MONDAY MAN: Neil driven to give
LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR isn’t just the name of Neil Rowe’s charity, but a mantra he says has shaped the majority of his life.
It all started for him growing up in the 1980s and early ’90s in Brighton, St Michael. All around him were pockets of poverty from which he wasn’t immune.
He was raised in a happy but humble nuclear home. His mother, Myrna Inniss, worked at a gas station, the Shamrock supermarket and at a manufacturing factory in Grazettes Industrial Park. At one point she even worked two jobs at once to “make ends meet”.
“I witnessed as a boy growing up, she doing her best trying to provide everything for me, mostly a proper education for me in terms of being able to send me lessons,” he told the DAILY NATION.
But even with the love of his parents, grandmother, uncles, aunts and cousins, though he understood his situation, a young Rowe couldn’t comprehend how vastly different it really was. That was, until he began to interact more with his school and neighbourhood friends.
“Back then some of my friends would have certain toys my parents couldn’t afford to buy,” he said. “I used to go by some friends that had those things and play, but at other times we would pitch marbles, fly kites, made muddy cou cou, sometimes we would run about, climb trees – guava, mangoes. As boys growing up we would play rounders and catchers in the clammy cherry trees. When it came to brand name . . . mine was Bata or Flames.
“My childhood days were fun, to be quite honest, but I knew there were things that I wasn’t fortunate to have so I had to make do with whatever my mother and father could provide back then.”
He began to appreciate the old adage that little with content is great gain.
The soft-spoken Rowe said it taught him never to be ungrateful.
Even before his graduation from the then St James Secondary School, Rowe fancied construction and building and decided to follow that path by pursuing vocational training. He went on to further his studies in construction supervision before spending a few years in the field, firstly working for a major construction firm in Barbados and later as a subcontractor for various companies.
It was fulfilling work for a while, but sometimes after his days were complete, often the satisfaction was missing. So in 2006, he quit construction as his instincts were pushing him to work with the elderly and disadvantaged people in society.
Fortunately, he found a job that he could do just this, but after several years, the father of three felt an urge to make an even greater contribution.
“I have always had a passion for helping people. From the age of 16 I wanted to start my own charity and to be able to give back to the less fortunate. Growing up in the environs of Black Rock, I realised a lot of people, not only in the Black Rock area but across Barbados, have been seeing severe hardships.
“I promised myself then that I would never forget where I come from in life. There will always be some people who come from the bottom and when they reach the top, they just forget where they come from. I promised never to allow myself to fall to that position because where I came from made me the man I am today,” the 37-year-old declared.
In 2014, Love Thy Neighbour was registered and finally got off and running.
“Having worked with the elderly and the homeless at the Clyde Gollop Shelter for Homeless Men, I had multiple experiences with all kinds of people – for example, deportees, outpatients from the Psychiatric Hospital, ex-convicts. That was the catalyst for Love Thy Neighbour and the affirmation that I was doing the best thing,” he said from the charity’s base on Black Rock Main Road.
Rowe said his organisation wasn’t just about giving fish to the less fortunate, so to speak, but rather teaching them how to fish.
Working at the Clyde Gollop Shelter, he recognised some of the major problems that young men faced was motivation, and not having the necessary resources to be able to get them back on their feet, whether it was a job, a trade, an opportunity to get into the institution to acquire that trade, or developing business ideas. Hence, he reasoned that his charity could be a platform to help persons in these areas.
“I had my challenges growing up as a boy; I won’t give the impression that I was a saint. I made a few mistakes in life that I learned from and I also learned from people’s mistakes so I won’t have to make the same mistakes. I always look at life from a positive perspective no matter what challenges I face.
“The thing about this new challenge is, I would like to touch as many disadvantaged people and families as I can through the charity. It hurts my heart to see people, especially children, [suffer]. It saddens me to see when young mothers have three and four children and can’t provide properly for them to eat, even breakfast on morning.
“I would love to see the charity grow from strength to strength and . . . serve the purpose for which it was established. There are a lot more things I would like to do as far as the charity is concerned, but for right now I am focusing on being able to assist the disadvantaged. (SDB Media)