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“Discovering Christmas In a New Way” by Victoria Ryan

A trait that I see commonly among many Jamaicans I have encountered thus far this year is faithfulness. Throughout this season of Christmas it has been particularly noticeable. Christmas carols replaced choruses at Basic School devotion in the first week of November. Lights adorned every Mandeville shopping center by the first week of December. As a New Englander who went to school in Indiana, it really does not feel like Christmas with palm trees around every corner and 82-degree mornings. Without the dread of finals in the air and anticipating the excitement of re-uniting with family and friends, I really thought the season would come and go without much notice.

“the true meaning of Christmas has never been more apparent.”

Yet as I sit at the kitchen table surrounded by my awkward Jamaican family (our PVI community) listening to our childhood favorite carols, the true meaning of Christmas has never been more apparent. It doesn’t matter who you are with or where you are; if  you are with those who love you and those you love, Christmas still feels magical. Planning and hearing others’ (hushed) plans for our Secret Santa exchanges is more intriguing than the traditional gift exchange my family and friends participate in back home.

 

So many of the people in our mission sites have so little that they do not even think about gift giving and exchanges. Instead they think about whether or not there will be enough food for the whole family that day. The Friday before Christmas I took three boys from the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Maggotty, St. Elizabeth with me to distribute food packages to some such families. Although the families of these boys do not have much more than those we went to, they were eager to help others and spread the Christmas spirit. With the help of those boys, my fellow volunteers, and the rest of the faithful Jamaicans I have encountered, I think I can finally say after twenty-one Christmases, I learned the true meaning of Christmas just in time for twenty-second! A Merry Christmas to all and best wishes for this New Year! 

 

By: Victoria Ryan, PVI 15′-16′

The Gift of Giving

 

 

 

By Chanel Marin

Ledi never lets us leave her house without enjoying a cup of coffee, bread, and a small meal.  When she serves our plate, we always receive the biggest portion, even though she struggles financially.  Last week on an afternoon visit, she served our dinner and proceeded to serve a plate of food for the homeless man she told us comes to her home for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. When we asked about the plate of food, her response was, “We must always give of what we have because God has given us everything and we don’t know why or for how long.”

That statement sums up the general attitude of the Honduran culture of giving. It is rare to enter a home inHonduraswithout being offered Coca Cola, coffee, cookies, bread, or a plate of food by the family who welcomes you.  This includes people who have become our friends as well as people we’ve just met.  They can be families from the upper middle class or friends from the more humble communities in which we work.  Ironically, I have found that those with the least offer the most.  This, to me, has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve received from my experience here. 

I originally chose to do a year of service because I wanted to give to those with less, yet my time here has shown me that I will gain so much more from the people I serve than I can ever possibly give.  In a country where so many have so little, the small gifts individuals make for the benefit of others shows an empathy unrivaled by any place I have known.

Even the children show a kindness that I have never witnessed before.  When you give a child candy or a snack, they will invariably pack half and bring it home for their brother or sister.  It is incredible to see a child with so little so willing to give their small gift to a sibling. 

I have learned to let go of the possessions I own with an understanding that they are just that, possessions: a worthless thing that in the end holds no value.  I came to give my time and my energy without knowing how much more the people would give me through their gestures and actions. 

“Do you want more tortillas?” Ledi asks as she puts two more on my plate before letting me answer.  “How about some Coke?…Mariela! Go buy some Coke.” She sends her daughter to buy a bottle even though she has already served us coffee and cookies before serving dinner.  I smile at her, eating and drinking everything she serves, understanding that through this gift she expresses her gratitude for the blessings she has.

Chanel Marin is a Passionist Volunteer serving in Honduras (2010-11)

Hope Restored

By Sean Clores

Coming back from a tough day, I was in a really down mood. It felt like I wasn’t making any progress and almost as if I didn’t belong here. As I reached the church grounds, I saw a few kids from St Theresa’sBasicSchool. San Jay and Kemara, two five year olds, came running out to greet me. “Uncle Sean ! Uncle Sean!.” No matter what mood I’m in, it’s really difficult to stay that way when in the presence of these children.

They were both very insistent that I come to their classroom. This usually happens anytime I go there but today was different. Today, they were really insistent. I needed to get my mind off the rest of the day anyway, so I decided to go with them. As we walked down the sidewalk, Kemara went running into the classroom and then quickly returned. Something was going on but I couldn’t figure it out. Getting closer and closer, I started to hear chanting from the classroom. Being caught off guard, I continued to try and make out what they were saying. “SEAN A COME. SEAN A COME!!” They were chanting for me. As I walked into the classroom, all forty kids let out a big YAAAAAAYYYYY!!!!  They came sprinting and practically knocked me off my feet as they came to hug me. I felt like a rock star. It’s almost like they knew I had a tough day and wanted me to know that they appreciated me being there.

 I’ve always loved working with kids. There is a genuine happiness associated with them that sometimes gets lost as we grow older. Even being surrounded with so much negativity and heartache, these children find a way to be happy.

 My role as a volunteer is to be present to the people. In being present, we give a dignity and hope to people who might have lost it at some point along the way. Sometimes, I need that hope restored too. These children do that for me. They bring back the smile to my face when it’s hard to have one. They bring back the hope when it seems like there isn’t much. What do I do for them? I show up and spend time with them, and that’s all they want. I’ll take that deal any day of the week.

Sean Clores is a Passionist Volunteer serving in Jamaica