“You never know when the teaching’s gonna come” he said with a warm smile.
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.
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.
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.
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′
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.