Indra’s desire to help others
IN THESE CHALLENGING economic times, Indra “Sandy” Skeete is doing yeoman work to help others less fortunate than herself achieve some measure of happiness in their lives.
For the last seven years, Skeete has been donating hundreds of dollars worth of food items to the food bank annually. And much of the money for this effort comes from her own pocket, as well as an annual new year luncheon.
Why does she do it?
“It was always in my nature; giving back [and] helping people,” she said, flashing her ever present effervescent smile.
“My mum is like that, so I think when you grow up seeing the people around you doing that, you would want to give back to the society too,” she said.
Skeete settled here 20 years ago from Guyana, got married, and started a family. Almost immediately she began sharing herself with her community.
“My first love was to be a nurse and when I came to Barbados I used to do volunteer work at the district hospital in Oistins,” she said.
She had actually done all the initial training in that profession but never completed her studies because her dad did not allow her to leave home to do the required national service in that country’s vast interior, when required. That’s when Skeete started doing people’s hair and became good at it.
In fact, she had such a gift for hairdressing that after her son was born and she decided to start doing it here with mostly neighbours and friends, word spread quickly. And within two years of immigrating here, she was able to open her salon, which has continued to grow from strength to strength.
The success of her business is inextricably linked to Skeete’s ability to give back.
She said her clients became like an extended family and as business improved she wanted to show appreciation for their patronage so she decided to have a big party for all of them, as well as her friends and neighbours.
But Skeete said she felt the affair could not only be about eating and enjoying themselves, and that some worthy cause had to benefit. At that time the HIV/AIDS food bank was appealing for assistance, so she decided to help them.
The first celebration of what has now become the annual Sandy’s Appreciation Christmas Luncheon was in 2008 at the National Union of Public Workers’ auditorium when over 300 people attended. It is held in January because she is busy over the Christmas and New Year.
For that initial event, Skeete got a big barrel and told everyone to bring a food item to donate to the food bank.
“Just a few people brought. But as I wanted to give back I filled that barrel myself,” she said.
“I realised that everyone was not as sincere as me,” she said of that experience.
After that she asked for a donation of $20, but as the cost of items increased it continued to rise and this year she had to ask for a contribution of $40 for adults while children continue to be free, as well as a number of senior citizens and those of limited means. The proceeds of those affairs go towards buying items for the food bank.
It’s often an expensive undertaking, but Skeete sees it as the right thing to do.
What does she get out of it?
“I feel good. When I go [to the food bank] and they tell me all about these people’s needs, I realise I am blessed,” she said, with her trademark broad smile.
“We have to be so thankful for the little that we have . . . as there are people out there who have nothing.
“So I think I get a lot out of it; it makes me happy and I think that is the most important thing. It’s a good feeling and I would like more people to reach out and help,” she said.
Skeete feels so deeply about this cause that she equipped herself to assist with counselling by doing a course in pastoral counselling under the guidance of Dr Henrick Ellis, founder of the AIDS Society of Barbados, at her church, St Paul’s Anglican.
On this note, she is particularly concerned about the level of stigma and discrimination against those infected with HIV/AIDS.
“It is sad to know how people treat others because it could happen to any one of us,” she remarked.
“You can only reach out the best way you can,” she said of her efforts. “That is what God would want us to do, be our brother’s keeper.”
So intent is she on helping others that two years ago Skeete joined the Lions Club of St Michael.
“I’m even more out there seeing the poor. At Christmas time we went out delivering hampers . . . and just seeing those children’s faces it brought tears and joy at the same time. They were happy to have that food; it was so heart-warming,” she said.
“Right now with what Barbados is going through, we need more people to help . . . the less fortunate – those who are sick, disabled; kids who need somebody to talk to because their parent may be an addict or sick.”
She advised that if this was done Barbados “would be a better place and all of us would be able to survive”. And she added, “sometimes when you are good, good follows.”