Headlines      Issue Released September 22, 2004


Ivan’s Grenada fallout hits TT politics

Storm in tea cup as politicians clash over aid

By Sandra Chouthi

Special to Indo Caribbean World

Port-of-Spain — While many Trinidadians were sending foodstuff and other household items to assist their Caricom neighbour Grenada in recovering from hurricane Ivan, two politicians from opposite camps were having it out in the tea room.

Racist insults are alleged to have been hurled. A teacup was thrown and smashed. The remote control for a television set was also reported to have been pelted. The fallout is that now allegations of assault are been hotly denied.

The incident took place between Housing Minister Keith Rowley for the ruling PNM government and Chandresh Sharma, UNC Member of Parliament for Fyzabad on September 15 in the tea room in Parliament. The two were arguing over the issue of Grenadians being granted refugee status in Trinidad and Tobago when it turned ugly.

According to reports, they exchanged racist insults. Fingers were pointed and obscene language was used.

Sharma told the media MPs were watching cricket on television prior to the start of the Finance Committee meeting when he complained to Rowley that areas like his constituency continue to suffer from inadequate housing. This is so, even as the government is on a massive housing development programme as part of an election promise.

Sharma said Rowley accused him of being racist and then became annoyed. Sharma, who later attended a meeting of the Finance Committee, claimed he was hit. He reported the matter to the police.

At a post-Cabinet briefing on September 16, Rowley denied that he cuffed Sharma.

"I want to make it abundantly clear that during the verbal exchange with Mr Sharma yesterday, no blows passed between us. He did not strike me and I did not strike him.

"I saw a picture in the newspapers...with MP Sharma pointing to the right side of his face showing where he was struck by a teacup. I did not throw the teacup. I didn’t.

"He broke the government teacup. I’m a right-hander. If I had, in fact, hit MP Sharma in his face, he will not be pointing at that side of his face."

Rowley said prior to the exchange, Sharma had entered the room and mentioned that he had seen the UNC member’s newspaper comments describing the Trinidad and Tobago government’s offer of assistance to Grenada as a racist strategy – one to bring Grenadians to the country to vote for the ruling PNM.

"I said to the gentleman: ‘Why is it that even in a moment of tragedy you have to reduce it to race? Why is it that on every single issue, you have to find a racial component to it.?’"

Rowley said Sharma called him a number of racist names and he responded to him. They had a very heated, very short, but very agitated exchange.

Sharma was reported to have sought attention at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital for high blood pressure. Rowley last said he had taken the matter to his attorneys for legal redress.

The exchange between the two men from opposing political camps came in the midst of many Trinidadians – businesses, NGOs, students – rushing to the call to respond to Grenadians’ immediate need for food, clothing, water and building materials after Ivan struck. Prime Minister Patrick Manning initially offered the Grenada government (Can) $2.5 million in assistance, but Cabinet has since approved another (Can) $5 million. Trinidad and Tobago soldiers have also been sent to Grenada for one month.

Manning, in visiting Grenada on September 8 after the hurricane blew off many roofs and destroyed homes, spoke of Caricom addressing the issue of member countries granting asylum to Grenadians while military forces and other agencies rebuilt their battered properties.

Asked on September 12 if the Trinidad and Tobago government was going to give refugee status to Grenadians, Manning said: "It’s a matter that has to be carefully considered. It has not been considered by the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago."

Caricom held an emergency session at the Crowne Plaza, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, on September 15. Even though no official announcement has been made about granting refugee status to affected Grenadians, just the mention of it has already had an effect.

Police on September 15 held a man in St James after they found him acting strangely. He also spoke with a Grenadian accent. The man, who gave his name as Kelvin Mills, 42, said when Manning visited Grenada and told people there they could come to Trinidad if they had problems. He then took up the offer. He boarded a boat in Grenada, arrived in Port-of-Spain and then went to St James.

Mills, who said his home and belongings were destroyed during the hurricane, will be deported to Grenada.

Richardson Andrews, special adviser to Grenada Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell, said on September 15 that there will be no mass exodus of Grenadians to Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean countries. Andrews was in Port-of-Spain to attend the Caricom emergency summit.

"People want to stay and rebuild their country. They are not seeking to get refuge anywhere else. There is no mood of abandonment."

Manning said there could be an exodus of refugees from Grenada unless emergency supplies reach the island soon.

"The Grenada situation is potentially a very damaging situation for Trinidad and Tobago. The refugee problem is something that could start at any time if the supplies of food being sent to Grenada at this time do not reach those for whom intended in a timely fashion. It is very delicate."

 Four on present TCCF help list

In its drive to help kids from the Caribbean to get medical assistance for ailments not treatable in their native country, The Caribbean Children Foundation (TCCF) has now taken charge of four kids to be given treatment at Toronto's Sick Kids Hospital.

Those to receive attention are 6-month old Dondre Sewell of Jamaica; Stephan Lue Sue, 9, of Trinidad; Aaron Wallace, 17, of Trinidad and Vergina Seeram, 11, of Guyana.

Dondre would receive surgery from Dr. Andrew Redington for a blocked blood vessel from the heart. Total cost for her procedure, $61,000. Her family has raised $16,555US., the Herbie Fund would pay $25,925U.S, TCCF has committed $25,000 Can.

Stephan Lue Sue, 9, from Trinidad needs surgery for a narrowing of the pulmonary valve vessel. She would be treated by Dr. Andrew Redington, at a cost of $15,120 Can. TCCF has agreed to absorb this cost.

