When the pandemic overtook normal life in Canada last year, Ryerson student Emily Singh used the opportunity to help. She used her time to create individual care packages for children overseas and packed each one with a face mask, towel, toothbrush and soap for a child in Guyana, her family’s home country.
Singh, who is Miss West Indian Canadian, made helping Guyanese children her “passion project” — a way of using her title to benefit others. She leaned on her family’s connections to reach children in a school and shipped two barrels of care packages to them.
“I was devoted to helping underprivileged children in Guyana. It was my platform and my passion project,” Singh, 20, said in a WhatsApp video call.
All the hard work was worth it when over 30 children received her care packages. Singh said the pandemic had only made her project that much more important and vital.
Watch: Emily Singh explains her project
A personal connection with Guyana
Being born and raised in Toronto, but instilled with family values and vacationing in Guyana to meet with the family at least once a year hit Singh hard when COVID-19 struck and international travel was banned.
As a journalism student, she knew the effects COVID-19 had around the world. Her dad had immigrated from Guyana to Canada at the age of 15 in 1976 but had gone back to play cricket, where he had met her mom; they got married and moved to Canada shortly after for the betterment of their family. Emily knew it was her turn to give back.
Singh has always loved to dance, act and perform. When the opportunity to compete for the title of Miss West Indian Canadian arose, she jumped at the opportunity. She won the title in 2019.
As a pageant queen, picking a platform to represent was vital. This led to Singh starting her own movement of creating care packages.
“This winter I decided to give back to my parents’ home country,” she said. “Having visited so many times, I witnessed a lot of injustice facing children in Guyana and I wanted to do my part to give back so I decided that I would do a toy drive for kids in Guyana.”
Children in need
Wedged between Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname, Guyana is considered one of the poorest countries in South America. According to UNICEF, children in Guyana experience “alarming rate of violence, abuse and neglect.” Research cited by the Canadian Red Cross suggests up to 87 per cent of Guyana’s children “experience physical abuse in their homes, schools or communities.”
Singh said the pandemic gave her extra motivation to ensure the care packages reached Guyana. She sent the barrels to an elementary school on Guyana’s east coast, where her aunt Maria Singh teaches and distributed the packages. Tennessee International Freight Inc. sponsored the face masks and the shipment.
“The children really appreciated the donations. You should have seen the smiles on their faces,” Maria said in an interview.
The barrels themselves were sponsored by Little Hibiscus, an arts and crafts store in Toronto. In addition to the sanitary supplies, Singh put canned goods and a toy in each care packge. Her sister Anjali helped spread the word about the project.
“The first thing we did was we made a flyer to advertise her initiative and it had different types of food, clothing, and toys that we have accepted as well as the purpose of the initiative and where to drop off the items and then we advertised it on our social media accounts and collected items from our family and friends” Anjali said.
“We then organized all of the items into our barrels, took pictures of them, and now 32 underprivileged children in Guyana in an elementary school have received care packages with different items.”
“I’ve known Emily for about seven years now and she’s one of the most confident, hardworking, and resilient people I have ever met,” said Bernard Segamanasinghe, Singh’s friend and contributor to the initiative said when talking about Singh and her endeavours. “Every time I called she kept talking about how much this means to her and how she wants to take action and I knew nothing would stop her once she had made up her mind.”
As the pandemic continues, Singh is working on initiatives closer to home. She is currently writing handwritten notes to senior citizens in Toronto and shipping them through Canada Post.