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Discovering My Home Away from Home by Stacy Dahl

About 2,000 miles away from home and living in a foreign country with three strangers. This unfamiliar situation probably sounds scary and I’ll admit it was a little at first for me. For 23 years, I have lived a sheltered life in Minnesota surrounded by loving family and friends. After finally graduating from college I decided to take a huge step outside of my comfort zone by volunteering in Jamaica for a year with a program called Passionist Volunteers International (PVI).

After thorough research and weighing the pros and cons of several different volunteer programs, I decided that PVI was the perfect fit for me. Out of the programs that I considered, PVI was the only one that I believed would allow me to use my passion for helping others in a developing country while simultaneously allowing me to grow in my faith with God by living in a community with other volunteers who are also attempting to grow in their faith. Thus, began my year long experience with PVI.

The first couple months of my life in Jamaica were really all about introductions. They involved familiarizing myself with this new country and getting to know my co-volunteers and the people at my mission sites.

Adapting to a whole new country is an experience that is difficult to understand unless you’ve been through the experience yourself.

The first three months were an adjusting period for me, but once the fourth month in Jamaica came around, I could finally call this place home and mean it. I think I got to the point of truly feeling at home when the other volunteers I lived with started feeling like my family. Coming home every day and sharing my day with three other people who are genuinely interested is the best feeling. Whether I have an exciting story to tell or need someone to vent to, there is always somebody there to listen, which makes me feel cared about. Whether we are eating community dinner together and recapping our day or playing a card game or watching a movie, we always make time for each other which is what family is all about.

I’ve found that it is hard to feel lonely when I am never alone.

I live with three other volunteers who love and care about me and that has been one of the biggest blessings I have received since joining PVI.

Although my co-volunteers are a big reason as to why I’ve come to feel at home here in Jamaica, the people at my missions are also a big factor. At the infirmary and nursing home I volunteer at, I have found so much love with the people I accompany. There is always a story to hear, a day to be asked about, and a hand to hold. Between the nursing home and infirmary that I volunteer at, I visit about 100 patients each week, and each place two days out of the week. My relationship with each patient is special in its own way. Some patients ask me about my day and how my family back at home is doing, others love it when I play board games with them, and even a couple reprimand me for not washing my backpack since I last saw them. Each individual relationship is special and unique and has brought so much joy into my life.

The past 5 months as a PVI has been rewarding, challenging, and full of lessons. This year is a growing experience and so far, I have already learned so much about myself that I did not know before coming here. But most of all, being a PVI has been a great blessing. Discovering my home away from home here in Jamaica has been an amazing journey for me.

I have found home in the laugher I share with my co-volunteers. I have found home in the patients’ hands that I hold at the infirmary and nursing home I volunteer at. I have found home in the loving eyes of the children at the basic school who never fail to make me smile. So far, my experience has been that of love, laughter, accompaniment and so much more. There is nowhere else in the world I’d rather be at this moment than as a PVI here in the beautiful land of Jamaica.

Mastering the Art of “Flexibility” by Angelina Huber

I always thought I was a fairly flexible and go with the flow person so to speak, well until arriving to Jamaica that is.

In these past few months, I have been learning how to truly accept the fact that most things are inevitably out of my control.

I have realized that plans will change in a moment’s notice and instead of getting frustrated on what I cannot change, I’ve been focusing on bringing a positive and open mindset to anything I enter. My goal these past few months has been trying to be open to anything or anyone at any time.

I have realized that being flexible goes hand in hand with accompaniment.

Service is never set in stone and it is not extremely structured either for a reason. It is because the needs of the people are constantly changing. The needs of you and I are never the same day in and day out. You need to adapt and be present with people in order to see what they are struggling with. Ever since coming to Jamaica, no two of my days have been the same. I go to the same service sites every week, but every day brings something different. I feel myself constantly faced with new challenges, meeting new friends, discovering a new perspective, and always each and every day finding a new way I can better serve my community.

Being flexible is what service is about. Going out of your way to make sure a need is met, even knowing that it might not be beneficial in the long run. It is all about trial and error, but most importantly it is about being present with the people and building relationships with everyone you serve so you can to share in their joys and sorrows of life.

youth-group

Pictured above is Angelina, PVI 16′-17′ with her youth group members

“Latest Happenings in the Diocese of Mandeville” : Featuring PVI!

PVI has recently been featured in Latest Happenings in the Diocese of Mandeville, a publication of the Diocese of Mandeville that provides regular updates to parishes, clergy and laity throughout Manchester, St. Elizabeth and Clarendon.

The article outlines the Passionist Volunteers program, the service that our Volunteers provide, reflections from former PVI’s, and the exciting new phase that PVI is launching to recruit volunteers locally from Jamaican University’s.

Read More!

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“The Soundtrack to My Year In Jamaica” by Emma

I adore music. Anything with a good beat and I will be dancing in my seat or on my feet. Music is a major part of the culture here and not surprisingly has been a key part of me personally encountering Jamaica. From gospel to reggae to soca to dancehall, I have been exposed to the local music through many facets of my time here. I hear gospel play from a shop I pass on the way to taxi in the morning, I hear reggae play during my shorter ride to Somerset or my lengthier ride to Santa Cruz, depending on the day. We sing a chorus during morning devotion at the primary school; my new friends play the radio as we walk around Mike Town on a Saturday afternoon, correcting my lyrics as I attempt to speak patois like the dancehall stars. I pass men walking with giant speakers on pushcarts that send jams flowing through town as I walk home at the end of the day and tunes play while my roommates and I cook dinner. There has been a soundtrack playing as I begin my new life in Jamaica and here are a few songs that would make the most played list.

I never had a love for gospel until we only had one CD that worked in the car, Hot Gospel. And hot it was. “Take me as I am” plays as I think of my beginning here. It is my first time traveling and living outside of my home county. The first time living out of my home state. The first time driving on the left side of the road, the first time in many years without school as my focus. I began this journey green as could be and hoping for the best. I have trusted in the Lord and it has paid off. This is the most welcoming place I have ever been to; when I am open, honest and friendly to the people I meet, I am accepted as I am.

“Thank you dear Lord for your blessings on me” Barbara Jones sings as I am reminded daily how much I am blessed with. When a Jamaican is asked how they are their initial response is usually a small word of gratitude for their blessings and living to see another day.  Through every encounter here I am shown how to be truly thankful for life. Worrying and fretting about problems is not the Jamaican way. Trusting in God’s providence through prayer and praise, that is the way.

“Why worry when you can pray” plays as I think of times of uncertainty and exhaustion. Why worry when I am driving without a GPS on my phone, there is always someone on the road that will give me directions. There is no need to stress after a long day when I can come home to comrades that will encourage and strengthen me with their words, similar experiences, and often an offering of fried plantains.

I could not speak on Jamaican music without mentioning the legend, the king, Mr. Marley. “Could you be loved” is playing as I remember that I must let myself be open to love to be able to truly love in return. I listen and realize I must be vulnerable with my roommates, my new family here, and share in their joys and troubles. I learn to cherish the ways I have felt love whether it be small but mighty hugs from my first graders, cooking lessons from a warm grandmother, a woman I visit finally opening up about her hardships and her past, time spent simply being with people and the start of many new relationships.

Finally Chronixx sings “I’m pleased to be chilling in the West Indies, I got the sunshine rivers and trees” and I am reminded of what a beautiful country I find myself in. Whether taking time out to relax at the beach or look up to notice the glorious hills as I walk to visit a friend, I am so very pleased.

 

By: Emma Hagenauer 15′-16′

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