Fighting poverty through education
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Mahendra Phagwah (left) with his parents and sister Priya (right)
Mahendra Phagwah (left) with his parents and sister Priya (right)

— poor young man on mission to improve lot of his family

 

BORN to parents with hearing and speaking disabilities, Mahendra Phagwah has suffered for most part of his life but vows to rise above his circumstances and make a name for himself, while supporting his parents and sister who is 16 years old.

Determination, hard work and a helping hand from a few has helped this young man along his way as he continues to strive towards achieving his goal.

Despite both his parents being unable to earn a decent wage due to their disabilities, they saw the need for him to receive an education and insisted he attended school.

In 2009, Pagwah then a student of Sheet Anchor Primary School sat the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), gaining 484 marks, placing him among the school’s top five and earning a place at the New Amsterdam Multilateral School (NAMS).

Unlike his hometown school where he walked to school, being awarded a place at NAMS meant he had to travel daily via public transportation.

This placed extra strain on his family’s already limited financial resources and they were forced to transfer him to the Berbice High School and with a donated bicycle, Pagwah rode to school merrily.

The approximately 15-20 minutes trip from his home to school made him soaked in perspiration and being unable to purchase proper deodorant among many other things, he was subjected to bullying by his peers which hurt him to this day.

“Many nights I went to bed late and had little or nothing to go to school with the next day. My friends were well-off and had the best bag and books. I had to use whatever little I had and because I was seen as different from the others, I was bullied in one way or the other. I remember clearly days of riding and when I reached to school, I would smell because I didn’t have the best deodorant and some of my friends would make their faces and I felt conscious of those around me. Many had the best lunch and I had bare rice and curry in my bowl. I would see classmate well-off with money to spend and I would cry silently inside,” he told Guyana Chronicle.

Despite his circumstances, he was determined to be different and refused to speak creoles, a decision that made his friends laugh at him more since they felt he wanted to be different and pretend to be better than them.

This only made things worse for him.

“I was somehow viewed as different from my other friends in the way I talk, walk and carry myself and thus I was bullied at a lot even by those close to me. I was laughed, mocked and even pushed around and many days I wanted to get hit by a car for I felt I was worth nothing at all,” he said.

ILLNESS
After a brief illness, Pagwah was diagnosed with a heart condition that forced him to stop riding to school and he could not attend school regularly.

This, coupled with the bullying, he felt he had enough and despite wanting to continue, he decided to drop out of school in Fourth Form in 2014.

Pagwah started working as an assistant at the NDC and felt good being able to earn his own money but he realised he would never be much without an education and certainly did not want to become an alcoholic like his dad.

He decided to try and re-enter the formal education system but was having a difficult time; however, he managed to convince a teacher Devi (only name given) of JC Chandisingh Secondary school to petition the Ministry of Education on his behalf to give him a second chance and things went in his favour.

He however still found it difficult to attend school since he now had to travel all the way to the Corentyne from Number Two Village, Canje. His story found the ears of Mohabir Persaud, a philanthropist, who was in the process of setting up a foundation to help students in similar situation like Pagwah.

Persaud gave the young man the first scholarship of the MMP Foundation of Excellence.

With the scholarship, Pagwah was able to attend school regularly, get all his books and transportation, as well as Internet bill sponsored by the Foundation and sat 13 subjects at CSEC.

At age 20, Pagwah collected his CSEC results a few weeks ago and received passes in all 13 subjects. He is now doing evening courses in Computer Science at the New Amsterdam Technical Institute (NATI) and has completed the first semester for an online degree in Public Health.

JOB HUNTING
The young man is currently job hunting to support his education, provide for his family and to ensure his sister does not suffer as he did on his early journey to receive an education.

While still on the road to success, he has become a role-model for many and those who know of his story regularly invite him to speak to others in similar circumstances. Pagwah credits his success thus far to God, his parents, the MMP foundation and relatives.

“I owe my success first and most importantly to God, since without Him I could not make it this far. Many days when I thought of giving up and ending it all, God gave me hope that everything will be okay one day. Secondly, my parents; even though my dad drank many nights and made me go to bed late in the nights, he still however tried his best even though he was helpless at many times and most of all, my mom since from the first day, my mom has never given up on me and she did whatever she had to do to make sure I took my education. My mom did chores for people so that I could have attended school and to my sister, she always supported me and have always been a shoulder to rest on. I also owe thanks to the MMP Foundation for their scholarship that exhausted recently and to my family and friends who supported me.”

His focus is to break the shackles, enabling a better life for his family.

 

“My main aim in life is to rise above the level of poverty and make a better life for me and my family and to be able to one day help out someone who was in the same position as me. I hope to one day study to become a medical doctor but for now, I have to take care of my parents since they now depend on me for a daily bread, and as such, I am hoping to start a business soon and raise a GoFundMe account so that I can have a ‘pushstart’ in life. Through this business, my family will have an income after I leave to go and further my studies,” Phagwah said.

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