Newcastle man’s vision to change lives

A VISION can be more than just a hopeful dream.

From the age of 16, Newcastle’s Brendan Singhdeo made it his mission to influence those around him, moulding his vision into reality, step by step.

After venturing with Teen Missions Australia to multiple third world countries, Mr Singhdeo was struck by the suffering and pain he witnessed.

“I was shocked at all the beggars with desperation in their eyes, mums with babies, children and disabled people. They surrounded me.” Mr Singhdeo said. “At that moment I knew in my heart that I needed to do something.”

Madagascar is considered one of the poorest countries in the world.

A year after his first visit, Mr Singhdeo returned to the south east coast of Africa and formed his grassroots charity, Thrive Madagascar.

Its focus is to provide education and hope to those left behind.

Mr Singhdeo grew up a victim of domestic violence and said shame led him to wonder what his purpose in life could be. It was his troubled childhood that drove him to care for others deemed “insignificant”.

“I believed I could create change in the world; make individuals feel special and be part of transforming lives,” he said.

He was determined to battle against words such as “dump, lost and hopeless”. Instead he believed that “every individual is gifted and can achieve their visions”.

With nothing more than $50 a month provided by Saint John Vianney Catholic church in Morisset, Mr Singhdeo set out for Madagascar in 2009, aged 21.

“Our vision and purpose is to feed the poor and teaching them how to feed themselves,” he said.

The ‘Kids In School Project’ was Thrive’s first program to be established in 2010 and aims to send children to school.

For most of these children it was their first time and only opportunity to experience education.

In eight years the project has grown to sponsor 120 children to attend school on a regular basis.

Thrive volunteer Daniel Wilson said, “This project is transformational in the lives of these children; creating vision and purpose.”

Whilst striving to fulfil his missionary calling, Mr Singhdeo learnt to speak fluent Malagasy.

After securing a $19,000 Grant from the Australian Government in 2013, Mr Singhdeo was able to employ workers and expand Thrive’s programs to start The Youth Centre.

Thrive employee Paulin Rafanonezanjanahary said securing work has given him a sustainable job.

“I can afford to support my family, I have learnt many skills like management and English,” he said. “My eyes are open to big visions now.”

On April 30, 2010, Mr Singhdeo experienced a horrific accident. Aged 24, he was traveling in a minibus when the front tyre blew and the vehicle rolled 10 times off a bridge into a rocky gully.

Five passengers were killed. Mr Singhdeo said the accident forced him to contemplate how and why he survived. At the time he had been wearing a bracelet gifted to him as a teen which read ‘Alive For A Reason’.

‘‘I don’t know why the accident happened or why I survived,” he said.

“But I now know I am alive for a reason and I will live my life that way. I encourage everyone to do the same because they are alive for a reason also.”

The accident changed Mr Singhdeo’s life. He said it motivated and inspired him to do more work to help others in Madagascar.

In 2012, he established the ‘Children Of The Light’ children’s home in county town, Soavinandirana. It provides meals, shelter, education and medical aid for five children without parents, five local families, also community breakfast.

“These child are individually loved and accepted,” he said. “I believe they will develop into the adults in which they were destined to be.”

Eric, one of the children said he now has a purpose in life.

“I now have hope for my future, before when I lived with my sister I was hopeless, with Thrive I feel I have parents again,” he said.

Many Malagasy mothers live on the street with their children. The ‘Mummas Off The Street’ program, established in 2011, allows these mothers to design and make jewellery and other sellable objects, which provides them with a sustainable income.

Thrive established the ‘Living Centre project’ in the slums of Madagascar in 2014, funded by The Ark Café, Norah Head. Families in desperate need live in this area and Thrive has become an oasis for many.

The Living Centre feeds 45 of the poorest children in the area with breakfast daily including various health, educational and disability support groups.

In August this year, Toki, 17, Eric, 16, and Fitahiana, 14, orphans from the Children of The Light home travelled to Australia, where they spent 56 days in Lake Macquarie.

They were accompanied by Thrive general manager, Paulin.

Toki has been in the Children’s Of The Light children’s home for eight years, Eric and Fitahiana three years.

Toki originally lived by slush and waste.

“I lived with my cousin. After my parents died they couldn’t afford my life, I was nine at the time,” he said.

“I thank Thrive for receiving me, Thrive gave me the opportunity to go to school again and they support me as their child.”

Brothers Eric and Fitahiana once lived in a tiny clay hut, which housed eight people.

“I can continue my study with no doubt,” Fitahiana said. “Thrive supports me with everything I need and I have a better life now”.

Whilst in Australia the boys stayed at Bonnells Bay in a house located on the waterfront, had a double bed each and were able to experience everything from buffet to seeing the beach for the first time.

“I never thought I’d feel sick from eating so much food,” said Eric.

Co-ordinator of the boys trip Theresa Singhdeo said, “The boys have gained a vision to study”. “They have now found purpose for their future”.

Mr Singhdeo said he was proud of the fact that Thrive has grown to become a refuge of hope.

“I barely made it through school, I had such a low self esteem growing up. I’m not a professional person, I just had a vision and people helped me with it. Now it’s happening,” he said.

Toki, Eric, Rose, Fitahiana, Paulin