CEO of Christian charity honoured at UWI benefit gala
Statistics, sometimes, can be misleading in a number of ways.
The numbers however, don’t lie when they come to telling the story of Food for the Poor’s (FFP) extraordinary exertions of benevolence.
Founded 34 years ago, the interdenominational Christian charity provides basic aid and sustainable development to the needy in 17 Caribbean and Central American countries.
Nearly two million people are fed six days a week, 9,400 housing units were built last year, every high school in Guyana was outfitted with new furniture in 2015 and 358 schools have been constructed since Robin Mahfood took over as the organization’s president and chief executive officer 16 years ago.
“We believe that every family needs a chance and we aim to get people out of poverty one at a time,” said Mahfood who accepted the Chancellor’s Award on behalf of the organization at the University of the West Indies (UWI) annual Toronto benefit gala last Saturday night.
FFP emerged in 1982 after Mahfood’s older brother – Ferdinand Mahfood – visited Eventide Home for the Elderly a few years earlier with Missionaries for the Poor founder, Father Richard Ho Lung.
Lying on a bed in an extremely hot room with the temperature hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit was Cleveland Christie, whose skin was badly decayed.
“Ferdinand said Cleveland turned to Father Ho Lung and asked for a blanket because he was cold,” said Mahfood who resides in Coconut Creek, Florida with his wife of 51 years, Gail. “My brother said he saw the face of Christ lying in that bed and decided he had to do something to help the poor and needy.”
FFP has a chapter in Canada which, with Samantha Mahfood – Ferdinand Mahfood’s niece – as its executive director, raised $700,000 that went to the construction of 10 schools for Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary four years ago.
Mahfood, who graduated from Montreal’s Loyola College and visited Pope Francis in Rome last year, accepted the award on behalf of the organization’s 1,200 employees.
“They are the ones doing the real work,” he said of the large charity that has provided more than $11 billion in aid since its inception. “The Mahfood family is directing and guiding the organization along.”
Vice-chancellor awards were presented to Trinidad-born golf professional, Stephen Ames and UWI alumni and neurosurgeon, Dr. Paul Steinbok, who both reside in British Columbia and Jamaica-born Wes Hall, who last year was ranked 42nd in Canadian Business magazine’s Power 50 grading of the country’s most powerful business people.
The married father of five, who came to Canada in 1985 at age 16 to join his father, Leonard Hall – he attended the event – and his family, dedicated his award to his late grandmother, Julia Vassel.
“My role model didn’t dribble a basketball or graduate from high school,” said Hall who navigates high stakes boardroom battles as the founder and chief executive officer of Kingsdale Shareholder Services. “All she did was get up at 5 a.m. every morning, make sure we were fed and worked in the field. This selfless woman, at age 60, raised a special needs adult daughter and scores of grandchildren. Unfortunately, she didn’t live to see the man she raised, but heroines like her don’t do it for the glory. They do it out of a sense of duty.”
Award-winning British composer, Dr. Shirley Thompson, who is of Jamaican descent, was the recipient of the Luminary Award.
In 2004, she became the first woman in Europe in four decades to compose and conduct a symphony and eight years later, the concept of “A London Story” was assumed for the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony.
“I am passionate about knowledge and learning and music is an extension of that,” said Dr. Thompson on her visit to Canada. “I am interested in telling stories and I have large scale concepts that I realize into music.”
Vivienne Poy, who in 1998 became the first Canadian of Asian heritage appointed to the national senate, was presented with the G. Raymond Chang Memorial Award.
An astute businessman and philanthropist, Chang passed away in July 2014.
“I admired Ray for the great work he did both in Canada and Jamaica,” said Poy who is also an accomplished fashion designer. “I am very honoured to receive an award in his name and it tells me I am doing something right in my life.”
Since the gala’s inception in 2010, the funds raised have assisted almost 250 students complete their undergraduate studies at the largest and longest standing higher education provider in the English-speaking Caribbean.
UWI vice-chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles said the Toronto fundraiser, also attended by chancellor Sir George Alleyne, Open campus principal, Dr. Eudine Barriteau, Mona campus social history professor, Dr. Verene Shepherd and third-year integrated marketing communication student, Sathara Hendricks, is a premier event on the university’s calendar.
“We are honoured to be part of a celebration that honours distinguished individuals,” said Sir Hilary. “It is important because we have sought as a university not only to be distinguished in areas of research and teaching but also to be an ethical university. We take it very seriously, this mandate, to be ethical in all of our operations, including ensuring that those persons within our societies who are in many ways disposed, not privileged and not able to benefit from material resources are able to nonetheless receive a quality higher education. Through events such as this, we are able to provide tuition and scholarships for some brilliant and deserving young people who otherwise would not be the beneficiaries of an education. We thank you for this.”
The UWI was established in 1948 as the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) in a special relationship with the University of London. The university has provided thousands of scholarships since it opened 68 years ago with 23 male and 10 female students who began their academic journey in wooden huts in Jamaica that once housed war refugees from Gibraltar and Malta.