those who are less fortunate.
Coupled with that, in the process that individual would have gone down to the grass roots level of interaction. They would have rubbed shoulders with every cross section of Guyanese from the beggar to the politician, to gain an unfiltered understanding of what it really takes to build a nation.
Such an individual is Supriya Singh-Bodden, a Canadian trained Political Scientist and the founder of the Guyana Foundation, a non-profit organization. She returned to Guyana to make a tangible contribution. She has battled and won the fight against a breast cancer diagnosis and even went on to become a strident advocate against poverty, suicide and spearheaded many community renewal projects.
A national awardee – the Cacique Crown of Honour (CCH) was conferred on her by President David Granger on October 6, 2015. She was honoured for her work in the field of youth and women empowerment, raising awareness of the plight of the mentally ill and her community renewal projects.
Singh-Bodden was born on Christmas day, to Chandra and Sugrim Singh, a Barrister-at-law and politician. In fact a street in Ogle has been named after her father. Both of Singh-BOdden’s parents are deceased. She is the grand-daughter of Rashbeharry Maraj a popular rice farmer from the Essequibo Coast who was well known during the 1920’s.
The first school she attended was Queenstown RC School at the corner of Albert and Crown Streets in Georgetown. At the time she lived at Lamaha Street; a short walking distance away.
Singh-Bodden later attended the Ursuline Convent until 1970, when her mother left Guyana for the United Kingdom (UK). There, she attended the Virgo Fidelis Convent School in London, gaining exposure to Catholicism and the beliefs it entail.
“During those years I completed my secondary education and spent a lot of my spare time in Italy with my sister and France with the nuns who arranged regular trips for prayer and reflection at the Convent there,” she said.
In 1978 Singh-Bodden again migrated, leaving the UK to join her mother in Toronto, Canada. There she attended York University, graduating on the Dean’s Honour Roll with a Bachelor’s in Political Science.
“I left Toronto in 1985 to move back to London to get married,” Singh-Bodden related. “While there I continued to study and completed my Master’s Degree in International Relations at the University of London.”
During this time she worked and trained part time for an Italian company in the field of interior design. Although she had tied the blissful wedding knot by 1990 she was in the process of a divorce. She would however put her skills to use for the public good. She returned to Guyana and almost immediately began a project to build a new wing of the Pegasus Hotel, as well as other projects around Georgetown.
“Once back home I was so happy to have a chance to be in the country of my birth, a place I had to leave at a young age,” she related. “I was constantly exploring ideas of how to make a meaningful contribution to Guyana.”
“I started to gather photographs and sketches of old buildings, bridges, and architectural details around Georgetown to publish a keepsake book. Unfortunately this project is still in limbo and it saddens my heart to see how much of our rich architectural heritage is being destroyed right before our eyes,” said Singh-Bodden who is an architectural enthusiast.
“I went so far as to build my first home in Subryanville, Georgetown. Every element of fretwork, shutters, and proportions for the gallery and other areas were taken from derelict old buildings to make it as authentic as possible,” she intimated.
Singh-Bodden eventually established her own company, Demerara Designs and also sought to impart her knowledge of entrepreneurship to others through mentorship/training.
“During this time, I became involved in politics,” she reflected. “I wanted to see change come fast to Guyana. The people I worked with everyday were so dedicated, so talented but they had so little. They worked hard but basic things like having a house, a car; a little saving was just a dream for them.”
“I was sad as I saw the suffering of Guyanese across the country. I tried to help so many people personally, to bury their relatives, to get basic medication, to take care of ailing relatives, to buy wheelchairs and the list goes on,” she related.
For this reason, she added, “I took my energy to the political stage to try to push for change and betterment for all Guyanese at that level.”
However, the time came when Singh-Bodeen had to acknowledge that her agitation was not gaining traction.
“I left Guyana to take up work overseas in 2008 after things slowed down (economically). I closed my company and went to the Eastern Caribbean. It was a difficult time for me I had to acknowledge defeat at what I was trying to do in Guyana.”