Aaron Wallace, 17, of Trinidad suffers from a brain tumor. His surgery is pegged at $44,947 US. TCCF is committed to pay Can $25,000 of the total.

And Vergina Seeram, 11, of Guyana requires surgery for a brachial cleft fistula as proposed by Dr. Vito Forte, Head of Otolaryngology. Vergina’s treatment will require approximately 10 days in hospital and 4-8 weeks after treatment. Cost for her procedure would be $60,000 of which TCCF will contribute $25,000. The Herbie Fund will absorb the difference.

In the four years of its existence TCCF has already assisted 19 kids originating from Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, St Kitts, Jamaica and Antigua. With community support, the organization has raised $325,000 to cover the cost of treatment for these kids.

The organization prides itself in proclaiming that every penny collected from its many charitable events, is put to work for saving the lives of the children it sponsors. Not a cent goes to administer this charity; all its Directors give their contributions voluntarily.

Being a registered charity, donations to TCCF are tax deductible in Canada.

This upcoming weekend, on September 25, TCCF will he holding its 4th Anniversary Dinner and Dance at the Grand Taj Banquet & Convention Centre, Derry & Dixie Roads in Mississauga. It is one of the organization's main fundraising events, and as always, it is expected that the community will support this charity fully.

Information can be obtained by calling Vidyia (416) 463-0469, Jay (905-840-5369) or Vic (416-248-5335).

Charges of TCCF: above, Dondre Sewell;  Stephan Lue Sue; Aaron Wallace; Vergina Seeram



Mrs Varshni Jagdeo, wife of Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo at the Gandhi Bhavan in Toronto last Sunday Pix by Camille Ross

First Lady puts kids first

By Camille Ross

Being Guyana’s First Lady doesn’t mean just sitting by the seawall sipping coconut water and taking in the breeze.

For Mrs. Varshni Jagdeo it means reviving community spirit, a term which her father often spoke of.

"Community spirit is about seeing all of us as one universal family, where you see your neighbors child as your own child."

Mrs. Jagdeo has taken steps towards making this a reality through her involvement with the Kids First Fund, of which she is a patron.

The First Lady was in Ontario last week promoting the Kids First Fund, which is "the only charity in Guyana that provides emergency medical assistance for poor and needy children."

The four-year old organization is dedicated to helping Guyanese children up to the age of 21, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation.

"For instance" said Mrs. Jagdeo, "we even have links with the captains of Amerindian villages so all sick kids can be seen, and given a chance."

Amerindians, the original inhabitants of Guyana, are sequestered in the interior regions of the country and generally have less access to social services, such as health and education, than those living in the cities and coastal areas.

"Where are poor families going to get $15,000 U.S to afford surgeries for their kids?" Mrs Jagdeo saw an urgent need to permanently set something up for these children".

The wife of the Guyanese Head of State added that the Kids First Fund assists people in need of wheelchairs, crutches, and walkers. "We have established free shipping links to make sending these items to Guyana easier."

At the Gandhi Bhavan Mandir last Sunday, Mrs Jagdeo appeared before the congregation and spoke modestly about why she is so immersed in charity work.

Her Guyanese parents moved to England before she and her two sisters were born.

"There, my house was like a hostel" she said.

"People coming to England from Guyana, had my dad’s phone number, and called him when they arrived."

Those with no place to go, stayed with her family in their home which she noted "was like an elastic where there was room to fit everyone."

While the visitors stayed, her father enrolled them in night school, and helped them get jobs.

"We grew up this way. Getting into this work was inevitable because of the exposure I got from my parents… very humble parents."

Mrs. Jagdeo described her feelings as a child, " I was in love with Guyana, the stories, the life, the history and the politics. […] We ate, slept, and drank Guyana though we were in England."

In 1997, she returned to Guyana to live permanently.

The First Lady shared her vivid recollection of one Thursday night at 7 p.m. when a child with a brain tumor was put into her arms.

"I had to call my dad right away and ask him what to do."

From then on, she took the necessary steps to raise $15,000 U.S for the child’s surgery, the equivalent of three million Guyana dollars.

Mrs. Jagdeo spoke to many people and was able to get assistance from the Ministry of Health in Guyana, and a reduced fee for the surgery from the hospital.

"The child went, and had his surgery, and he’s fine now" she said with a smile. Since then, the fund has assisted "thousands of children."

But Mrs. Jagdeo also touched on the negative experiences she’s had working with this organization.

"It’s easy to criticize, still, people think you’re putting money in your pocket…but I have none" she said smiling, in her pink Indian cultural wear.

She encouraged the audience to support the fund. In addition, she offered to personally spend time with those who visit Guyana, to show them places they can go to feed poor children, and to "show you hospitals to see where your money is going."

Mrs. Jagdeo stressed that "our organisation has zero administrative costs. 100% of donations go to the charity."

Despite her personal relationship to the Head of State, she said that the Kids First Fund is a non-governmental charity.

When Guyanese patients of the Kids First Fund don’t have access to the necessary surgery in Guyana, they are brought over to Canada where the patient is put into the hands of the Three Rivers Kids Foundation. These two charities are closely affiliated.

Last Saturday night, Mrs. Jagdeo attended a fundraising dinner for Rehaaz Mohammed, a Three Rivers Kids patient. The total amount raised has not yet been tallied.

Last Sunday, at the Gandhi Bhavan Mandir, over $1500 was handed to the First Lady for the Kids First Fund.

Mrs. Jagdeo aspires to open Kids First branches in America, Canada and the U.K.


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