In an effort to prepare for Jamaica, I packed my bags and lathered myself with sunscreen, but I couldn’t truly prepare myself. I believed that I would be buoyed by my nearly four years of after school tutoring—until I landed in Jamaica.
In Jamaica, our time was divided between the Jamaica National Children’s Home, the Home for the Aged, and the Ferry community. After hearing from previous Jamaica trippers, I thought I knew what to expect when walking into each of these places, but, again, nothing can prepare you for Jamaica.
The Jamaica National Children’s Home has a sector devoted to the disabled. One cannot age out of this sector, so those living there will likely live there until they pass away. Some people have been living in the same room for more than 20 years. The residents sit all day, with no mental stimulation, human interaction, or change of scenery, with only mealtimes and baths as changes to the daily boredom of sitting. While interacting with the residents at National, I challenged myself to think of how much I am able to do. I can get myself out of bed, brush my teeth, feed myself, bathe myself, drive a car, and walk to classes, among countless other activities every single day.
The Home for the Aged is my worst nightmare for my own future and made me ache for the residents’ present. In rooms the size of horse stalls and few meals served throughout the week, the Home for the Aged exemplifies pain; every resident was left by a family member who chose not to care for them, each day the residents live in fear of dying alone, and the only thing they have is each other. However, the Home for the Aged also represents the beauty in humanity—among the pain, suffering, and crippling loneliness that the residents face, there is friendship and family. Ms. Cecilia (pictured with Taegan) cares for her beloved roommate, Ms. Joseph, with humility and a servant heart.
On our last day in Kingston, we arrived at Ferry in the afternoon and few children were there. The trippers visited with adults and played with some of the younger kids until 3:30, when suddenly dozens of children in uniforms began arriving home from school for the day, eager to share stories of their classes. As we reflected on our day, we listened to Joli Anderson, who now serves as the assistant community service director and organized the first trip and has worked tirelessly on it ever since. She told us how different the lanes of Ferry looked on that day compared to the first day she visited Ferry over 20 years ago. Then, the lanes were filled with children of all ages at all hours of the day. Now, the lanes are quiet—all of the children are in school.
After Jamaica, I see the injustices Chattanooga faces in a newlight. The poverty and income disparity throughout Chattanooga neighborhoods and the education system breaks Chattanooga into a two-tiered society, much like Kingston. The main problem that our community faces is the lack of living as one—there are few programs or places where the entirety of our. community can live as one, joined by our humanity and common home. Therefore, Jamaica’s main lesson, for me, was to join hands with my neighbors, existing and loving as one. When we can achieve this, all else will fall into place.