Friends of the Dharam Shala – Sharing in Selfless Service

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Photo by Alyssa Mahadeo

BY: ALYSSA MAHADEO

The word ‘seva’ in Sanskrit means “selfless service” to the sick, poor, destitute, vulnerable and oppressed members of our social structure. It is work performed without any thought of reward or repayment. In ancient India seva was believed to help one’s spiritual growth and at the same time contribute to the improvement of a community.

Since hearing about the declining conditions of the Dharam Shala in Berbice Guyana Paul Dhandhari has made it his personal mission to perform his seva so he can  help to bring the basic human comforts to their shelter.

The Dharam Shala is the longest existing humanitarian charity in Guyana, with one facility in Georgetown and one in Berbice. It serves as a ‘House of Benevolence’ for all races. It is a modest resting home for those who need it. Some residents were rejected by society, some by their families or others by the Guyanese justice system. The Dharam Shala accommodates both men and women of all ages and abilities, including those who are bedridden.

Over the years the facility has housed more residents than it can accommodate and no one is ever turned away. Its purpose is a great one, and yet the living conditions are no longer suitable to those that reside within its walls.

Last year in partnership with SEWA Canada International, Paul organized a charity fundraising gala to aid with renovations for the Dharam Shala in Berbice. Their first project was to fix one of their biggest concerns, building proper washroom facilities in the Dharam Shala. They raised $16,000 towards that cause, and the money was collected by Sewa Canada and invested into building washrooms on both the main level and second floor of the building.

“With the money that was raised last year, four washrooms were able to be built,” Paul explains. “Each washroom is equipped with showers for men and women, two on the main floor and two on the second floor. In addition a septic tank was installed to help with the new plumbing systems.”

Paul traveled to the Dharam Shala and spent Christmas with the residents at the end of last year. While visiting, he helped them prepare a feast of traditional Guyana food dishes for them to enjoy for the holiday.

“Many of them had never experienced food like that before,” Paul recalls. “Over the holidays nobody really has the time to prepare that for them and it was a treat for them to enjoy.”

The property in Berbice backs out onto a river, and during the rainy season, the water level rises causing the main level to flood. While visiting, Paul was shocked to discover that each time it rained the men’s sleeping quarters on the main floor was flooded with 2-3 inches of water.

“They didn’t have anywhere to go and so they were sleeping in 2-3 inches of water.” Paul says.

In hopes of rectifying this problem, Paul wants to dedicate the funds from this year’s fundraising gala to properly enclose the main floor area so that the residents can sleep comfortably and securely without the fear of being flooded out when it rains.

“Phase two is going to need a lot more donations, we are hoping to raise $20,000 over the weekend to dedicate to this project.” Paul explains. “We don’t just raise the money and send it to people and tell them to get the work done, we raise the money and go there ourselves to make sure the work is done.”

All of the money collected is channeled through SEWA Canada International Aid. SEWA Canada International Aid Inc. was started in 1991 as “Sewa Bharati ” Toronto Chapter by its founder Mrs. Asha Sehgal with the assistance of Mr. Sat Wadhwa and Mr. Rampuri. It was formally registered as a non-profit charitable organization in January, 1999. This organization operates in both Guyana and India and strives to find and support humanitarian programs that directly brings positive transformation to people irrespective of race, nationality, religion or sex. Their mission is to focus on the critical needs of the society while partnering with trusted individuals, groups and institutions into addressing common humanitarian concern while operating with accountability and transparency.

“This weekend our fundraising gala is to share with people about our mission, where the money is being spent and how they can continue to support our cause.” Paul says.

“The people who live in the Dhram Shala ended up there because they have nowhere else to go, many of them are sick, handicapped or suffering from mental health issues. Here in Canada we are so privileged to be able to talk openly about our mental health issues and the people that suffer from that at the Dhram Shala just want people to spend some time with them and listen.”

Paul is hopeful that through his continued efforts and the shared efforts of the community the Dharam Shala will be revitalized. His goal in the future is to recruit medical professionals willing to donate some of their time to visit the Dharm Shala to help educate the residents on mental illness, diabetes and other ailments they might potentially be suffering from.

Paul is thankful to the volunteers that have dedicated their time to help with renovations at the Dharam Shala. “Seva is not exclusively a Hindu thing, it is a humanity thing and it is all encompassing of all races and cultures.”

People who are interested in donating to the Dharam Shala, are encouraged to reach out to Paul who can be reached directly at 416-578-6500 or through email at dhandhari.p@gmail.com.

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