Reflecting on a life-changing trip to Kingston, Jamaica
Aristotle said: Educating the mind without the heart is no education at all.
From May 17 to May 24th, 2015, 17 students and 5 staff from Regiopolis-Notre Dame High School in Kingston, Ontario (RND) had the education of a lifetime! Forever changed by a trip that was a year in the making and six days in Jamaica, a piece of our hearts will now belong to the people and places of Kingston Jamaica.
One night after an especially full day of work in the schools, Grade 12 student Alexandra Horeczy commented: "If sweat were love.... then we have loved much!"
With over 90% humidity and 35 degree heat each day, our students put their Faith in Action through various service opportunities at locations sponsored by the Catholic charity "St. Patrick's Foundation" which provides support in some of the most disadvantaged areas of Kingston Jamaica.
While were were there we had a very busy schedule including:
- Assisting in the classrooms of 120 pre-school students in Riverton, an illegal shanty town on the site of the local garbage dump.
- Tutoring the older students at St. Margaret's remedial school, where the students face numerous academic and social challenges, but are eager to learn and are a joy to spend time with. Much sweat-love was used playing soccer and Rugby with these young people!
- Visiting the elderly at St. Monica's who have nobody to visit them. Students played guitars, pampered the ladies with manicures and read words of comfort from the bible. When words were not needed, they were brave enought to just hold their hand.
- Building a home with "Food for the Poor Jamaica", for a dear woman in her 80's who lived too far from the main road to access help in times of trouble or rain.
- We were also fortunate to spend time with the young people from the disadvantaged neighbourhood of 'Seaview Garden's' who are part of a performing arts band. They entertained us with their songs and dance, and we tried to entertain them with ours!
One of the things that struck us was how grateful people were for small things that we take for granted. Pipe cleaner crafts and elastic bracelets brought more joy to people of all ages than one would expect. Our gratitude for the many blessings of our lives in Canada came home with us, and we hope to never take these things for granted again.
While we had a very busy schedule, it was still a chance to step back from our busy lives, disconnect from our technology and connect with people instead. Our students had many opportunities to grow in confidence and ability. They also had opportunities to practice patience. The chidren at Riverton appear angelic in the pictures, but they are fiercely competetive for scarce resources and affection. They are rough with one another and with us, wanting to have all our attention. We were able to find ways of being with them that showed our love and concern and we attempted to let them know that they are also beloved children of God deserving of a life that is free from poverty and violence.
As staff and parents we sometimes wonder if our youth are getting our attempts to pass on the faith. One of our staff had the graced opportunity to see this come to fruition when our students visited a Hospice for the dying at St. Joseph's hospital. Faced with the challenge of not being able to help one gentleman, they asked if they could pray for him. And so they gathered around him and held hands. They prayed the Our Father and then a Hail Mary and the Glory Be. When human words fail us, we are so lucky to know that God is with us.
We grow our faith when we leave our comfort zone. And inner-city Jamaica was definately out of our comfort zone. For some it was a first flight. For some it was new food. For some it was the Patois accent that was hard to understand. But we went, trusting in God to guide us and protect us while we attempt to be his hands and feet to a world in great need.
While we may still only have faith as big as a mustard seed, it has had the chance to grow on this journey of love and service. God is very present in Jamaica, with the faith-filled people who turn to God in their time of need and thank God in the times when they are not in need - they were a great witness to us. Our hearts, our minds and our spirits have been nourished by this experience and we are very grateful for the support of our communities, families and friends for helping to make this possible.
Special thanks to: The Congregation of Notre-Dame, the Regiopolis Foundation, The Sisters of Providence, St. Thomas More Elementary School, Gananoque Rotary Club, Brendar, Hunt's Pharmacy, Tackaberry Heating and Refrigeration, and the many individual and corporate donors who supplied us with items for our raffles' and supported our youth in their fundraising efforts. We are forever grateful!
The thing that I really took from this trip were the little things and the love that the kids so wanted from us. Our parents hold us and show us their love in a different way then the Jamaica parents show their kids and I loved the fact that we could give those kids the love they wanted just for a few days. I can't believe how close the group of us have become just over the week and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. This was an experience that can't be explained but I know it changed all of us a little inside. The one child that changed me the most was named Anton, he was 6 years old and as I walked into the class I was drawn to him. He had a smile so big and he was very talkative, he was open hearted and told me so much about his life. I learned so much from such a little boy. This trip was unbelievable and I'm so thankful for being able to participate in it!
We went to Riverton for two days and beforehand the teachers were telling us it was literally in a dump. I was kind of skeptical but when we were on the bus to go there it was LITERALLY in a dump! Alex and myself were in a class with the older students and I was working with one boy names Mario. The class had to copy down one sentence and it literally took him an hour and when I was helping him all the kids were telling me not to help him. Just looking at Mario and how he was struggling really made me think about all the extra help programs my parents put me in when I was Mario’s age. Unfortunately, Mario was not being given the same opportunity that I was grateful to be given.
I was working with a group of kids and it was this one boy’s turn and he was just not understanding. The teacher actually came up to me and said “no he is slow skip him!”
....This trip has made HUGE impact on my life and has really confirmed that I want to be a primary teacher and the kind of teaching style I want to have on my future students! It also really taught be a lot about myself and just being grateful for the simplest things in life. (Photos - Kristina, Larissa, group, Mary Elaine)