Aunty Olga Lopes Seale
The Mother Theresa of Barbados – Dame Olga Lopes Seale.
Dame Olga Lopes Seale, known affectionately as Auntie Olga was a radio broadcaster who used her profession to help poor local children in Barbados.
A high achiever in both her radio and charitable careers, Auntie Olga, was Guyana’s first woman news reporter and founded the Needy Children’s Fund first in Guyana and then in her later adopted country, Barbados. Her selfless efforts made dramatic changes to these communities and resulted in her being awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1961, as well as a string of other awards.
Born in Guyana in 1918, Auntie Olga came from a strict background. Her parents were Portuguese indentured field laborers, and six of her would-be siblings died before she was born. But Auntie Olga was a fighter and one that knew her mind. She once explained the origin of her name, “People tell me that I was a precocious little girl and insisted on being called Auntie in the family household.” This strength of personality would hold her in good stead for the future.
Her career in radio started through singing and in the 1940’s and ’50s she was often referred to as the “Vera Lynn of the Caribbean,” quite a compliment!
Determined to progress, she became a radio announcer and later advanced to newsreader and programmer at Guyana’s only radio station, Radio Demerara. But not without a struggle. Auntie Olga’s fundamental belief in life was equality for all including herself. Despite her determination and the hardships of battling against inequality, she presented and sang with a beautifully soft and appealingly voice, enabling her to break through the radio gender barrier. Becoming a newsreader gave her a platform of power on which to base her charity work.
Her fight for equality and fairness first broke into the public realm in 1952 when she heard of five boys who couldn’t attend a Christmas concert because they didn’t have clothes.
As she put it, “I aired an appeal for garments and received more clothes than I had needy kids. So I aired an appeal for needy children to come forward, and then had more children than clothes.” This cycle evolved into a charity, the Radio Demerara Needy Children’s Fund where she helped over 1,500 needy children in Guyana using broadcasted appeals.
Relentlessly determined to help others, when Auntie Olga moved to Barbados in the early 1960’s she promptly knocked on the door of Barbados’ then only radio station Rediffusion, and set up the Fund in her new homeland.
Perhaps the most notable part of Auntie Olga’s charitable work was the attention she gave to each case. She visited every single child in their home environment, assessing their needs and the ways she could help improve their lives. She delivered hampers, food vouchers and clothing vouchers by car, crashing it three times, but she felt it was a small sacrifice to pay for her work. She aimed to give as many children as possible access to education through providing them with everything they needed from books to full tummies.
As well as focusing on education, Auntie Olga wanted the children to feel unique and important as individuals. The highlight of the Fund’s calendar is the Christmas party. Every single child who attends is given a different gift, suitable for his or her age and sex. Auntie Olga was often heard saying, “There is nothing better to see a child happy and smiling for Christmas.” The children also receive gifts for their birthdays. When she gave up working at the charity in 2010, she had helped over 2,000 of Barbados’ young poor.
As well as working at a grassroots level, Auntie Olga used her astute business mind to persuade companies to donate funds, local organizations to collaborate on projects and communities to get behind her immensely successful fundraising events.
Over time the Fund in Barbados developed to enfold not only needy children but also mentally and physically disabled kids and the elderly. It raised money for expensive medical operations and equipment that would help children to lead more normal lives. Her work with the elderly involved visiting them in their homes, supplying spectacles and again, wheelchairs, clothing, and gifts. She wanted everyone to feel equal and included – a testament to a big heart and a tremendous will to fight for others.
Dame Olga was a determined and incredibly kindhearted humanitarian, who passed away in 2011. However, in a real testament to her courage and determination, The Variety Club of Barbados continues her work today.
Author: Brett Callaghan