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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 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.

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