In May, Father Steve Hohman, 10 fellow parishioners and I went on a mission trip to Mandeville, Jamaica. This trip has been a lifelong goal of mine and I would like to share some of our experiences. As a result of many heartfelt donations, the 12 of us were able to take a total of 18 suitcases filled with much needed supplies for the people.
Father Peter Njoroge was our contact and our first day was in the bush area where he works. Our first assignment was to build a house for a family of seven to eight people who were living in two rooms, one of which had literally rotted away. It was on the side of a cliff and there was not enough room for all of us to work, so some of us painted the exterior walls down on the road.
Since the work had to be done in shifts due to limited space, Father Peter invited some of us to go with him on visitations. Wow, what a wake-up call. We climbed hills and more hills, falling, getting up and climbing again. At the top we found an elderly man living in one hut, his son beside him in another and a grandson in yet another. They welcomed us with a smile and gratitude. The grandson was mentally ill and has cerebral palsy. He was tied to his wooden bed where he slept on a tarpaulin. During the day he was taken outside for sunshine, but was chained to a tree. This may seem harsh but they were protecting him the best way they knew how.
Medical help or assistance is very hard to get. The requirement is to have a birth certificate or health card. Most were born in the bush without medical assistance, thus there is no supporting documentation. There is very little food. Cooking is done outside on an open fire. A few beans from local trees, roots and some potatoes go together in a pot to form a type of stew. On the way down the hill there wasn’t a dry eye among our group. This was only one family of many who touched our hearts.
We visited a nursing home. This facility was not what we think of as a nursing home. The people who live there are those that have no one to care for them and nowhere to go. They may have simply been found on the side of the road. This home did not have much but it was clean and run by the Sisters of Charity. While visiting the facility, we all went in different directions. We got to visit with many of the residents, listening to their stories, sharing a laugh or taking a moment to pray with them. A particularly heartwarming moment came when we found some of the men from our group giving manicures to some of the older female residents. It’s often easy to hold and hug a child, but it is sometimes more difficult to reach out to elderly people and make them smile.
We visited The Mustard Seed Home, which is for disabled children. As we spent time with some of the children, we found one little boy who is a University of Louisville fan. One of the guys gave him his U of L cap and they also played some basketball with him. We were able to leave a suitcase of supplies at the facility and help out the sisters monetarily as well.
We visited St. Anthony’s Basic School, where we added an extension on the kitchen and dug a drainage ditch. The young people there were wonderful. We shared our lunch of peanut butter sandwiches and fruit with them, all the while realizing just how truly blessed we are to have our loved ones at home.
We also visited The St. John Bosco Home. This facility was for unwanted and out of control children. The sisters were doing good work there as well, but there is a desperate need for supplies, clothing, shoes, etc. Fortunately we were able to help.
These are but a few of the countless experiences we encountered on our mission trip. Since our return home, Father Peter made a trip to the United States and took the opportunity to visit and update us on his mission work and some of the facilities we visited and were able to help. This experience was truly life changing and I feel blessed to have shared in this opportunity. And on a lighter note, I will NEVER take toilet paper, air conditioning and good roads for granted ever again!
Carol Hill is an Ursuline Associate from Grayson County, Ky.