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“You Never Know When the Teaching Will Come” by Amy Byrne

       Most Sundays I spend visiting families that live close to Somerset Primary School. Sundays, in my community at least, entail washing clothes, playing soccer, and chatting outside little snack shops.
       Last weekend I spent the afternoon accompanying a couple I’ve grown to love for many reasons. For one, they function as a unit. They are on the same page when it comes to work, their values, and raising their five children, which unfortunately isn’t that common in the Jamaican culture.
       The father is always eager to teach me what he knows of Jamaica, like cooking jerk chicken with gungu peas and rice or speaking authentic Patios (Patwah) with “Jamaican style.” He tells me last week he’s going to teach me to mix music like he does from his shop every Friday and Saturday.
“You never know when the teaching’s gonna come” he said with a warm smile. 
This family has shown me the meaning of resourcefulness, hard work, and hospitality. Whether it’s tending to their yam field, running their shop, or cooking for everyone in the yard, it’s always all hands on deck. As I learned to fade music in and out of his stereo system that day, I thought about all the things Jamaica has taught me through its people. Allowing myself to be present here has pushed me way out of my comfort zone, but it’s also pushed me to form meaningful relationships and gain insight in places I’d never expect.
       Then there’s my friendship with Ms. Blossom, who welcomes me to her yard on a weekly basis. Ms. Blossom is nearly immobile, yet finds a way to care for her daughter, her two grandchildren and her garden. She also offers her warmth and medicinal wisdom to several widowed and sick people in the neighborhood. Through countless afternoon conversations, she and I share stories, advice and spiritual insight. “God will provide” she says with assurance every time she or another is challenged or struggling.
       And there’s Dan, a farmer and grandfather to a few kids at Somerset Primary. I crossed paths with Dan while preparing space for a garden behind the school. We had a conversation that day about how “loving” the soil is when we revere the Earth and the importance of instilling that mindset in our youth. As cliché as it sounds, I actually teared up as we talked. After telling him about the project, Dan offered to remove thick grass from the area for me, and when I came with a group of volunteers to turn the soil a week later, Dan helped us finish the job without hesitation.
       Outside of my school community, I gain perspective from people like Miss Peggy, one of many people I’ve been supported by as a PVI. Miss Peggy provides meals and hospitality to retreat groups that come in from the states, and since PVI works with many of these groups I get to see her often. I always find myself with Miss Peg when she’s around; she emanates wisdom through her culinary skill and strong yet loving demeanor. I will never forget a time I was really missing home: without even telling her what was wrong she looked into my eyes and said, “it won’t be easy, but you will be loved.” Her words were exactly what I needed to hear.
When I committed to PVI, I knew accompaniment was a foundation of the program, but I couldn’t understand how meaningful it would become to my everyday life.
       God works though people; from the lady that sells my favorite newspaper (the Daily Gleaner), to my regular taxi drivers, to my kids at Mustard Seed and Somerset Primary, to the people that welcome me space in their daily lives. Yes, I’ve learned cool things like mixing music, new farming and cooking skill. But walking with the people I serve, embracing their joys and struggles as my own, has taught me so much more.
       Ms. Blossom teaches me new perspective on faith, love, and patience every single time I walk through her gate. Dan has taught me selflessness, humility and deep love for the Earth. And Miss Peggy has taught me the essence of Jamaican resiliency.
       I always think back to a quote from one of my favorite books. It explains the human experience as “part of a rich and profound tapestry crafted masterfully by invisible hands of love.” I believe everything we encounter is laid in front of us for a reason: to comfort us, to enlighten us, or to inspire some greater good. If there’s one thing I’ve learned to value most in Jamaica it’s being present, because even in the most minuscule moments there is something to be learned. 

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.

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.

Video Contest: Vote for PVI Sean Clores!

Current PVI Sean Clores created a video about his volunteer experience for a scholarship competition. He didn’t win the scholarship, but he made the top 10! Congrats Sean!!

Now he’s in a follow-up contest against the other 9 videos. Winning depends on people’s votes. Click on the link below for the contest. Go vote for Sean Clores and spread the word to help get more votes!! Thanks!

Here is the link: http://www.gooverseas.com/scholarship-video-contest

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

Happy 2nd Anniversary to Comedor Infantil in Honduras!!

The Comedor Infantil was founded on November 17, 2009 by the Passionist Volunteers International of 2009-2010 in Talanga, Honduras. The Comedor Infantil is located in the community of Nuevo San Diego, one of the poorest communities in Talanga. The idea for the Comedor originated from the volunteers seeing children scavenging through a dumpster for food. Learning that the children were from the same community, the volunteers set out to address the obvious malnutrition that they were witnessing. The mission of the Comedor was to collaborate with the community of Nuevo San Diego and with the help of local donors in Talanga to provide one properly balanced meal daily Monday through Friday to the children living in the community. Children were selected from families based on need.

The Comedor is now sponsored by Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH and Comedor) , and oversight for the Comedar has been given to a local board of directors that all share an interest in addressing the struggles of hunger and malnutrition that exists in Nuevo San Diego. The mothers of the children and the community of Nuevo San Diego also continue to play an important role in the work of the Comedor.

On the first day of the Comedor, 12 children aged 4 to 6 were served; the program now serves more than 40 children daily, aged 3 to 10. Services at the comedor have increased and have included medical attention, classes for illiterate mothers, a weekly sewing class for mothers, haircuts and trips to a farm and a river. All of the children enrolled in comedor of eligible age are now in school.

Two years after the official opening of the Comedor Infantil, the lunch program continues to thrive, serving food and giving love to children of the community!

Happy Anniversary Comedor Infantil!

Enjoy a video made shortly after the founding of the Comedor in 2009:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QS9FTiPyNx8&w=560&h=315]

Please consider donating to help continue the creative and faithful ministry of PVIs in Jamaica, West Indies! DONATE