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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. 

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

“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′

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.

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

Smiles That Bring Joy While Serving in Jamaica

PVI Danielle Turcotte introduces some of the smiling faces that bring her joy while serving in the community of Cross Keys.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3NVI_X0CQE&w=560&h=315]

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

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

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!