After 15 years, home for veterans nears completion

Fifteen years after an ex-captain of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) had an idea for a home to be built for former military men who had fallen on hard times in their twilight years, the Guyana Veterans Foundation Rest Home is finally nearing completion.

When ex-captain Oscar Pollard – who has now migrated – had the idea in 1995, he could see the need for such a home as he looked around at the plight of those who had diligently served their country. Unfortunately, a lot of those men and women he would have seen in need so many years ago are no more.

But the need is still there and according to President of the Guyana Legion Colonel (rtd) Carl Morgan, Pollard would never have envisioned the number of hurdles that would have had to be crossed to bring the idea to fruition. It is because the need for such a home has always been there that the idea never died a natural death, even though at times it appeared as if it would have remained just that – an idea.

Nearing completion: The Guyana Veterans Foundation Rest Home in Essequibo Road, Lamaha Springs. (Photo by Orlando Charles)

The biggest hurdle was getting the money to build the home. However, those who saw the need persevered; the veterans’ home in the Joint Services Scheme in Lamaha Springs will become a reality in about three months. According to Morgan, long before the end of this year, those who are to benefit would have moved in.
At the end of it all Morgan said about $60 million would have been spent in making the home a reality.

Recounting what had transpired over that 15-year period, Morgan, in an interview with Stabroek News said that while the idea was born in 1995 it was not until 1997 that members of the Veterans Foundation met the late Janet Jagan, who was then Prime Minister, and she directed them to then Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport Gail Teixeira.

He explained that they went in the direction of culture, because originally the home was expected to be built on the Tucville Ground – now the home of the Fruta Conquerers football team – as at that time nothing was being done with the ground and the mayor and the ministry wanted the foundation to take it over. It was envisioned that the veterans’ home would have been built on one side of the ground, while the foundation would have maintained the remainder of the ground.

“We had meetings with the community and suddenly Fruta Conquerers decided that this is their ground… and we said we did not want to get involved in any fire and we withdrew, and then we began looking for a place,” Morgan recalled.

It took another seven years to find a suitable spot and that was when in 2005 the then chief of staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Briga-dier Edward Collins started to push the project. He leaned on the GDF Co-op and the Joint Services Co-op to give the foundation some land in Lamaha Springs for the building of the home. In that same year during the 40th anniversary celebration of the GDF the sod was turned for the building of the home. Attend-ing that ceremony were Colonel Ulric Pilgrim, the then head of the Veterans Foundation; Johnny Glasgow, head of the ex-GDF Associa-tion of New York; Kingsley Nelson, General Secretary of the Guyana Legion and Johnny Douglas, head of the ex-GDF Benevolence Association. The sod was turned but it took quite a while before any work started.

Prior to Collins, Morgan said, Major General (rtd) Joe Singh, when he headed the army, also supported the project and had deposited a sum of money into the foundation’s bank account which he had collected from the GDF.

Work actually began in late 2006 with donations from the corporate community, individuals, ex-soldiers and in-kind help. Slowly the erection of the building commenced, aided by a ‘buy a brick’ project, which also brought in funds from overseas organisations.

“But then it reached to a point where everything just came to a standstill,” Morgan recalled, and he said eventually in 2009, President Bharrat Jagdeo made a donation of $5 million and “that gave it another spurt, but then again it slowed down and nothing happened in 2010.”

It took another donation from President Jagdeo, which he pledged at the end of last year, and in keeping with his word the President handed over $40 million in January last and a tender was advertised to complete the building. In the end contractor JP Mangal was selected by the Central Tender Board. Prior to this contractor Frank Gaul, a trustee of the Veterans Foundation, was building the home, and even though he had a special interest Morgan said he could not  do it without money.

“But he did put down a very solid foundation that could take a three-storey building; we’re only building a two-storey,” Morgan said, adding that the engineer and designer of the building was reserve Colonel John Lewis and he is still supervising the construction.

While the home will be completed shortly Morgan pointed out that they would still have to furnish it as well as find money to run the home, as the persons there would have to be fed, among other things.

It is envisioned that a room would be set aside at the home where the veterans could get free legal advice; volunteer doctors are expected to visit and treat their medical needs and those also of the surrounding community.

“So to run the place there would obviously have to be some kind of manager and that person would have to be paid along with other staff members, so there is the running cost…” Morgan noted.
Asked how many persons are expected to be accommodated at the home at one time, Morgan said it would depend, and explained that a committee of management, with persons drawn from all the stakeholders, would decide on the level of comfort for the residents based on the number of applications.

“Based on the comfort level it could be between 16 to 20 persons,” Morgan said.

All persons would have to apply, but Morgan said they would want to get persons out of the Palms, Night Shelter and the Dharm Shala as they are the ones with the greatest need.

“So it is not a place where you could decide, look I want retire and go and throw back… It is for persons who really don’t have anywhere to go,” Morgan said, adding that it will accommodate both males and females.

So far two applications have already been received and with a sad shake of his head Morgan recalled that a couple of persons to whom he had promised rooms were now dead.

Meanwhile, Morgan revealed that the fund-raising for the home was divided into classes: the Platinum Class which was for those who donated more than $1 million; the Diamond Class for those who gave between $250,000 and $1 million; the Gold Class, from $100,000 to $250,000; Silver Class from $50,000 to $100,000 and the Bronze Class which for those who donated less than $50,000. Up in the platinum class are serving soldiers of the GDF, the Government of Guyana and the ex-GDF soldiers of Canada. Morgan said he specifically wanted to mention Enid Bissember, the widow of Michael Bissember who donates $100,000 every year in memory of her husband and is in the diamond class. The Veterans Foundation donated all it had in its bank account to the project.

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