Katie Warner: “A Lifetime To Give Thanks”

My calendar reminds me that there is a holiday today; a day to give thanks. But as I wake up to the early sun streaming through my window and the choruses of the children beginning their school day (I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this but we live in an apartment over a school, aka no need for an alarm clock), it’s another Thursday in Jamaica. Another Thursday in paradise, in poverty, in my new home, in this foreign place.

The funny thing is I’m reminded each and every day of all of the things I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for my family that is so incredibly supportive of my dreams and endeavors, who lift my spirits when I find those days when it’s difficult to carry on, and who simply continue to love me through it all. I’m thankful for my other family; my friends, over the ocean and in my home here; those life-giving souls and kindred spirits who offer understanding, laughs, compassion and love.

I’m thankful for the roof over my head that doesn’t leak, I’m thankful for my bed that’s raised off the floor so that I’m not sleeping with the cockroaches, I’M THANKFUL FOR MY MOSQUITO NET, for my health, for the education I’ve been blessed with, for the smiles that greet me at Basic School, the spontaneous shouts of “I love you auntie Katie,” for Daquain and Joshawn when they actually wrangle the patience to practice sounding out the words, for the moments when I don’t have 17 5-year-olds fighting over the only eraser in the classroom, for the walks into Albion Gully, for endless miles of bush, tall mountains and bright shining sun that bring me such serenity, for the moments when Romario and Akeem complain of being bored only to hear squeals of laughter as I watch them amuse themselves with a wheelbarrow with one wheel and a big hill.

I’m thankful for the infirmary and Tika’s hugs that normally figuratively, but yesterday quite literally, knocked me over. I’m thankful for spending an hour talking with Trevor as through his stammer he was able to ask me how my family is doing and smiled the whole while, for Rasta Brooks constant stream of wisdom and encouragement, I’m thankful for health insurance and for the sanitary living conditions I have always been blessed with, I’m thankful that Ms. Golden was okay after the seizure she experienced right in front of me. I’m thankful I was raised in an environment in which mental illness is widely accepted and treated with compassion and understanding rather than brushed under the rug.

I’m thankful for the red mud that does not wash out of my jeans but rather serves as a reminder of the gift of this earth, for the smell of laundry when it dries in the sun, for the nights we lose power and run outside to look at the stars and spend time together as a community, for our spirituality nights, for my roommates who double as phenomenal cooks and keep me from starving here.

I’m even thankful for the crowded taxis and the rude drivers because they take me to the people and places I’m privileged to spend my days with.

Amongst the poverty, the sadness, the deplorable living conditions, the questionable quality of life, the challenges and the struggles… these moments that I’m thankful for are the ones that overshadow it all. These are the ones that make waking up every morning here worth it. These are the ones worth living for.

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Dan McMahon Shares With Us His New Mission Sites

Today was a big day! After a morning at the beach, where we all got a lot of color, we finally found out exactly where we will be working this coming year! I could not be happier with my placements. We will all have a lot of things on our plate, but I can’t wait to get started.

Each PVI is assigned a particular “mission.” In most cases, a mission is a small, rural community affiliated with a larger church in the area. Our jobs in the missions we serve may include teaching or tutoring at the local school, making home visits to elderly residents or those with children, administering a youth group, or working closely with the nun or priest assigned to the mission to the help the community in any number of ways.

I guess you could say I have two main missions. My first is St. John Bosco Boy’s School. In short, it’s an amazing home just outside Mandeville for around 150 boys who are mostly orphaned or abandoned, most having experienced neglect or abuse in their life. In addition to the traditional academic classes they take, the catering program, butcher shop, and—in the opinion of the boys—the football pitch (aka American soccer), provide important training and life skills for once the boys leave at the age of 18. My job there is as yet undetermined, and I have an interview with a director of the school next week. It could be anything—teaching computer classes, being the football coach, tutoring, etc. At any rate, Bosco is one of the main reasons I fell in love with Jamaica when I came in January, and I couldn’t be happier to be working with the boys this year.