The projects she launched overseas at this time flourished. Fate even handed her a double boon when she met her husband, Robert Bodden, a Caymanian Entrepreneur. They married in 2011 in the Cayman Islands.
“My husband is a Past District Governor of the Rotary Foundation, so we share a commitment of putting service to others above self,” Singh-Bodden revealed. “He understood some of the frustrations I was feeling about my homeland,” she added.
In the very year of her marriage Singh-Bodden was diagnosed with breast cancer. Though she regarded this diagnosis as the “end of the road”, she was eventually given a clean bill of health by doctors, who told her to go and live her life. At this point, she had an epiphany – her energies and focus henceforth had to be directed towards her homeland.
“I returned to Guyana and established the Guyana Foundation, a non-profit trust that has been working tirelessly since its formation to realise poverty reduction,” she said.
Her Foundation, located at 178 Hague Back, West Coast Demerara offers skills training to youth and women, community renewal projects and bridge construction. It has provided solar light kits to villages on the East Coast of Demerara and has procured supplies and sanitary facilities for a school in Moruca.
Also among the foundation’s good work was a custom designed oven for women’s bakeries in Wauna and improving drinking water facilities in a number of villages.
“I had resigned myself to just doing my charitable work in Guyana and to stay away from the political front,” Singh-Bodden said. “I made every effort to do this. I tried to work with the former administration but understandably the door was shut on the Guyana Foundation because of my political affiliation.”
With the coming of the May 2015 General and Regional elections, Singh-Bodden was besieged with her desire for change. She had become fed up of the country’s divisive politics and longed to see a united approach to advance the national interest.
Poverty and the apathy by many persons who observe its ill effects but did nothing, was encapsulated in a story Singh-Bodden shared with Kaieteur news. The story was of a young girl who was caught in the poverty cycle and at the point of death when she was rescued by the Guyana Foundation.
“I recall visiting a remote village where I was supposed to meet a lady to participate in one of our projects, when I was told that she could not come because her 16-year- old daughter was very ill. I asked if I could go to see her. I found her at her daughter’s bedside. She and her husband were devastated, their daughter was gravely ill.”
“I knew that the facilities were too poor to handle this case and I knew that if I left that room this story was going to have a bad ending. I offered to get the young lady flown to Georgetown. The parents could not afford any other course of action. Thankfully they accepted assistance from the Foundation to fly her to Georgetown for treatment and she is doing ok,” said Singh-Bodden.
She continued, “I shared the story of the young girl because it frustrates me so much that we continue to watch lives destroyed by poverty and neglect.”
“If we had a massive population and an expansive country I could understand that we should be in this position,” the activist noted. But according to her, “in the general scheme of things we should have made so many more advances for our people. We have had the intellectual capital to fix this country for the betterment of all but we have lacked the will. We have no excuse.”
“In my reflective moments I often wonder where the heart of this nation is. When you look and feel the pulse of the people you would think that if you truly loved this country every drop of energy would be directed to doing the people’s business,” Singh-Bodden added.
She asserted, “If being united would achieve this faster then let us unite. Let’s stop the back biting. We have no time to rest, no one should be contemplating suicide, or going to bed hungry, or worrying how they will bury their dead. As long as this is still happening we have nothing to celebrate.”
Singh-Bodden noted too that every person in the government and in the opposition has a duty to deliver for all Guyanese even as she posited that there is no valid excuse for the economic and social state of the country.
“We have run out of time. Everyone has had a chance to sail this ship yet we are still adrift. History will judge us hard if we stall anymore,” she noted.
Singh-Bodden however made it clear that her work will continue even though the administration that she campaigned for was in charge of running the country. She insisted that she will continue to be an outspoken person should progress not be made.
“I wish this administration well,” said Singh-Bodden as she added “I will continue to do my part through the work of the Foundation but I will be equally outspoken if we continue to make little progress.”
And it is because of her fervent commitment to see positive changes in her homeland and sterling contributions in the process, Singh-Bodden is today being bestowed with the honorary title of ‘Special Person’ by this publication.
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