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Service to man is service to God

By Nalinee Seelal Sunday, November 17 2013

His personal credo is “service to man is service to God” and that’s exactly what Chairman of the National Commission for Self Help, Surujdeo Mangaroo has encouraged, not only in his life but at his workplace.

Mangaroo was made Chairman of the Commission in 2010 and the father of four is of the firm belief that if people’s needs are not properly served, then everything fails.

Born to a cane-cutter and a housewife at Mohess at Tulsa Trace, San Francique Road, Penal, Mangaroo grew up with four brothers and one sister in a humble home where he learnt to improvise and be satisfied with whatever little he had. When things become difficult for his father in the sugar cane industry, he turned to selling doubles to take care of Mangaroo and his other children.

However, poverty did not deter Mangaroo, now 65, from getting an education and making something of himself.

A devout Hindu, (Surujdeo means Sun God while Mangaroo means born on a Tuesday), Mangaroo, in an interview with Sunday Newsday recalled having to walk miles to attend school, eating dry roti, sometimes drinking a rice starch drink, known as “mar” with bird pepper as a meal or even eating just fruits for a meal when things were difficult at home.

This experience of hardship now allows him to identify with applicants to the National Commission for Self Help who apply for grants to repair their homes to bring some measure of happiness into their lives.

He said that being Chairman of the Commission gives him an opportunity to interact with persons who are in dire need of improving their lives and instead of sitting in an office to do the work as chairman, he has been visiting 41 constituencies, meeting with people and collecting applications for assistance from the Commission.

He said seeing happiness on the faces of applicants after they have been approved is something which brings joy to his heart.

Mangaroo said prior to 2010, applications dated back as 2004 and when he assumed duties there was such a backlog of applications that he took it upon himself to ensure that this was dealt with expeditiously. He boasts that to date, over 6,000 persons have benefitted from the Commission’s grants.

Mangaroo recalled that in his childhood at Tulsa Trace, where he still resides, “there was no pipe borne water.

“We had to go to the river known as the Teemal Chanel to have a bath, to catch water to bathe and wash clothes. The river was located about a quarter mile from where we lived,” he said.

Mangaroo attended Tulsa Trace Hindu School, then Palo Seco Secondary where he graduated with seven O’levels. After secondary school he started to work at a travel agency, then moved into the insurance industry as a clerk and eventually a sales representative and eventually brokerage.

“I run my own insurance brokerage company, Trinity Brokerage, and in 2010, I became chairman of the National Commission for Self Help.

“I understand the needs of poor people I lived in poverty for years, we couldn’t afford a luxurious life and it was only when our neighbour who had a radio played music is the only time we were able to listen to music.”

Mangaroo also recalled that while his neighbour had a television set, his father could not afford one and he yearned for the day when he could sit in his own home and look at television.” He cites this as an example of his understanding of how poor people feel when they have little or nothing and there is no one to bring relief to them.

Mangaroo said Christmastime was a special time for him because it was a time when he got much to drink and eat and drink - soft drinks, cakes, apples - compared to other times of the year. “What stands out in my mind is that when my mother would cook, she would make sure all five children had something to eat at the end of the day,” he said. “When people talk about poverty and what they had to do to make ends meet, I experienced it firsthand and now when I reach out to people in various communities who are the underprivileged, I know their pain and suffering,” he declared.

Mangaroo said when he took office 2010, he advised MPs to tell their constituents to reapply for grants so that their requests could be dealt with expeditiously.

“And in most cases persons people did that and were successful,” he said.

Mangaroo also talked about instances when persons tried to scam the Commission.

“When people qualify and the grant is approved by the Tenders and Approval committee, based on the availability of funds, we do not give cash, we give them a purchase order to take to a particular hardware to get their materials. When the hardware delivers, our officers visit to ensure that the material is used to do home repairs. Once we are satisfied we pay the hardware,” he said.

He told Sunday Newsday that there was a case currently before him for investigation where a successful applicant received materials from a hardware but then sold the material to someone and collected cash. .

Noting there were three branches of the Commission - one each in Tobago, San Fernando and Port-of-Spain, Mangaroo said:

“I traverse constituencies throughout the country, listen to their problems, it is very difficult for someone living in Guayaguayare to visit San Fernando, so I visit their constituency offices and we partner with NGOs when they have outreach programmes, so it is easier to reach the applicants.”

“We try to make grants available within four months. We give focus to old age pensioners, single parents, physically challenged and disaster victims,” he said.

Asked by Sunday Newsday what positives he has brought to the Commission, Mangaroo said:

“I think I have brought delivery to this Commission which was absent, and the greatest satisfaction I receive is to see the smiling faces of children and parents that someone is looking after them and somebody cares.”

Mangaroo, who is also heavily involved in the Rotary Club, also serves his community of Tulsa Trace and is actively involved in the propagation of Indian culture. He is the PRO of the National Council for Indian Culture (NCIC), and President of the INDO Cultural Union of the Caribbean and the Americas.

“I believe as a Hindu in doing Seva (service) and that is why I am involved in anything which is service oriented as I see that as Seva which is one of the pillars of Hinduism”.

“Service to man is service to God is my motto. I visited Africa a couple times and looked at the culture in Uganda and to me culture is an important element in the life of any human being and once you get involved in culture regardless of where you come from, you have a firmer belief in life and that will keep you away from criminal activities.

“My best advice to young people is that instead of taking a gun, take a seel pan in your hand, take a dolak, take a harmonium, and get involved in cultural activities.”

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