My next mission is in a community called Morgans Forest, about an hour outside Mandeville. Its mission church is linked up with St. Thomas More in the larger town of May Pen, which I will discuss later. Morgans Forest is unique in that it is the only completely new mission site this year—never before having a Passionist Volunteer in their community despite the request of community and church leaders for the past several years. This is incredibly exciting that I was chosen for this, although it brings along its own difficulties. My specific job is yet to be determined, but I will be responsible for forging brand new relationships with the community and seeing how they want me to work. On the plus side, I won’t have to struggle with filling anyone else’s shoes or have expectations to live up to!

On Sundays, I will be attending mass at St. Thomas Mo re in May Pen. I visited this church last month during orientation and was warmly welcomed by the community. I will also be responsible for leading a youth group at the church. I met a lot of its members and they were extremely friendly. Casey and I will also be working out of this church for our week of leading Bible Camp next week.

In addition to these sites, I have two other responsibilities. Kaitlin, Casey, Andrea and I are on the retreat planning team for the diocese. We will plan retreats and help by giving talks and leading music. Also, Krystyna and I will be in charge of creating a new youth empowerment program, for the time dubbed PVI Junior. It is intended to help form leaders in the rural communities and create a culture of volunteerism in Jamaica among youth to work alongside us in our missions.

To say I am excited to start this new year is a major understatement!

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Dan helps out in the kitchen with the catering trade boys at St. John Bosco Boys Home

Katherine Merritt Expresses The Model Of Accompaniment In “DO Less And BE More”

Back in my days of summer camp at Camp Foster, there was a sign leading to one of the beach areas that read “God. Others. Self.” Those three simple words have resonated with me ever since my note passing days as an awkward 10-year old camper. 12 years later (yes I’m FINALLY 22), the image of that sign popped into my head during one of our orientation meetings. We were asked to think of what rule(s) we live by, and I immediately thought of the words that I looked at almost daily during my favorite week of the year each summer.

“God. Others. Self.”

In the short 13 days that I have been in Jamaica, my community and I have heard two separate people talk to a theme of doing less and being more. This is not typical in an American lifestyle considering most of us love our busy schedules and are always striving to DO more. But on further reflection of this idea, I realize its importance. In doing all that we DO, we run out of time to BE. During this year of service, my community of fellow PVIs and I are not in Jamaica to simply DO as much as we possibly can, but rather to BE with the people we are serving and accompany them along their life journey, wherever that may take them. Yes, we will be DOing things – whether it be working in a clinic, leading a youth group, teaching, etc. – but throughout our DOing, we will be focused on entering into relationships with the people we interact with and learning from them along the way.

Like I said, this will not be an easy task. I’ll be the first to admit that I love having a busy schedule full of doing as much as I can, but I am excited for the challenge to BE a friend, BE a community member, BE a roommate, BE a friendly face, BE someone that people can trust, and BE a PVI. I am also excited to discover the ways in which BEing more will be translated into DOing more.

“God. Others. Self.”

During my year on this breathtakingly beautiful island, I hope to display the saying on this old sign through my actions and by entering into community with others. I hope to embrace all of the times that I may feel uncomfortable or anxious by not always DOing, but BEing as much of myself as I can for others – always putting them before myself.

I would also like to challenge each of you to think of ways in which you can BE more for someone – anyone at all. Even in my first few days at mission sites, I have realized this importance of this and have seen the impact that it has on others.

So go… DO less. BE more.

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Katherine is pictured on the far right, along with fellow community members (from L to R)

Casey, Andrea and Kaitlin

My Family by Tania

One Tuesday morning back in March at about four in the morning, I received a call from one of the mothers in Albion Gully, a community where I work on youth and community development. I answered thinking it might be an emergency, and I could hear Prim, as she is often referred as, filled with emotions uttering, “Monique had one likkle boy!” Still half asleep, it took me a few seconds to understand what she was saying because although heavily pregnant, Monique was not due for another week. After fully absorbing the information a few minutes later, I found myself filled with such joy and anticipation that I could not go back to sleep. I spent the remainder of the morning contemplating this news. Prim’s second oldest daughter, Monique, just had a son. At around six in the morning, I called Prim asking if I can come to the hospital, but she told me visiting hours were after 11:00 AM. Although I was disappointed, I still wondered what the birth of this boy meant to me because then it felt as if I had gained a new family member. After all, for the previous nine months, I had found myself deeply embedded in Albion Gully, a community with three main families spread out over 14 different households. Over the course of those nine months, I had gained a new family.

