World Champions donate time to Guyana Watch
…forego millions of dollars to come to Guyana
August 3, 2004
TWO members of the Guyana Watch medical team are here at great personal cost. But to them the visit is worth more than they could ever earn. The two are Barry Greenstein and Phil Ivey.
They are so famous that reporters and cameramen from the various news agencies in the United States wanted to accompany them to Guyana during this visit in which they are learning that some of the things that they took for granted in their lives are not readily available for so many others in various parts of the world, Guyana being one of those parts.
The two men have one thing in common. They are world champion poker players. They play poker every day, winning more money than some of us would ever see in our lifetime.
Greenstein is 49; Ivey is 22. They have both won major poker tournaments this year. Greenstein won a tournament that netted US$1 million for him early this year. Ivey won a tournament that paid him US$500,000 just a month ago.
Greenstein gives away all his winnings. Just recently, he donated a whopping US$150,000 to Guyana Watch. On Saturday, he was there with the doctors and nurses providing a service to hundreds of residents of the Timehri area.
I caught up with him at the end of the day at a location on East Bank Demerara. He is one of the people responsible for transforming the clinic into a site worthy of being called a clinic.
The Guyana Watch medical team uses schoolrooms and any other location available in the community to provide medical services to the hundreds who might have never seen a doctor in their lives. It is menial work but for the multi-millionaire, it is a joy and something that he proposes to continue doing as long as he could.
He first learnt about Guyana from overseas-based Guyanese, Mahendra 'Victor' Ramdin, who incidentally, plays poker on the international circuit. He came from a Mathematics and Computer Programming background.
At 15, he helped found a software company, Symantec that has grown to be one of the largest software companies in the world today. He made money in this company until he sold his shares in 1991 to play poker on the international circuit.
Greenstein described his move as taking a pay cut from his company. Little did he realise that his life would change forever.
Today, he is so financially secure that he claims that he does not need the money he earns from his poker exploits. In January, he entered a tournament that attracted 376 players, each of whom had paid US$10,000 to enter. The pot was, therefore, US$3.76 million.
That tournament lasted four days and in the end, Greenstein walked away with just over US$1 million, all of which he donated to charity.
His main charity is Children Incorporated with branches in 21 countries, including Brazil, Kenya, Argentina, South Korea and Colombia. Guyana Watch became his newest charity.
Greenstein said that he came to see how his money is being spent and with him came his sister, two sons and a fiancée.
He said that if he should become ill he could easily access a doctor. He added that when he came to a doctor he realised that what he took for granted was a dream for so many people.
He admitted, rather coyly, that he is a multi-millionaire. He said that he came to the realisation that "What we do is largely in the pursuit of money." He said that life is much more than that, and that people should do more than work for themselves. "We need to work for others."
When some members of the poker community learnt that he was coming to Guyana, they could not believe that he was moving away from so much money to be earned. Of course, there are those who refused to believe that he gives away all his winnings.
But as Greenstein puts it, life is more than making money.
Phil Ivey is described as the Tiger Woods of poker. He explained that the poker circuit is largely White. He is Black. One month ago, he walked away with the top prize of US$500,000 from a tournament that was broadcast on Fox Sports.
He said he had never come to South America, and like Greenstein, he wanted to give something back to people who really need it.
He started playing poker at age16 and soon earned the reputation of a man with "zero emotion". Such is his skill that winning does not come as a surprise. Rather, it is more like a relief.
He plays everyday and while it was clear that he was rich, he declined to flaunt his riches. He too left a lot of money on the poker circuit to be in Guyana to help the needy.
He said that he never found it difficult to donate money to needy causes.
He too has never been to South America where he learnt that he could never take anything for granted again.
Having come and seeing, I would definitely be contributing to Guyana Watch.
The medical team has already identified fifteen young people for heart surgery overseas. Word is that Greenstein and Ivey are going to foot the bill.
"It is fulfilling to give money to causes like Guyana Watch," Ivey said.
Meanwhile, they are happy preparing the various clinic sites. They awake very early each day to undertake the long trips to the locations identified for this year's medical missions. They return late at nights, only to jump out of bed very early the next day.
They never had to do this in their lives but having come to Guyana and seeing what their contributions are doing for the less fortunate, they are prepared to do this again and again.