Friars doing God's work in Jamaica
Lots of smiles in Jamaica
Right before Thanksgiving this year, I visited Fr. Jim Bok, OFM, Fr. Colin King, OFM, and Br. Steve Dupuis, OFM, in Jamaica. It was November and still in the 90s and as humid as you can imagine. The friars in Jamaica do not have air-conditioning at the friary. Lucky for me, I was staying at a nearby hotel that did.
The main reason for my visit was to meet up with Jenna Thate, Professor of Nursing, and Dan White, Director of Health Professions at Siena College (founded by the Franciscans in Loudonville, NY). Together we wanted to learn more about how we could collaborate on Fr. Colin’s Health Clinic initiative to bring a much-needed medical clinic to a remote part of Jamaica. We really wanted to get to know the people and the needs of the community.
Our day started out with a visit to St. Anthony’s Kitchen. I am not sure why, for all these years, I thought St. Anthony’s Kitchen was a large indoor kitchen. It isn’t—the actual kitchen is not much bigger than my office and the kids eat outside on picnic tables in the dirt yard!
We arrived around 7 a.m. The kids were eating breakfast before heading out to school. There was a lot of energy and activity before they got on the bus. (Just imagine 80 kids in one place and you get the picture.)
After the kids got on the bus to go to school, we went back to the friary and met Fr. Colin for our trip out to what is referred to as the “Bush,” which is the very rural area of Revival, Jamaica. The roads to get there are horrible. We visited several schools and met with teachers about the needs and challenges they are facing. One of the schools we visited will sadly be closing next year because the teacher is retiring and they cannot find anyone to replace her.
At another school, we talked with a teacher about a tooth brushing program that Fr. Colin initiated after a visit from Dental Health without Borders. This organization out of Norway provides free emergency dental treatments and preventative services to people in areas with limited or poor access to dental care. They visited last January and ended up having to do way too many extractions. Fr. Colin then initiated the tooth brushing program to help people take a more proactive approach in preventing dental problems and other health issues, as poor oral health puts people at risk for all kinds of diseases. One of the teachers told us that the kids love brushing their teeth at school and that they go home and tell their parents that they need to brush too!
Next we visited with the Rose family, whom generous benefactors helped in their time of need. Back in March of 2018, the motor went out on Raymond Rose’s boat. Raymond, a husband, father, and fisherman, was really struggling. He could not earn a living without the boat and could not afford the new motor. The Rose family was blessed with a new motor for their fishing boat through the generosity of donors with a grant of $2,000 US dollars. Since then, they have paid back the money and are getting back on their feet. We actually had some fresh fish prepared by Raymond’s wife, Marie, during our visit!
Fr. Colin then took us to the homes of some people who have been ill so we could better understand what they must endure when they get sick. First, we met with a gentleman named Prophet. Prophet’s leg was amputated a couple of months ago due to problems stemming from diabetes, which is a big problem in Jamaica. Prophet has been diabetic since the ‘90s and had been watching his sugar levels, his diet, and he regularly took his insulin—yet he still wound up needing surgery. Unfortunately, during surgery, he was very aware of the incredible pain as they were amputating. It was a hard story for him to tell and for us to hear.
We also met with his young neighbor, Nicola, who helps take care of him. She shared her own stories of problems during childbirth. She told of nurses who were so overworked that it felt like they did not even care anymore.
Then, there was Ceylon. In another lifetime, Ceylon could have been a movie star, with his beautiful smile and twinkle in his eyes. He was a fisherman who also raised chickens. When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he desperately wanted to live, so he paid money to go to a private hospital for treatments and for the transportation to get there and back. He sold all of his chickens in order to raise the money he needed, which caused a lot of financial hardship.
For most people in Jamaica, cancer is looked at as a death sentence. If Ceylon had gone to the public hospital, it is likely he would not be here today. I am happy to report that he was doing better when we met. He is still weak and tired, but he is making slow progress. Fr. Colin restocked Ceylon’s coop with chickens and feed when he started to regain his stamina, and he was very grateful and appreciative.
There is a fundraiser coming up on Boxing Day, which is a pretty big deal in Jamaica. It’s called a “Jerk Fest”—that’s jerk chicken in case you are wondering.
The purpose of the fundraiser is to raise funds to keep the Homework Center operational. Ninety percent of the folks in the area do not have internet and 85 percent do not have a computer. If they want to work on a résumé or study, they have to take taxis to a lab in Negril. Tika, one of the teachers at the Homework Center, is studying nursing. Her family has a small goat farm and cannot afford to send her to nursing school. She volunteers her time to teach at the Homework Center in the morning and completes her online nursing courses in the afternoon. (It’s all volunteer-based.) To help out with this fundraiser, Ceylon has already offered to donate some of his chickens for the Jerk Fest. These people have almost nothing, yet they are there to help each other whenever they can.
Before going to the airport on the day we left, we quickly met with a woman named Dorothy. Dorothy has been working tirelessly with an organization called Misty Blue Cancer Care Foundation with the goal of getting cancer screenings for the people of Jamaica. Dorothy has an incredible story of her own, which you can read here: https://mistybluecancercare.org/foundation/dorothy-cancer-experience/. She and Fr. Colin are definitely on the same page about prevention and early screenings. They are doing a wonderful job creating awareness and educating people on early detection.
As you can see, there’s a lot of great work going on in the Jamaican missions. It’s all because compassionate people like YOU are willing to help the poor and neglected.
Wishing you a Christmas filled with blessings.
P.S. Please feel free to contact me anytime with questions about our ministries. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 513-721-4700.