The Berbice Dharam Shala: A place filled with abandoned Parents

A glimpse inside the Dharam Shala.


By Tracey Khan – Drakes

A glimpse inside the Dharam Shala.
A glimpse inside the Dharam Shala.

[] – What would drive a person to abandon their parents? That’s the question I have been asking myself, after visiting the Dharam Shala in Berbice; a place that cares for many elderly persons, who in many cases have been abandoned and neglected by their children.

Yes, the children that many of them cared and loved unconditionally. Can you or would you ever abandon or neglect your parents? I see how pregnant women suffer to bring forth their children, how they struggle to raise them, to take care of them so as to ensure they have food to eat, clothes to wear and I cannot imagine sending my parents to such a home especially when they need me the most; as the saying goes, ‘once an adult, twice a child.’

It is for this reason that I will be sharing the stories of the many neglected parents who have made the Dharam Shala their home.

Let me introduce you to Shirley Persaud, a mother of four, who has been living at the institute for the past five years.

Shirley Persaud goes through a photo alum of herself and children.
Shirley Persaud goes through a photo alum of herself and children.

This woman brought tears to my eyes during our discussion, as she related years of hurt she continues to feel after her relatives brought her to the Dharam Shala and never looked back.

I asked the 66 – year -old mother what message she would like to send to her children. She said, “Let them come back for me” and broke down in tears as she added, “Me good to them, meh like them.”

The sickly woman said her son took over her home after she worked tirelessly for years to take care of them and build the house.

Persaud lived at No 11 Village, West Coast Berbice before she was taken to te Dharam Shala.

She told me she has nothing more to live for.

“Ow God, meh glad if meh can dead now because meh had a lot of things.” The elderly woman tried to contain her emotions relating how unfair and unkind life has been to her.

Marian Ali
Marian Ali

Meanwhile, I also met 90 – year – old Marian Ali, who still has an excellent memory, despite her age. She lived most of her life in Cotton Tree Village, West Coast Berbice and came to the institution three years ago after she fell ill.

The woman said she lived alone for a number of years, however, when her illness took a turn for the worst, she moved in with her son and his family, however, she noted that her Daughter-in-law was unwilling to take care of her.

According to Ali, her other children are overseas and has since promised to visit her next year. She says they are in constant contact with her.

Meet Sheila Benans, who has been in and out of the institution for the past five years. She lived with her daughter in Stanleytown, New Amsterdam, but Benans wanted to be on her own.

“I feel I must live by myself that’s why I am here, they don’t look at me, I look at myself.”

Sheila Benans
Sheila Benans

She is also taking care of another woman who has been living at the institution for the past 10 months from Crabwood Creek.

I also spoke with 85 – year – old Charandai Harralall, a mother of two. She said she was forced to move into the home after her illness got worse. Both of her children reside overseas.

Charandai Harralall
Charandai Harralall

“Me get pickney, but them gone outside, them nah come, if them get anybody that them know a come them go send lil bit money, me nah go lie”, the Canje Village woman said.

She said she had her own home and gave it to one of her daughters, who promised to take care of it; however, she alleged that her daughter sold the house and took the money.

“Here at Dharam Shala me does get pension and me go try with the little bit, meh a use the pension living here…we a contend and live Betty, where me a go.”

The Dharam Shala is also home to a former news Anchor and Reporter, 39 – year – old Prem Chan, who has a heart condition. He has no children but explained that his family maintains contact with him.

Prem Chand and Lindsay Erskine
Prem Chand and Lindsay Erskine

He will undergo heart surgery in January and is looking forward to a bright future, even though he is fearful.

Another male resident is Meighdyal Sriram, 57, of Railway Street, Kitty. He has no children and said he was practically forced from his parent’s property by relatives who sold it.

“Well life ain’t too bad here, it’s a place where you get three meals and sometimes extras and there is a bed with netting, everything is here, if you really sickly they don’t give you no particular work to do, just keep your surrounding clean and that is it.”

Meighdyal Sriram
Meighdyal Sriram

Meanwhile, Lindsay Erskine has been running the Berbice Branch of the institute for the past four years and said they depend mainly on charity to run the place since Government gives them $140,000 per year. Currently they are caring for 28 persons – 11 females and 17 males.

“This entire place is run by charity and by the mercies of other people who come and feed and cheerful givers, so it totally runs by charity and most of the people like the cook is voluntary, everything is voluntary here no one is being paid, it’s out of your own kind heart and donors, so we always appeal to the general public and not just with food,” he said.

He explained that they have a number of plans that they want to pursue to enhance the institution, which includes painting the building, rehabilitating the fence among other things. However, it is only through the generosity of donors that this could become a reality.

According to Erskine, many of the persons who are brought to the Dharam Shala are depressed and suicidal.

“We deal with many people, many people come here with suicide in their minds, they depressed, they want to die, you have to find words of comfort for them encourage them take them to church.”

The unidentified mentally unstable woman.
The unidentified mentally unstable woman.

He added that because some of the persons are mentally challenged, they are abandoned. Presently, an unidentified mentally challenged woman living there only remembers that she is from Vergenoegen, East Bank Essequibo.

“They dropped her off at the Georgetown Dharam Shala and they were forced to bring her close by to the National Psychiatric Hospital in Fort Canje, that is closer to the Dharam Shala for treatment.”

The privately owned institution has been operating its Berbice Branch for the past 76 years and its main branch in Georgetown has been in existence for some 93 years.

My trip to the institution was not short of tears and it helped me realize how unkind life can be, how unkind human beings could be.

The Dharam Shala
The Dharam Shala

If you can find it in your hearts and mostly importantly your pockets, you can make a contribution to the Dharam Shala. You can make contact with with Mr Erskine on telephone number 693-3728.

The Dharam Shala is located in Fort Canje, underneath the Canje Bridge.



  1. I’ve read your article on “the Dharam Shala”, it was touching, heart aching and so hard to continue reading without tearing up. I must commend Tracey Khan- Drakes on an outstanding job and hope that she/he will continue to shed some light on issues like this. Also appealing to the general public to make contributions as often as possible and $140,000 per year is definitely unreasonable………

  2. we should make it a chargeable offence for not caring for ones’ parents in a meaningful way.
    for those whom by greed cheated the parents out of their hard earn life achievement, the legal aid department should revisit these cases ensuring that true justice is done.
    with all the monies this Government is spending on ‘white elephants’, an institution as important as this only receive $140,000 per year. this is laughable.

  3. This is so touching. May God bless the management of the Dharam Sala for helping to take care of human beings they are not related to, who are in need of simply, a chance to live. Thank you, Tracey Khan-Drakes, for this humanitarian story.


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