The Dharm Shala (Home of Benevolence for all Races), founded by Pandit Ramsaroop Maharaj, turns 100 today.
Pandit Maharaj founded the charity in 1921 after travelling the length and breadth of Guyana. He was a gold dealer in his earlier years so that allowed him to travel to the remotest parts of Guyana, where he encountered the plight of his countrymen.
On these trips, he witnessed their poverty, suffering and deprivation and was deeply moved to the point where he knew that he needed to play his part in addressing them. He was enabled financially early in life to give up his profession and devote himself to full-time voluntary service towards helping the less fortunate of Guyanese society.
With the help of the Colonial Government and his own resources, he would build homes of residence for the destitute, as well as schools and churches in Georgetown and Berbice.
All services would be free of charge.
The Pandit was a regular and authorised visitor to the leper asylum, the Mental Asylum, the Penal Settlement and settled disputes at Plantation Uitvlugt, De Kinderen and Tuschen. The Pandit was subsequently awarded the Silver Jubilee Medal and later the MBE honour in 1935.
Accompanying the Pandit whenever time permitted was his elder son, confidante and mentee, Harry Ramsaroop. The Pandit, whilst considering extending his charitable endeavours to the county of Essequibo and enduring ill health, died unexpectedly of a heart attack on October 11, 1950.
He had made sure his son Harry understood the importance of charity, so when he died, Harry resigned from his civil service job and continue the charity for over 63 years.
He died in October of 2013.
Under the stewardship of Harry Ramsaroop, the old wooden Dharm Shala Homes of residence at Georgetown were torn down and replaced with two large concrete buildings with modern amenities.
Four other Dharm Shala buildings at Georgetown were also rebuilt/repaired.
The Hindu temple was also repaired and the Albouystown Nursery School rebuilt.
Also, the Priest home within the Temple yard was renovated.
A chapel – the Chapel of St Francis of Assisi was also built, next to Harry Ramsaroop’s home for Christian residents of the Dharm Shala at Georgetown. Later, the Berbice Dharm Shala was rebuilt.
The Georgetown and Berbice Dharm Shala have a total of 11 Dharm Shala buildings and Harry would also find time to serve as Chairman of the Prison Aid Fund for discharged prisoners and later Chairman of the YMCA for Albouystown. He would also hold other positions.
The Dharm Shala would become an icon of private charities, a household name and be visited by royalty and visiting dignitaries.
Harry Ramsaroop was honoured on three occasions – receiving the MBE, MS, CCH for service to Guyana from the colonial and later independent Governments of Guyana.
Following his death in 2013, Harry Ramsaroop’s four daughters Kella, Pamela, Ula and Pauline took over the running of the charity. Kella and Pamela take up the bulk of the work while Ula and Pauline engage in rendering voluntary service whenever time permits.
The siblings are keeping their father and grandfather’s legacy alive with the proper functioning of the charity.
One hundred years later and the Dharm Shala continues to be a safe haven for those in need.