Life at the Berbice Dharm Shala
Charles Goodluck
Charles Goodluck

–where former teacher, ex-convict found refuge and now call home

ABOUT three years ago, 65-year-old Prabhawati Lachman was dropped off at the Dharm Shala in East Berbice, with a not working television set and a bedside cupboard in her possession.
She was unkempt. Her hair was matted and infested with lice. She was incoherent and had apparently suffered a nervous breakdown.
According to one of the caretakers of the home, Gary Erskine, the woman was once a teacher, and had lived in her property at Number 79 Village, Corentyne, prior to being “dumped” at the facility. It is believed that she has a son who resides overseas and that he may be sending financial support for her through a relative. This support, however, has not been reaching Prabhawati.
Erskine recalled that a female relative would turn up on Mother’s Day with a bunch of roses and would leave after taking pictures. She always promised to return but never did. On one such visit, claims were made that an application was made for her to access the public assistance grant for Prabhawati, but it was never given to the caretakers at the Dharm Shala.
In the meantime, Prabhawati remains incoherent and is unable to tidy herself. She depends heavily on the other residents for help.


Prabhawati Lachman and her not working television set

Savitri Kowlessar was left at the home by her only child, more than two months ago. The man told caretakers that her inability to control her bowel movements had transformed his wife into a “quarrelsome” woman. Removing his mother from her home was apparently the easiest solution.
She arrived at the home which is located under the famous Canje Bridge on a late Friday afternoon. The son was told of the required interview with officers of the Probation and Social Services Department, but he left hurriedly and promised to return the following Monday. He was never seen again.
Savitri who was born on October 25 1956, smiled throughout the short discourse with this publication. Despite the challenges faced, her eyes sparkled when she reminisced about her son. She clings to the hope that he will return someday for her. She confessed too, that she has some health problems, and that may have been the reason why she was left at the Dharm Shala. Nevertheless, she longs to return home.


Savitri Kowlessar

Seventy-two-year-old Charles Goodluck, sits in his wheelchair at the corner of the room that serves as a recreational, dining and waiting area. He is unable to move unaided. According to caretaker Dennis Erskine, he cannot navigate from that area to his room which is less than thirty feet away because of his blindness.
Charles was taken to the home by the prison authorities after former President, David Granger, granted him amnesty just over a year ago. Initially, a relative visited, but no one has come by in months. On August 27, 2018, Charles, who was no stranger to the courtroom, was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment by Justice Jo Ann Barlow after he had pleaded guilty to a lesser count of manslaughter. He was initially charged with murder and had denied that allegation.
At his sentencing, he was sporting sunglasses, and had to be guided up the stairway of the Berbice High Court by officers of the Guyana Prison Service.
He admitted that he unlawfully killed Chandradatt Hussain on August 22, 2013 at Kwakwani, Upper Berbice River, and after doing so, hung the deceased so that it would appear as if he had committed suicide. The septuagenarian, who is a father of five, grandfather of 12, and great-grandfather of four, was convicted of wounding and attempted murder.

The Erskines lamented that persons are using the facility as a dumping ground for their relatives. According to the caretakers, often times very little or nothing is behind for their maintenance which puts added strain on the operation of the home.
“Many of the residents would have contributed to society in some way or another, but their relatives who would have benefitted are no longer willing to extend the same benevolence now that their relatives are aged,” said Erskine, who has been the caretaker for several decades.
While some of the residents are able-bodied, others are dependent on others and are in need of medical care.
He said when residents are taken to the nearby New Amsterdam Hospital for treatment or checkups, the waiting time is very long. He said many would opt to return to the home without treatment.

A regular visit by a medical doctor would be most welcome, he said.
Dharm Shala, a ‘Home of Benevolence for all races’ was birthed by the late Pandit Ramsaroop Maharaj, whose vision in 1940 was to address the needs of the poor, the sick and the homeless in Berbice. Consequently, at Garrison Road under the Canje Bridge and a short distance from the National Psychiatric Hospital, five buildings were erected through donations from individuals. The home was opened the following year by Governor of British Guiana, Sir Wilfred Jackson, L.C.M.G .
Initially, the bottom flat of the building was used as a school to address the education needs of children in the environs. Subsequently, the building was rebuilt and modernised by Pandit Mahahraj, who managed and maintained the facility until his demise. In 2013, the mantle of management was passed on to his daughters Kella and Pamela Ramsaroop.

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