A barrel of fun and caring for back home

By Jasminee Sahoye

Alyson Renaldo
Alyson Renaldo

As a child, she was thrilled when her mother would put her into a barrel she was packing to send to Guyana to press items down in an effort create space to fit more items.

And for many within the community, “sending a barrel back home” is something their relatives and friends look forward to especially during Christmas.

But for Canadian-born Alyson Renaldo, a performer, playwright and a hybrid artist, seeing her mother packing barrels and sending them to relatives and friends in her birth country of Guyana, has left a lasting impression.

“As I got older, I began to understand that part of my mother’s make-up was her ability to give to others and it wasn’t something she had to force or think about, it was the reality to the point, where it became fun to figure out what we were giving others,” Renaldo tells The Camera shortly after she performed the last of three shows of her play Virgin in Toronto last week.

Why was she sharing this tale? It was her introduction to the establishment of her non-profit organization in 2007 called The Cheryl’s Daughter Foundation, which focused on health and education initiatives in Guyana.

“When I became of age, around 21, I started doing it myself, barrels. What do people in Guyana need, what do we know, you read in the newspapers, what have you. Then it occurred to me, maybe we can organize this a little bit more and so I put together it and I named it Cheryl’s Daughter because my understanding of charity and my understanding of my role in a community began with my mother and so this is an extension of Cheryl’s example, I’m Cheryl’s daughter,” Renaldo says.

She was coordinating her efforts with Guyana’s education minister, the late Dr. Desiree Fox, who she met while pursuing her master’s degree in history and cultural anthropology at Columbia University.

The former producer and lead actress on the Sundance Official Selection film, Welcome to Life adds, she started sending condoms after she had read that there was a high incidence of HIV/AIDScases in Guyana.

“So I reached out to some safe sex paraphernalia people, and I said listen, I will do an article, because I write for the Huffington Post, if you donate this and I send it to Guyana.

The organization also runs a lunchtime feeding program for kids in certain neighbourhoods, which she prefers not to disclose. “There are certain communities where children don’t always get something to eat in the morning.”