EXACTLY 100 years ago, Pandit Ramsaroop Maraj quit his lucrative trade as a jeweller and embarked on an admirable journey to serve humanity. The Pandit, born on November 3, 1889 at Friendship, Wakenaam, on the Essequibo River, was the younger of two brothers. He would later migrate to Georgetown, where he was completely moved by the needs of those around him.
Pandit Maraj’s exposure to the plight of the less fortunate inspired him to establish an organisation entirely dedicated to addressing their needs. In addition to providing warm meals and comfortable beds to destitute persons, he also wanted to create a space where persons could benefit from medical, religious and educational services, all free of cost.
Armed with his vision and dedication, Pandit Maraj founded the Hindu Religious Society in 1921. Via this charitable organisation, the former jeweller was able to rally some amount of support to make his dream a reality. However noble, his endeavors were not without hindrances. Due to limited finances and the unavailability of buildings to house the magnitude of services intended, Pandit Maraj’s efforts started off less ambitiously with a soup kitchen.
Though small scale, word of the kitchen spread like wildfire and many who were struggling for food relied on the services provided. Soon enough, the initiative would capture the attention of several businessmen and Albouystown, Georgetown residents who wanted to help.
Less than a decade later the Dharm Shala was born. Known as the “Home of Benevolence for all Races,” the facility, located at 140 King Edward and Sussex Streets, Albouystown, remains a safe haven for many in need, particularly the homeless and elders.
The Dharm Shala, one of the first of its kind in the Caribbean, was officially declared open in 1929 by Rev C F Andrews. In 1939, a Christian chapel was built to provide religious relief. Later in 1941, the Dharm Shala extended its service to the less fortunate in Berbice, establishing a building of similar capacity to the one it had in Georgetown. This was accompanied by a Hindu temple and a Chapel.
After the Pandit developed health-related complications in October 1950 at the age of 60, his work was continued by his son, Harry Saran Ramsaroop, who also gave up his thriving job, to serve the less fortunate in society.
So admirable was the work of the Dharm Shala, that it attracted the attention of the British Monarchy. On January 30, 1960, the Princess Royal, on the fourth day of her five-day tour to British Guiana, visited and was treated to a tour of the remarkable facility.
Dharm Shala, known as the longest existing humanitarian charity in Guyana and possibly the Caribbean, is now managed by Saran Ramroop’s two daughters, Pamela and Kella. Over the past few years, the two sisters have remained dedicated towards keeping their grandfather’s legacy, by continuing the work of their late father.
On Friday, they hosted a simple, but meaningful Thanksgiving Ceremony to commemorate the facility’s 100th anniversary. The event was attended by Senior Minister in the Office of the President with Responsibility for Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, who delivered remarks to the gathering which consisted mostly of residents of the Dharm Shala.
“Let me salute this grand institution — the Dharm Shala on the achievement of the historic milestone of its 100th anniversary. In doing so, I wish first of all to pay tribute… to the Ramsaroop family, Pandit Ramsaroop Maraj who – 100 years ago — had the remarkable foresight and incredible passion and concern for his fellow citizens to have founded this institution,” Dr. Singh recognised.
He said that the Dharm Shala’s contribution to Guyana can be appropriately hailed as invaluable, as the facility has provided the much-needed care and support to an important demographic – the elderly who, in their prime years, have served Guyana in various capacities.
“It is an excellent example of commitment… and I believe that without that level of devotion to cause this institution could scarcely have survived 100 years. This is an example that is worthy of emulation,” the Senior Finance Minister surmised.
Dr. Singh also related the best wishes and regards of President, Dr Irfaan Ali and the rest of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government, who value the indelible contributions made by the Ramsaroop family.
Following the ceremony, Minister Singh used the opportunity to serve a hearty lunch to the current residents of the Dharm Shala. Before leaving the facility, the Government official was treated to a brief tour of Pandit Maraj’s residence, where he added his name and inscribed a short message in the visitor’s book that continues to be maintained.
Dr. Singh also relayed Government’s unwavering support to the Dharm Shala and its commendable operations.