 

Albion Gully is a community deeply removed from urban life. Although a 20-minute taxi ride from Mandeville, there is still a 15-minute walk down a dirt road that falls and rises at each turn. My first visit to Albion Gully, I was fascinated by the energy and fervor of the youth. That energy has translated to various activities revolving around the church to encourage them to look beyond their economic situations and focus on their talents and personal development. In some ways I felt like Albion was my playground. In the beginning, I observed in order to accurately identify the different areas where my talents could serve more of a purpose. Although I’ve found it fulfilling having Weekly Youth Meeting with the youths, I’ve also discovered the joy of spending time with individuals outside of the youth to understand their struggles and be a constant presence to them. While I take my work at Albion Gully very seriously, the times that I take to relax and simply enjoy their presence have made my experience much more fulfilling. Little moments stick out such as the time I found myself connecting with one of the more troublesome teenage boys over his love for Djaying, or planting yams with one of the older members of the community. Watching Jenna, an energetic one year old, grow up however, has been my favorite memory from Albion.  I remember meeting her at barely 8 months old. 11 months later, I’ve watched her take her very first step and listened to her first word. Her transformation is a symbol for all the other changes I’ve had the chance to observe over the past 11 months, as well as my own growth and personal development within the community.

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It was at that moment, when I was woken up at four in the morning with the simple news of the birth of the newest member of the Albion Gully that I realized how ingrained I had become in this community. It highlighted for me the goal of accompaniment, as I have been able to walk with that community in my time here in Jamaica.

Lindsay Papsin finds more pieces of the puzzle

Just the other day, as I made my way up the hill to the entrance of Somerset Basic School, I was almost toppled over as I was swarmed with knee-high hugs from my students shouting “Miss Lindsay!,” “Good morning teacher!,” and “Miss a-come!”  The principal of the school gently corrected them, saying, “You must call her Auntie Lindsay,” but I tell her that I do not mind being called “Miss” like the other teachers.  “No Lindsay,” she says, “Auntie is more like family.”

Moments, and people, like these that fill my heart.   But it’s not a type of filling that can be measured by how much is poured in, or how empty it still is.  It is an assembling of the pieces of my heart in the right places.

ImageThere is a piece on the left side of my heart that is green and soft and gently curved like the rolling hills of Somerset.  It is filled with afternoons spent walking the hills home with my students; like the day it was so hot it took all evening to walk up the road.  In this piece is the day the primary school students marched up the road to the field on Sports Day, chanting their house names and raising their banners high.  In it is the day I walked to school with Moses, singing “Jesus on the Telephone” and finding pictures in the clouds.  In it is the evening I waited an hour for a taxi, planning with 8-year-old Douglas what we might do if a taxi never came and I stayed the night at his house.

On the right side of my heart is a smaller purple piece, filled with church music from my Sundays at Dunsinane.  In this piece is the sound of bongos and Althea singing “Something in My Heart.”  In it is the colorful contrast of the rough days trying to get the kids to sit still long enough to make it through a prayer, and the more recent days when the kids cheer when I announce that we are having Sunday School.  In it is the tiny chapel at Dunsinane, the “Worship the Lord, Jamaica” hymnal, and the grotto.  In it is Easter egg hunts, Palm Sunday, and that day 3-year-old Natel made enough loaves and fishes to feed all of Mike Town.

ImageAt the top of my heart is a multi-colored piece that looks like laughter and is filled with the energy of the kids I work with.  In this piece are skipping rope contests, relay races, and running wildly with kites in hand because we just cannot wait for a windy day.  In it are school lunches, lined up in colored dishes, bag juices, and color-color ice cream.  In it is broken crayons and coloring books, the first letter Daniel wrote to me all by himself, a pile of blocks, the graded paper Shana Kay proudly shows me with check marks all the way down.  In it is the dancing in the streets, playing football with Fr. Robin, and Amanda decorating the girls’ hair with wildflowers.  Books, and jokes, and markers, and nonsense and hugs.

Somewhere in the middle of my heart is a round piece.  In this piece are Tania, Kyle, Tom and Casey.  In it are beaches, cliffs, long blue rivers, mountains peaks, and farms.  In it is the airport, the highway, the clutch, driving into the woods to find a beach.  In it are church and the apartment and the market and Auntie Alma’s dinners.  In it are the late night talks in the middle of the week and all that I have learned about them and all that they have taught me about myself and that I still have left to learn.   Washing dishes and watching movies and making bets and not nearly enough pictures.

There is a small midnight blue piece with Mas Seymour’s funeral inside, and a yellow piece with the teachers of Somerset, and piece with the side of the road where the pipe runs (or doesn’t) and Deon cooks chicken neck in Mike Town.

Bonnie Arbon once said, “You are a piece of the puzzle of someone else’s life. You may never know where you fit, but others will fill the holes in their lives with pieces of you.”   Most of the time, I feel like I may not know where I am supposed to fit, but I do the best I can with where I am.  Jamaica has filled my heart with such beautifully unique pieces.  It has taken me this long though, to realize that while my heart is being filled with new pieces, I am also trading the pieces already in my heart to fit into the puzzles of the people I come across. And I wonder what my piece looks like in their hearts. Image

Casey Schell, enjoying the simple things

Over the past two weeks Jamaica has played host to a group of volunteers from Wisconsin called Helping Hands. These adults come to the island to help out with various building projects- restoring school playgrounds, houses, roofs, even building beds.  For the first part of their recent trip they visited the clinic in Maggoty. The second half was spent at St. Joseph’s Basic School in Cross Keys, which I regard as the place where I got my start back in September. The reception I received there gave me the courage to branch out and visit other schools to see if I may be of service to children and teachers there.  Needless to say, I was eager to work alongside Helping Hands as they worked to give the playground a makeover as much as I could as a way to help give back to the school that has done so much for me.

My work supervisor Father Patrick also helped the group out; in addition to making sure everyone was well hydrated, he helped to haul supplies to school in his truck.  Sometimes he’d even drive the 45-minute winding, bumpy stretch of road between Cross Keys and the hotel in Mandeville where they group was staying.  I looked forward to that part the most because that meant I got to ride in the back of his Nissan truck.  It probably isn’t the safest way to travel, but boy is it fun.  It’s not every day in the United States that you see people riding in the back of pickup trucks, but in Jamaica its commonplace. Perhaps that’s why I love riding there so much.

The drive to Cross Keys is, in my opinion, quite scenic.  Along different parts of the route it is easy to see the coastline with the waves rolling in.  Sitting in the truck I got such a wonderful feeling as the wind whipped through my hair, a silly grin on my face.   Sometimes I even saw some of my students on the road; they got just as excited as I did when I waved and said, “Hi!”  The surrounding mountains plus the nearly always-sunny skies make it an enjoyable commute to work, but the occasional ride to Cross Keys in the back of Father’s truck: priceless.

I came to Jamaica seven months ago to, of course, offer up my gifts and talents to the people who live here.   Along the way I have had some indescribable moments: being called “Auntie Casey” for the first time (which, for the record, happened on the first day of school), being named Godmother to a little boy named Akeem at basic school, even learning to [successfully] drive a stick shift was pretty exciting. Despite all the constant coming and going that is associated with my life as a volunteer, Jamaica has taught me to literally stop and smell the roses. I’m not one to celebrate big moments, so little things like getting to ride in the back of a truck to me rank just as high as hearing a child call you “Auntie”.

Tania spreads the joy of Christmas

As Christmas time approached in Jamaica, the central question became how I would handle spending the holiday season away from home.  To be honest, I was a bit nervous. Whereas in the states, the holiday season is usually a break from school and work, it was much busier in Jamaica. I was not only planning a concert with the youth of Saint John Fisher Mission Church, but also a Christmas celebration at the Manchester Infirmary, a home for the physically and mentally challenged.

Without a doubt, Christmas Eve was chaotic, exciting and most importantly memorable. It was the day after our successful Christmas fundraising concert, and I decided to take a few of the younger children in the concert to the infirmary to sing Christmas carols and distribute presents and snacks. Remembering my first feelings of discomfort at the infirmary, I was a bit worried about how the children would feel in such unfamiliar territory. The Manchester Infirmary houses 93 individuals with various degrees of illnesses ranging from severely mentally challenged to old aged. However, the adults in Albion Gully, the community where I work with the youth, assured me that the kids would be fine and should expose themselves to such situations.Image

As soon as we approached the infirmary, I looked at Rayanna, at 8 the youngest in the group, and nodded at her to exit the van, but she nervously shook her head at me. I simply smiled because I understood her feelings. After all, I was in her position five months ago, and I can remember how uneasy I felt my first time at the Infirmary. However, I looked all five of them in the eyes and just assured them they would be fine. Little by little they made their way out of the car, yet still looked a little frightened.

Joining us that day at the infirmary were a few other children from Somerset, the community where Lindsay works.  We all began singing Christmas carols after a short prayer. Through their singing, I noticed the uneasy feelings shedding away from them. This occurred very slowly, but the joy they obtained from singing began to show through. Needless to say, I was very proud.

Afterwards, it seemed as if their attitudes changed.  We began to distribute the presents, and the children were each so eager to help out. Different moments stood out: when Rayanna stole a bunch of sandwiches off my plate to make sure she reached more patients than me, or when Kim-Marie remembered Mr. Sun’s name and made sure to personally hand him his goody bag. Their willingness to put a smile on an unfamiliar face and their progress from when they had first arrived at the infirmary thoroughly impressed me. Their courage truly moved me and enforced within me the exact meaning of Christmas: giving and sharing our gifts with one another. Christmas was going to be difficult Imagebecause I was away from home, yet I found myself spending Christmas Eve with those who bring me so much joy. For me, bringing together the people I work alongside with – children as young as 8 and adults in their 80’s – made Christmas that much more special.

 

Kyle Grant finds his niche

There is no shortage of energy in the students of St. Margaret Mary in Lionel Town, where I am a teacher’s assistant.  I help with the Computer and Physical Education classes for grades one through six, and have felt a strong connection to all of my students from the beginning.  Unlike my work in the nursing home in Balaclava where I visit the elderly, the students whom I teach in Lionel Town never needed the time to warm up to me.  It seemed as if I had their trust since day one.  Ill admit that it took some time to get the students to see me as a teacher rather than a playmate, but once I was able to draw that line, I was able to accomplish what I think to be some important goals.

I have never considered the path of a teacher.  I would have never thought that I would take on the responsibility of “molding the minds” of people who are still so young, so I was starting from square one.  My first day in the classroom, I was overwhelmed and did not know where to start.  From teaching style, to figuring out how to calm the students down, I had to figure out something that worked.  Little by little, as time went on, I began to realize what worked and what did not work, and what I could and could not do in the classroom.  For example, the students seemed to love individual attention and being talked to one on one, so I did that as much as I could because I knew it made them feel “listened to”.  I also knew that I could not let up on the children when I was trying to teach them how to behave in the classroom, otherwise, they would not take me seriously as their teacher, and they would walk all over me.  With the combination of everything I tried out, the children began to view me as one of their regular teachers, which opened the door for me to try to help them as best as I could, not just in the classroom, but outside as well.

I am at a point where I cannot imagine the year in Jamaica without my students in Lionel Town.  Besides patience, the children are really teaching me how to care and want to take responsibility in a position that I find myself loving more and more everyday.  I know the children’s appreciation for me when I hear my name being yelled in excitement from down the street, and I know they know I appreciate them when I show up with the same excitement in seeing my students.

Lindsay Papsin: what she thought she knew, and what she knows now

A very wise author, Madeleine L’Engle, once said: “Truth is eternal. Knowledge is changeable. It is disastrous to confuse them.”   These first few months in Jamaica, in fact, the first few weeks, have taught me that thus far in my life, I have indeed been very confused. Not the kind of confused when you fail to understand something- the kind of confused when you do not even realize how much you fail to understand.

I used to think it true that I knew how to teach.  I’ve taken the college courses, passed the required tests, experienced the various types of classroom environments.  Then life laughed at me and handed me a group of seven very special Grade 4 students, none of whom can read above a First Grade reading level.  One of whom could not tell me how old he is or recognize his name.  Most of whom have trouble focusing in class, but are sucked in when read to; who never come to school with pencils; who know they are different from the “fast” students, but wish they weren’t.  All of whom I love dearly.

