Government, the business sector and NGOs need to come together more often to help meet the needs of the most vulnerable in society.
That was the general consensus of all the speakers at the September 6 solemn blessing and formal opening of the Society of St Vincent de Paul-managed Republic Bank Home for Aged in San Fernando.
The refurbished and rebuilt home for the elderly cost around seven million dollars. The home - which has more than 20 bedrooms, sickbays, male and female toilet facilities and other amenities - has been dedicated to the memory of Cyril Devaux.
Devaux is a former managing director of the bank when it was known as Barclays Bank. Devaux, who passed away in 1997, was also a member of the Society’s St Theresa’s conference. His widow Norah, some of their ten children and grandchildren were present for the unveiling of his plaque.
Archbishop Edward Gilbert was the main celebrant at a Mass which preceded the opening. Concelebrants were San Fernando parish priest Fr Allan Ventour and assistant Fr David Khan. Deacon Leslie Tang Kai proclaimed the gospel.
SVP president Rudolph Boneo, and honorary executive secretary Clive Belgrave both thanked the bank for its sizeable contribution to the home.
Belgrave, who presented an overview of the project, said the occasion was noteworthy for various reasons, especially as “it represents the new reality for Church organisations and other NGOs that bear the burden of caring for those of our citizens who need shelter and cannot afford it.”
He said in the past NGOs raised a third of the cost while government contributed the remainder. He said government has since discontinued such a policy and to date there has been no new policy. “In the face of this situation, NGO’s will have to depend on the generosity of the business sector to a far greater degree.”
Anna-Maria Garcia-Brooks, General Manager, Group Marketing and Communications, Republic Bank, said her organisation “is honoured to have partnered with the Society to provide comfortable accommodation to some of our most vulnerable.”
|San Fernando West MP Junia Regrello assists in the unveiling of the signage as Archbishop Gilbert sprinkles holy water. Raymond Syms photo
She explained the bank launched its “Power to make a Difference” social development programme in 2003, committing 40 million towards it. Five million was allocated to the Salvation Army Hostel and Home for Elderly Women in the capital, the Les Amants de Jesus in Santa Cruz, and the SVP Home for the Aged, which it considered their flagship project. The bank decided to give a $1.5 million grant and a $1.6 million loan to SVP when it ran into financial challenges.
Garcia-Brooks said this country is woefully ill-equipped to effectively deal with the special needs of the elderly and, while acknowledging the work of the Ministry of Social Development, a lot more is needed. “Being first world has less to do with sky-scrapers and edifices and more to do with the quality of life of citizens”.
Junia Regrello, San Fernando West MP, donated $10,000 as he addressed the gathering. Speaking on his own behalf as well as on behalf of Social Development Minister Amery Browne who had been slated to make the feature address, he said the biggest slice of the national budget goes towards education and social development, but perhaps it was not trickling down as it should, and the government is working to correct this.
Tribute was paid during the programme to former St Christopher’s conference president, Andrew “Brother B” Bernard, who kept the project alive over the years. His successor as president, Kenneth Solomon, did the tribute. The chapel has been named after him. St Christopher’s is the conference that oversees the home and the other institutions nearby.
There was some controversy at the opening as Marlene Solomon, sister of deceased SVP executive secretary, Steve Solomon, expressed her displeasure over the signage. The signage includes the bank’s logo, the new title and the Society’s emblem.
Historically, the Society’s institutions are named after individuals connected to the Society, for example, Audrey Mollineau Halfway Home, WV Clerk Hostel and Cyril Ross Nursery.