Dame Olga Lopes-Seale, DA, GCM, MBE, BSS (26 December 1918 – 4 February 2011) was a Guyanese-born, Barbados-based social and community worker, radio broadcaster and singer.
She came from humble beginnings, born to Portuguese indentured field labourer parents, and was the last of nine children, six of whom died prior to Olga’s birth. From an early age, Olga acquired a habit which would serve her in good stead throughout her life, and which she recommended to children wherever she went – reading books.
Her work on behalf of children began in the public realm in 1952 when she heard of five boys who were unable to attend a Christmas concert because they didn’t have clothes to wear to it. 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 evolved into a charity, the “Radio Demerara Needy Children’s Fund” where she helped over 1,500 poor children in Guyana using broadcast appeals.
Her charity work continued when she moved to Barbados in the early 1960s. On the island, she became known for her Saturday morning children’s radio programme where many a talent was born and cultivated. “Aunty Olga”, as she was known, resumed the Needy Children’s Fund to help children in Barbados with back to school clothes, shoes, school bags and stationery. This programme is now continued by Variety Barbados Tent 73. Aunty Olga’s aim was to give as many children as possible access to education through providing them with everything they needed from books to full tummies, but additionally, she wanted children to feel special and important as individuals. To this end, the Fund hosted an annual Christmas party where every child in attendance received a gift suitable for his or her age and sex. Aunty Olga took particular delight in seeing children happy for Christmas.
The Fund eventually developed to encompass serving not only children born into poverty, but also children with mental and physical disabilities. It raised money for expensive medical operations and equipment that would help children lead more normal lives.
Aunty Olga also extended her love for charitable work to senior citizens by visiting them in their homes and supplying spectacles, wheelchairs clothing and gifts. She also raised large sums for the Soroptomists Senior Citizen’s Village and for her Cents for Sight programme for seniors.
She was awarded Dame of St. Andrew, for extraordinary and outstanding achievement and merit in service to Barbados and humanity at large. Her honours are deservedly numerous – she was made a Member of the British Empire in1961, has a Silver Crown of Merit and a Gold Crown of Merit, is a Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary South and in 1997 she was admitted to the Caribbean Broadcasting Hall of Fame – the only woman ever!
Dame Olga was a member of Variety Tent 73 and attended her last annual general meeting just a few months before she died. She is quoted as saying in an interview during her latter years about her continued charitable work, “I’m still keeping busy. I’m still involved with programmes for needy people. Why do I keep doing it? And at my age? As in the past, I don’t know that I could ever see that there is a need and not try, in word or deed, to do something about it. You just can’t turn away from it.” In her usual concern for others, she bequeathed to Tent 73 the funds from her Needy Children Fund, ensuring the continued commitment to her charges through the work of Variety.
Variety the Children’s Charity is pleased to acknowledge her work as a philanthropist through the Presidential Citation Award at the Variety International World Conference 2014 held in Barbados