The Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park Lions Club’s (RHSOPLC) commitment to the mission of Lionism was again demonstrated when its member Lions travelled to Guyana to participate in service projects in that country. The Club had reached out to Guyana’s First Lady, Arya Ali and pledged its support to her projects to help the country’s young women to acquire intimate sanitary & hygienic supplies. A pledge was also made to the country’s Minister of Education (MOE), Ms. Priya Manickchand, to donate exercise books for free distribution to school children in low-income districts. RHSOP Lions were also in touch with the Central Demerara Lions Club (CDLC) to which they promised assistance in their service projects.
A detailed schedule was worked out and nine Lions along with five supporters, named Guyana 21, flew out on the morning of Wednesday May 26, 2021, for Georgetown. The return trip was booked for May 31, making it a six day stay including travel. Out of the party of fourteen, eleven members were born in Guyana, and several had not returned to the country during the recent past. Such was the level of commitment of this team, that they found it difficult to schedule personal social trips but were ready to sign up for these service projects, all at their own expense.
On arrival at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) in Guyana, the team was warmly welcomed by Lions of the Central Demerara Lions Club. This set the tone for the rest of the stay in Guyana as RHSOP Lions immediately felt comfortable and at home. The visiting group travelled together during the trip by a specially chartered bus and after introductions to the local Lions, motored to the city of Georgetown (GT) to the Kings Residency Hotel in Middle Street, where a sumptuous dinner was waiting.
The next day, Thursday, two meetings were scheduled one with the First Lady and the other with the MOE, to make presentations. In the meantime, the Lions confirmed that items to be presented were received in GT in good condition. It was a short trip from the hotel to State House to meet with the First Lady and her staff. Initially, security at State House would not allow more than four persons to enter the compound. The four Lions that went to the First Lady’s office were Lions Romeo Hitlall, President, Motie Phanisnarine, 1st Vice President, Devindra Persaud, Treasurer and Naidoo Veerapen, Secretary.
The group handed over 10,000 exercise books, and 100,800 sanitary pads to Ms. Ali for inclusion in her project to distribute much needed supplies to young children, especially those in low-income areas and interior settlements. The First Lady expressed heartfelt thanks to the RHSOPLC for this valuable and timely contribution. Upon learning that the group of Lions had travelled from New York specially for this event, and the meeting with the MOE, the First Lady asked that the remaining group of ten persons still waiting in the bus be allowed to join her. She also asked that the meeting be moved to the Benab in the compound to accommodate the larger group. In the more informal atmosphere, she quickly recognized a few old acquaintances in the group and was very generous with her time, during which she posed for individual pictures with members and asked about the work of the RHSOPLC in New York. The visiting Lions all had high praise for Ms. Ali and were especially impressed by her warmth and friendliness.
Then it was time to go to the MOE. Ms. Manickchand arrived at the Ministry’s boardroom straight from a cabinet meeting and expressed her thanks for the visit, the reason for which she was already briefed. The Lions congratulated her on her appointment as MOE, a post she held when her Party was last in Government, and then presented her with 15,000 exercise books to be distributed to schools within the education system, especially for students in economically depressed districts. The MOE briefly outlined some of the challenges that parents faced to equip their children for school and was thankful to the RHSOP Lions for the presentation of exercise books. When asked what other immediate needs the Lions can assist with, Ms. Manickchand revealed that there was a shortage of HB pencils which students writing the Secondary Schools Examinations in August must use to provide their answers. The computer system evaluating the scripts will only be able to read and scan HB markings. The Lion President promised to utilize the RHSOPLC’s resources to deliver 5,000 to 10,000 HB pencils in time for the exams.
It was a fulfilling day for the entire NY team of Lions and their supporters, all who felt that a day of rest and sightseeing was well deserved. In the preplanning, Friday was set aside as the day to visit Guyana’s breadbasket, Black Bush Polder (BBP). Lion Ravin’s Mom lived at Yakusari, one of the four Polders, and she had offered to host the team for the day. Everyone had a blast on the trip from GT to Yakusari. It brought back rich memories for several Lions who lived in Berbice before migrating to the US and would have made that trip countless times. Names of villages, bridges, cemeteries, rice mills etc. all provoked comment and good-natured remarks. Lion Romeo stopped to take a picture in front of the house at # 35 Village where he was born, and his wife Sandra stopped to visit her aunt who now lives in the house where she was born at #36 Village, a mere stone’s throw away. Emotional memories indeed.
The lime or hang out at Lion Ravin’s parents’ home was a gem of an event. Because of the bad weather which caused much damage to the roads the team had to park its bus about 100 yards away from Ravin’s home and ride there on a trailer drawn by an agricultural tractor, an experience that was a source of great fun and laughs. The family prepared over fifteen dishes of meat, fish, vegetables, and dessert for their American guests who were also treated to an unending supply of fresh coconut water. Too soon, it was time to leave to return to GT.
Saturday was a day for sightseeing in GT, and the St. Georges Cathedral (the tallest wooden building in the world) and the seawall which has been protecting this “below sea level” city for decades, were must see. GT is a beautiful City and the group marveled at the evidence of progress everywhere, with umpteen construction projects in various stages of completion. After the City tour, Saturday evening was spent at the 50th Birthday Party of an NYC based Lion friend and supporter, and what a grand time everyone had!
On Sunday, the Lions visited with the Central Demerara Lions Club (CDLC) whose den is at Mocha, on the East Bank of Demerara. This is the home Club of the RHSOPLC’s Treasurer, Lion Devindra Persaud, prior to his migration to the US, and CDLC Lions literally jumped with joy and rushed to greet him as he entered the building. The Club had organized a Mother’s Day event and prepared grocery hampers for 40 Mothers from the community. Their simple act of service brought wide smiles on the faces of all present. The RHSOPLC could not have held its own Mother’s Day event here in NYC because of the Covid-19 lockdown, so quickly decided to join this event and donated G$1,000 to each of the forty Mothers in attendance.
During a brief formal ceremony to discuss each Club’s service activities, senior Lions of both clubs pinned members of the other Club in acknowledgement of our brotherhood in Lionism and sharing the same mission of selfless service. The discussions that followed revealed that the roof of the den required immediate repair works, and RHSOPLC presented a cash gift to be used for that purpose. The RHSOPLC also made a cash presentation to be used by the local Club to continue a service project for the Guyana Institute for the Blind. One of our Lions, Lion Ricky, who owns a construction company offered to conduct a full evaluation of all the other works to be done to the building and to complete the repairs within the next two to three weeks. Lion Ricky also made a personal donation to the CDLC. It was a great meeting and interaction by the Lions of both Clubs, one from Guyana and the other from USA. But the camaraderie that existed was all due to the principles and inspiration of Lionism!
With just about six daylight hours remaining after leaving Mocha, the team embarked on a tour of the West Demerara coast and drove to the Parika Stelling. Some of the more adventurous members took a speed boat ride in the Essequibo River before returning to GT to pack their bags for the return trip to NYC.
This trip to Guyana certainly strengthened the commitment of the RHSOP Lions to the mission of Lionism. Some of the supporters who participated in the trip were so impressed with the work that our Lions do with such humility and generosity that two of them have already signed up to become Lions, and to be fully involved with this great organization, now celebrating its 104th anniversary. The cost of the Guyana project was nearly US $15,000, and all of it was raised through donations from supportive members of the Queens community, and members of our Lions Club. Each person on the trip paid his own expenses and many of them also donated dollars to the project. The RHOP Lions Club will repeat this form of service in the future, highly likely to other countries in the Caribbean, because that is what Lions do … We Serve!
The Guyana 21 Team included: