Brendan O’Leary: Celebrating the Joys and Thrills of Sports Day in Jamaica

By Brendan O’Leary

The Usain Bolts, Asafa Powells, and Shelly-Ann Frasers that Jamaica produces in athletics are no accident. In my time volunteering here, I have found that there is a great deal of pride and competitiveness in Jamaica in regards to track and field. This is never more apparent then when the schools here keep their Sports Day.

Every school, from pre-school to college students has a Sports Day where the student body is divided into houses and competes in athletic challenges, with a winner being crowned at the end of the day.

I myself was able to participate in two Sports Days this year; one at the Catholic College of Mandeville where I serve as Campus Minister, and a second at St. Margaret Mary Basic a Prep School, where I teach computer, music, and physical education.

The build up and hype to Sports Day was evident. It was only when I attended each that the passion and value of the day also became evident. The joy and thrill of competition was celebrated by all ages of athletes. Three year olds yet to master walking were not hindered in leaning to the finish line. College students recall the technique from their high school days in the well executed baton exchange. All took the field with pride and a sense of duty.

Seeing this first hand on Sports day removed the mystery of why the Jamaicans will surely triumph at the track and field events in this summer’s Olympic Games. I know that they have cultivated a passion for the test of speed and strength, and an unmatched desire to compete. I know that they have been training for this their whole lives.

Brendan O’Leary Finds that Respect is the Key to Accompaniment

Written by Brendan O’Leary

‘Respect’ is a common salutation and valediction in Jamaica, the word often exchanged as a nicety in conversation between individuals. However, the colloquial use of respect only shadows a cultural and human importance of respect here. In Jamaica, more than it impacts communication, respect develops association and validation between people.

The accompaniment model, that we as Passionist Volunteers follow, calls us to “walk with the crucified and suffering of today”. This walking is something to be done in mutuality and solidarity; we are to walk side by side, not in front or behind. To walk with the people here, we must share respect.

I can remember over a year ago when I first began volunteering at the Catholic College of Mandeville, a tertiary instituation founded by Sr. Una O’Connor, a Passionist Sister, to improve teacher training and qualification in Jamaica. Filling the role of campus minister at the College, I struggled to find my place there. A majority of students were older than me, and had life experiences and duties that eclipsed my mere 23 years. I could not fathom how I might form relationships, particularly a staff to student relationship, with this disparity. I began to question myself. Why was I there? What can I possibly bring here that someone older or more qualified than me could not do better?

But I continued to work at it. I shared with the students my own gifts, and worked in orchestrating devotional exercises on campus, formalizing my presence there. But more importantly I reached out to students, listened to them, laughed with them, learned with them, and shared with them. We accepted differences, reveled in commalities, and explored potentialities. Through the course of the academic year we developed a profound, mutual respect. This respect now grounds my presence on campus and is foundational to my relationship with students on both the individual and collegial level.

In my search for the validation that comes with respect, more important is what I discovered about relationships, the essential unit within accompaniment. I learned that relationships do not exist in monologue, but in dialgue. My insecurities had developed into a self dictation of my role and aid at school. I projected my own anxiety and need to contribute without looking at the nature of relationship itself. I came to appreciate that it was not simply about what I could do for the students of C.C.M., but just as much what they could do for me and moreover what we can do together.

Into my second year of service, the relationships I have at the college continue to ground my role not just as a campus minister, but as a Passionist Volunteer. My accompaniment of the students has grown to something secure and steadfast in my life and work here in Jamaica. I can only pray that they too have grown as well in walking with me. But of this I am certain: the only way in which we are able to walk alongside each other is with the respect that we share.

Natalie Crawley’s “Day in the Gully”

By Natalie Crawley

“Natalie, be carefull.” I cannot tell you how many times I heard those words before coming to Jamaica. I have always considered myself to be a very independent person; however, I knew that I was going to have to be much more cautious. When I first vistied Albion Gully with Jen, the previous volunteer, I wondered how I would ever make the journey there on my own. Navigating through crowded downtown Mandeville and trying to find the right taxi seemed like a huge ordeal. Then there was the thirty-minute walk down the dirt road down into the gully before I even got to the community. A big worry was walking past the rum bar near Albion’s main gathering center. Jen had tactfully handled the comments and calls as we passed, but how would I handle them alone?

On my first solo visit to Albion Gully, I arrived at the Mispah bus stop where Jay (6), Bobo (10), and Rayanna (6) were waiting for me, cheering as the taxi rolled up. As I exited, they gathered around me like a force field. I felt untouchable, but still a little unsure, I mean the oldest person with me wasn’t even half my age. Luckily, the rum bar was closed and I had didged that bullet for now. When we finally reached the Gully, Rayanna was calling out to her little sister Kaddy, “Natalie is here!” Little Kaddy, only 2 was screaming “Auntie Nat, Auntie Nat!” Inside my heart was beating fast, wondering how everyone would receive me withouth Jen around.

Now that I had made it to Albion safely, the children got us into the church in spite of trouble with a rusted key. Rayanna and her powerful little voice led us in the opening choruses as we held youth group. Afterwards we did some cheerleading, visited Grandma Cynthia, and then played a mixture of dodgeball and Monkey-in-the-Middle.

Ending the day, I headed back up the hill with my five escorts, Rayanna, Fabbi, Bobo, Jay and Kim Marie-none over the ten years old! When we reached the rum bar, Fabbi informed me to “Look straight ahead! Don’t stop and talk to anyone!” The girls even had a speech worked out. WHen we reached the rum bar, there were about four men sitting about. The girls gave them a piece of their mind, “Natalie is here to serve the church not serve men!” they said. Fabbi then fussed at them for talking to me. “Leave Natalie alone,” he said, “she doesn’t want to talk to you!” We finally reached the road and the taxi for my return. In closing the taxi door behind me, Kim Marie gave a warning stare-down to the driver!

As the taxi drove off I finally released the big smile laugh I had been stifling and recalled the scene at the rum bar, the children setting straight the patrons in no uncertain terms! Most importantly, however, I knew I was being taken care of! From then on they would watch over me. I am their Auntie now and they aren’t going to let anything happen to me. I hope that my simple presence in their lives will stay with them forever because I know that they have already left a mark on my heart. It may seem like a simple thing, but nothing can compare to a day in the Gully.

Kathryn Keane Discovers “Where I Belong”

Written By Current PVI Kathryn Keane

Shifting the van into second gear, I round the first major bend on the narrow road to the rural town of Somerset, and slow down to begin my search. Scanning the sidewalks for the bright green uniforms of my students from the Somerset Primary School I am helped by their cheers as they spot the car: “Aunty Kee-atrin! Yeah!” Within minutes the car is packed with excited little spirits singing along with the radio or attempting to shout a story to me over the others. We dip and climb our way through the lush mountains and tall grasses leading further and further back into the rural Jamaican “bush”. I can’t help but absorb the raw energy bursting form the children in the car. Crawlling up the last major hill, I turn the radio off and demand silence while we pull into the parking lot.

Everyone is lined up under the speckled shade of the almond trees and ready for morning devotion. I walk over and stand beside the line of squirming, giggly second graders struggling to pay attention to the prayers. With arms fully extended in front and hands pressed together, seven-year-old Douglas, makes-like-a-snake weaving between the backpacks until he breaks free and wraps himself around my waist. “Good morning!” he whispers. He’s followed quickly by the very backpacks he just pushed aside, and I find mysefl struggling to support the weight of the group jostling to greet me. Once devotion is over the second graders who managed to stay in line and walk nicely into the classroom then converge on me wiht glee as I step inside. So begins another non-stop day at Somerset Primary.

On my first day at the school, I had a run in whith a little boy named Jonathan. Pulling him off of another student he was fighting for an eraser. I ordered him to “sit down”. “Sit down!!” he mimicked back as he careened around the room, screeching at the top of his lungs. I stifled the laugh I wanted to let out and tried another approach: “Hey, Jonathan, will you come sit with me and read this book?” Confused by this response he obediently marched over and sat down.

Later, I asked the teacher why Jonathan and a number of students were running around the room without any work to do. She explained plainly that the school has limited materials and is reluctant to entrust them to stduents who might not know what to do with them! I had gone to Somerset Primary that first day to decide if this was one of the schools where I might want to volunteer, from a list of seven schools suggested to me. After the teacher’s explanation however, I knew where I belonged.

I found a spare conference table in the dilapidated “computer” room, and brought all my supplies with me. Now I am teaching the alphabet and introductory phonics to ten second graders, all with a range of learning disabilities. For many of them the concept that each letter makes a sound is novel! For others, letters are random symbols! These second graders test the limits of my patience, frequently amazing me with the creativity of their mischief! Yet at the end of the day, I love them deeply and will do everything I can to help them learn.

Lessons on and off the Court: Coaching Basketball at Black River High School in Jamaica

Written by Sean Clores

After 2 months of preparation, the Varsity Basketball team at Black River High School played in its first game. Since the beginning of my time here, part of my work has been to help rebuild the program, which had been dormant for the past few years.  It’s hard for me to describe our season so far because we are right in the middle of it, but I feel something good is happening. From looking at the scoreboard, our first two games seem very forgettable, and maybe the outside perspective is bleak, but we see it differently. These boys are working toward something much bigger than themselves. They have learned to work together and push each other for the sake of the team. Through these challenges, the team has stuck together and is always striving to get better on and off the court. That’s really what this is all about.  Obviously, we plan to get better every practice and every match, but we also understand that success can’t be measured in wins and losses this year. We are trying to start something much bigger that will take time to develop. I don’t know how the rest of the season will go. I don’t know what will happen after this year. Either way, I know how grateful I am to be here.  Having the chance to coach these boys, and learn from all these situations, is a great gift.  I hope I always remember that, no matter what lies ahead.

Sean is a Passionist Volunteer International currently serving in Mandeville, Jamaica, West Indies

Please consider supporting Sean and his fellow PVIs: Kathryn, Danielle, Brendan, and Natalie in their work with the people of Jamaica. Make A Donation

PVI Natalie Makes a Difference Teaching Boys to Read at St. John Bosco School in Jamaica

Written by Natalie Crawley

I knew that trying to teach children in Jamaica to read was going to be a difficult task, especially when those children are five Bosco Boys between the ages of 14 and 17.  I look at these boys, some of them taller than me, halfway to manhood and it breaks my heart to know my ten year old sister can read better than them. It’s hard enough to teach someone the fundamentals of reading, but when that person is already halfway to adulthood, it complicates things. They are reading at the level  5-7 year olds would be. Someone said to me “It’s easy to bend a tree when it’s small but hard to bend a tree when it’s tall.” This I found to be very true.

Each week I say to myself that I wish I would have gotten to these boys sooner. There are days when I almost break down and cry, like when I ask Jonathan, 14, to read the word “boy” and he tells me it’s “you”. He gets so nervous and embarrassed that as soon as he recognizes one letter in the word, he says any word he can think of with that letter. The other boys laugh at him and I gently remind them that they are all here for the same reason.

Or days like those when Dwayne tells me he’s not coming and tries to make me chase him around the playfield. He tells me he hates reading class and that he doesn’t need it. It would be easy to say “Okay Dwayne if you don’t want to learn then I’m not going to help you.” But I know deep down that’s not what he wants, that’s just what everyone has told him in the past. This time I’m going to make sure things are different for him.

But then there are the days when I know that I’m making a difference, like yesterday when I gave the boys a spelling test of fifty words that we have been working with over the past month and they got all of them right! Or when I see them on the playfield and they ask over and over if we are going to have reading and if I have flashcards today. Odane, 16, finally realized the fruits of his labor when I rewarded him with Hershey kisses after an excellent day in class. Since then, he has been working even harder, trying to make every sentence perfect and pushing himself to read outside of class.

I know that it is silly to think that I’m going to teach these boys to read Shakespeare by the time the year is over, but I hope that the time I do spend with them will help them to mature in their classes and at least have the basic reading and language skills they will need to function in the workplace someday. In America, we know how important literacy is to leading a productive life; in Jamaica, however, being illiterate is a way of life for some. I will do everything I can to make sure that it’s not a way of life for my five.

Natalie is a Passionist Volunteer International currently serving in Mandeville, Jamaica, West Indies

Walking with Students in Jamaica: The Blessings of Campus Ministry

Written by Brendan O’Leary

A cap and gown can be stifling in the Caribbean heat. None the less, I was so happy to be seated with fellow faculty on stage for the graduation ceremony for the Catholic College of Mandeville. CCM is a school founded by Passionist Sister Una O’Connor, that offers Diploma, Bachelors, and Masters degrees in Primary Education. The graduation stands as the answering of a call to transform education here in Jamaica for the better.

Though I do not teach at CCM, I occupy the role of campus minister; that day it had me leading the invocation for graduation. What I truly received the most from that day was the reflection on my accompaniment at CCM. As I watched students cross the stage for their degrees and diplomas, I was reminded of the little conversations, moments, and laughs we may have shared the past year. As they walked that day, I was reminded of how I walked with them.

Truly to be a PVI and Campus minister is a blessing!

Brendan is a Passionist Volunteer International currently serving in Mandeville, Jamaica, West Indies

My Life in Jamaica

PVI Sean Clores shares about his experiences in Jamaica and how it’s impacting his life.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHiDNWlFI3g&w=560&h=315]

Please consider supporting Sean and his fellow PVIs: Kathryn, Danielle, Brendan, and Natalie in their work with the people of Jamaica. Make A Donation

Unforgettable August

Written By Kathryn Keane

It is incredible how much things can change in just a month; August has been an extreme example of this for me here in Jamaica.  Leading into August, the previous volunteers took us under their wings and introduced us to our missions. I watched each of them in complete admiration of all that they had accomplished this year, and couldn’t help but wonder what the coming year would hold for me. Steve was my guide as I learned my way around Dunsinane, Mike Town, and Lincoln (three of the areas I will be working in this year). I could not have been more thankful that Steve was so excited to introduce me to everyone and show me the ropes; his enthusiasm melted many of my anxieties about taking over what he had begun. Of course, this overlap transition period couldn’t last, and on August1st we said good-bye to Jen, Steve and Michelle. In my mission I also said ‘see you later’ to Father Peter, the priest in charge of my mission, as he left for his month-and-a-half vacation back to Kenya.  With both Steve and Father Peter gone, I had no choice but to dive right in and hope for the best!

After our two-week stint as bible camp teachers (to 22 students between the ages of 15 and 18) I felt tired, but also more capable of tackling my own mission for a few weeks by myself.  My first day out doing home visits proved to be a true taste ofJamaica.  I had started the day planning to go to Mike Town and meet up with a family there. When I couldn’t get a hold of the mom (who I needed to meet me at the road to give me directions to her house) I decided to fill my time with the other houses I knew I could get to.

First was Ma Shirley, a 91-year-old man who lives with his son, daughter in law, nieces and grandchildren.  The last time I had visited him with Steve he was in pretty bad shape, his diabetes and heart problems were taking their course, and he didn’t have much of a fight left in him.  As I walked into the house things were quiet.  From down the hall in his room I could hear someone sobbing, yet one niece motioned me forward.  As I turned the corner to his room the scene did not look good, his daughter-in-law, (and primary care giver) was crying on the floor next to his bed where he lay motionless.  My heart sunk for a minute as I realized what I might have just walked into.  Ma Shirley’s son came in a few minutes later and explained that he was ok for now, but things didn’t look good.  I asked if there was anything I could help with, hoping to feel more useful in this difficult situation, but already knew the family was doing everything that could be done.  I stayed for a while, holding Ma Shirley’s motionless hand while his daughter-in-law gave him some juice.  We talked about his condition and I told her what an amazing job she was doing caring for him.  Unsure of what else I could do for them, I offered to pray.  The daughter-in-law eagerly grabbed my hand and we all closed our eyes and bowed our heads.  I finished the prayer and hugged the family as I left.  I got in the car and called a priest to come give Ma Shirley his last rights, but couldn’t shake the feelings of sadness and helpless.

It wasn’t until my return trips to Ma Shirley’s house that I realized how much my accompaniment and prayers had meant to the family. Ma Shirley has beautiful blue eyes that seem to kindly peer right into your soul, communicating everything that he is feeling in a single glance.  On another trip to his house just as I was leaving, in an unusual burst of energy he reached out, took my hand and shook it side to side.  As he did this, he looked me right in the eyes and smiled warmly.  Instantly I felt like I had done something for this man, and that although he didn’t have the energy to tell me; he was happy I had come to see him.  I’ll never forget that moment with Ma Shirley.

My next stop on that first day wasLove Lane, a neighborhood just outside Greenvale (one of the roughest areas in Mandeville).  As you drive in the unpaved road, you can’t understand who would have named it “Love Lane” – the houses are falling apart, and the junk-filled yards look less than inviting. The family of seven that I was going to visit lives in a two-room house with three beds and no indoor plumbing. Despite the harsh conditions that the children live in, they are bright, beautiful, and energetic little souls.  Moesha is the first one to see me coming. With the car windows rolled up I can hear her shout my name and her little brother echo.  The two of them bound down the hap-hazard cement steps out of their house and launch off of the bottom step (a solid three feet above the rocky soil of the yard).  I quickly exit the car and close the door before they come crashing into my legs.  They climb up to give me hugs and kisses, letting me know how happy they are that I have come to visit.  As we make our way back over to their house, their mom helps the one-year-old brother down the steps in his oversized flip-flops.  He squeals with a crazed look of happiness in his eyes and reaches out for me.  All I could think to myself was, ‘I can definitely do this everyday’.  I had known this family for less than a month, and they already accepted me and made me feel more welcomed than I could have ever anticipated.  The rest of the day was a series of games and arts and crafts.  The reality of the family’s situation really struck me again when the two little boys started eating the crayons I had given them to color.  The mom didn’t stop them, and although my gut instinct was to pull the crayons away from their mouths, I realized that they had probably not eaten anything yet that day.  Father Peter had talked to me previously about this family and many others that struggle to get food for their children. These kids are lucky if they get one meal a day, and a bag of cheeto’s is the most I’ve ever seen in their house by the way of food.  They are surviving on so little, yet they still exhibit so much love and compassion for each other.  When they do have food, they are incredibly aware of how much each sibling needs and receives; the older ones dole out the portions to the younger ones first before helping themselves.  Playing with them is the least I can do to distract them from their worries, and let them be the children they (like any child) deserve to be.  In return I am blessed enough to witness their unconditional love and be reminded of what it really means to be brothers and sisters.  My Mike Town contact never pulled through that day, but it was no problem to get to spend the rest of the day in Love Lane.  On the drive home, I reflected on the rollercoaster of emotions that I had observed, and shared in just one day.

Since that first day I have become much more comfortable going on house visits by myself.  The nervousness and hesitation that I started with has gradually grown into confidence in myself and in what I will be able to accomplish this year.

That confidence and reassurance was reinforced even further this month by my long awaited trip to Riverton City in Kingston.  I first came to Jamaica with Fairfield University in January 2009 on a service trip.  One of the sites we worked at was a small school in Riverton  – a neighborhood built on top of theKingstondump.  The conditions are arguably among the worst in the country; the poverty is extreme and the gang violence is rampant.  Most people here in Jamaica shift uncomfortably when you mention Riverton; afraid of the stories they have heard.  For me, Riverton is a very different type of place than what meets the eye: it is where the little girl that I have been sponsoring for the last 7 years lives with her family.  When I first came to Jamaica with Fairfield, by some miraculous twist of fate, I found this little girl and got to spend two days with her!

The last two years I have come back on winter break to visit Riverton. This incredible little girl (named Shanoy) and her wonderful family are the reason I first fell in love withJamaica, and certainly a major factor in my applying to PVI Jamaica. I have been anxiously waiting to go and visit her since we first arrived in June, and couldn’t have gotten there fast enough the other day. Sean came with me (also having spent time there with Fairfield) and the day was amazing.  We brought games and crafts, yet these kids always come up with the most creative ideas with the scraps they have found lying around the dump.  This time we tied a bottomless clothes hamper to a post, using an old leather belt, and started a neighborhood game of basketball. Playing with Shanoy, her siblings and cousins, I felt right at home.  It was a complete miracle that I found her in the first place, and every time I am blessed enough to visit her and her family I can’t help but feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  Although it is a good drive from Mandeville, I am dedicated to making a trip out there once a month.  Going to Riverton provides me with a perfect reminder of why I wanted to come toJamaicain the first place, and gives me hope to create more of those spaces for myself within my own missions.

As September begins I could not be more energized and excited about what lies ahead.  Instead of those nervous, unsure feelings I began with, I now feel empowered and capable.  School is starting next week, and there seems to be an infinite number of possibilities for this year – after all, look how much has come out of this month!

Kathryn is a Passionist Volunteer International currently serving in Mandeville, Jamaica, West Indies

Greetings From Jamaica!

Passionist Volunteers International 2011-12

PVI 2011-12 Orientation is underway! The Volunteers will spend the next month building community and going through formation to help prepare them for their year of service.

We are blessed to have presenters who have extensive background and experience serving and living in Jamiaca. We’ll be learning about “Kingston Ministries,” “The Caribbean Christ,” “History of the Church in Jamaica,” “Jamaican Rural Ministry,” and “The Jamaican Education System,” to name a few.  It’s sure to be a fun-filled time of learning and growth!