Now I know this: teaching is non-transferable.  What works for one student, usually will not work for the next student.  I know: what you’re thinking when you have to say the same thing 27 times, and what you’re thinking when you find out that she actually was listening after all.  I know: how it feels the first time you see the look of accomplishment on your 9-year-old student’s face when he’s correctly spelled his name for the first time.

I used to think it true that I knew how to drive.  I’d had my driver’s license for years, taken my fair share of road trips, and conquered the roads in New England winters.  Then again, I’d never driven a standard before, with a whole heap of kids in the back.  I’d never driven up, and down, and up again through the back roads in the bush on the way to school, with kids and potholes in the middle of the road.  And donkeys.

Now I know this: potholes really CAN jump into your path at the last possible second.  Singing at the top of your lungs with the kids in the backseat can be the best remedy for a sour day.  I know: that somehow, there is a special power in a car drive on a sunny day that makes it easier to have a really good conversation.  I know: that on days without our ‘The Big White Bus’ to drive, route taxis provide their own knowledge of the people, their language, their tendency to drive quickly, and their love of Celine Dion on the radio.

I used to think it true that a day was most productive after you had checked off everything there was on your to-do list.  My planner was a close friend in which I confided the details of my daily life.  My poor planner must now feel neglected: events I previously had written down rarely happen as they were planned.  The separation between us really was the best thing for our relationship.  We needed space, and we just couldn’t provide what each other needed.

Now I know this: spontaneous moments are by far my favorite.  Like when you plan on working in the garden, but the heavens let out a downpour, and you end up waiting it out by filming music videos with the kids.  I know: I am very glad my taxi dropped me off at the wrong road, and I ended up doing laundry with Myrtle and reading Rainbow Fish with Mona.  I know: hurricanes allow for memorable days off playing games with your roommates.  I don’t know: how a walk to pick guava ended with my kissing a cow.

Lord knows, there is much I don’t know.  Each and every day in Jamaica has taught me lessons in love, in compassion, in patience, and in letting go.  So far, and I imagine more to come, there have been exuberant days, sad days, brilliant days, and frustrating days.   And truth is, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else in the world right now.

Casey Schell: Learning Love Really Is All You Need

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It seems surreal to be sitting in the PVI apartment in Mandeville, Jamaica typing out the first official blog entry.  If I close my eyes, I can recall the night at 2AM when I stumbled upon the Passionist Volunteers website.  I had previously voiced my desire to journey to the island, but some obstacle always stood in my path.  And now here was the answer right in front of me – and I found it “accidentally”.  The time span between then and now seems much longer than 11 months.  If I sat down and thought about it, I guess I never thought the day I flew down to Jamaica to begin my year of service would actually come; now that it has, I feel almost blissfully happy.

There have been a few moments that stood out more than others; moments that just made my heart want to shout out with joy.  I work at a total of three schools: St. Joseph’s Basic School in Cross Keys, Bethel Christian School (which is in a town near Cross Keys), and Woodlands Primary School (also near Cross Keys).  One day, while I was at Bethel Christian, one of my precious little kindergarteners named Gabby was sitting on my lap playing with my hair.  She noticed my necklace (a gold rosary that my godmother gave me right before I came to Jamaica) and pointed out that Jesus was represented on the cross.  She looked up at me and said, “Jesus had to die so He could enter our hearts.”  Such a powerful statement from a 5 year old! I can’t really describe how I felt then, but I can say that I felt so much joy; joy for Gabby, joy for the sunny weather (which is a blessing during rainy season), and joy for getting to live in Jamaica.

A few weeks ago I was visiting with a woman in Cross Keys named Ms. Hannah.  She’s well into her 90’s and still going strong.  We talked about God, the “water falling from the sky” (rain), and how her family constantly checks in on her and calls her every night.  Despite her children still being in the picture, she longs for visitors and will sometimes cry.  It broke my heart to hear this.  As I left, she gave me a big hug and said, “I love you!”  Having only met Ms. Hannah once before, hearing her say she loved me made my heart grow three times bigger.  I had a long walk to catch a taxi back to town, but somehow the distance (and the extremely hot weather) did not matter that afternoon.  I had the love of a woman named Ms. Hannah.  It’s like The Beatles say: “love is all you need”.