|Posted on December 11, 2011 at 11:45 PM|
As I looked out the window of the plane and the island of Jamaica came into view, I was once again overwhelmed by emotion. I was "home" again! My 2nd home. Our first stop was Christian Care where all my "boyfriends", age 70 and up were waiting for their Barbara hugs! We laughed as we remembered one of my painting projects from several years ago and viewed my paint job-a blue bathroom. where paint is still on the floor. Their rooms are still the bright pink, purple and green from the love of those who traveled with me that year. Lots of pictures were taken before we continued to Immaculate, the peaceful retreat run by nuns, my favorite place to stay on my journeys to the poor.
Day 2 began at Food For the Poor Jamaica, where I embraced old frineds and they gave me my own yellow Jamaican FFP shirt. I noticed as we toured the warehouse the shortage of food and this disturbed me, as the poor so need these donations. Our next stop was Jerusalem, a village of all children and a favorite stop of every mission trip. We spent our time there at My Fathers House where all the children, age birth -10 years have aides. We played with them, blew bubbles, and gave lots of hugs. It is always hard to leave these children. The rest of the day was spent at Barbaras Village. This year was the 5 year anniversary of this dream, which began with my wanting to fund and build one house. The village has become a peaceful community that the residents are proud of. They have joined with a neighboring community to have their own resident governing body. There are 2 stores now and another new baby boy has been born. In honor of the anniversary, combined with my passion for race walking, I held the first 1 mile Barbaras Village run/walk. Over 100 kids and adults showed up to run through the village, accompanied by Sunny Runner (the mascot of the Jacksonville Runnig Company) who had made the trip with me and was carried by one of the children in the race. I had medals designed which were presented to all finishers. I wore my Florida Striders racing singlet and showed them how to race walk as I participated with them in the event before presenting the awards. There were no fancy running shoes and no paved course. Many were barefoot and we ran down a dusty gravel road through the village. They asked that this become an annual event. We shared food, music, lots of hugs, and yes, I did a lot of dancing. We played soccer with the kids and the residents invited us into their homes and gardens. It was a day of celebration. I destributed clothes to all the men in the village and soccer balls and school supplies were given to all the children. As we were preparing to leave some of the boys came running up to me and said, "We need a Barbaras Village soccer team!" I told them, "You form it this year and I promise you the team will play at the Ellersie soccer complex (another of my projects). Like me, the residents of Barbaras Village are Unstoppable. Within 10 minutes the boys had formed a team, had a coach and had given me a list of shoe sizes. When I got back to Immaculate, I went through the soccer supplies I had brought for Ellersie and was able to put together enough practice jerseys for the new team to be delivered after I left. Soccer project #2-Barbaras Village team!
Day 3 we headed to a construction site. When we arrived I noticed the foundation was larger than the average FFP house. I turned to the project manager and stated they must have many children. She told me."They have about 40! We are building your school today. At the last minute the rest of your funding came through to complete this project.!" I was so overcome with emotion. The tears began to flow and my son, Steven, and my friend, Pam, were holding my hands as I cried. I was once again speechless, as I was the day they surprised me with the land site for Barbaras Village. Those who know me know I am rarely speechless! When I could speak, I tried to explain to the new pilgrims traveling with me the emotional journey this, as all my projects had been. I had so badly wanted to have funding completed before the trip, but with the economy and my hectic schedule I had not done many speaking engagements to raise the funds. We grabbed our tools and in tht one day, we built a school! The Jamaican construction crew and even the CEO of FFP Jamaica worked side by side with us as we put up walls and hung doors! The principal, teacher, children and the people from the village lined the walls and watched. The school is surrounded by shacks. My idea is we cannot build the families each a home immediately, but we can educate a community and plant this seed of hope. The school is across the road from Jerusalem. After a day of building, we took a walking tour of the community. My heart broke as we visited families of 5 living in one room shacks the size of a walkin closet. They were happy though and so grateful for the new school being built
The afternoon was spent at the Ellersie soccer complex (my soccer dream-now 3 years old). We got to watch a soccer match and I did soccer activities with the kids. The people sat on the fence and surrounded the field to watch the match. They relayed to me that the donated lights at the complex make them feel safe at night. We shared sweets to celebrate the 3 year anniversary. I distributed the soccer equipment and balls I had brought, donated by Coach Mike and his First Coast soccer teams from Jacksonville, Florida. This was my original soccer project. I met with soccer officials from the Albion soccer Club and began planning a soccer camp with combined coaches from Jamaica and the US-my soccer project #4! The camp is scheduled for 2013. I also met with soccer representatives from FFPJamaica to receive an update on their soccer team. This was a team of men who work in the warehouse, and many who live in the shacks surrounding Ellersie. The team was originally formed to play one match against the Albion soccer team for my trip last year, but they had remained together as a team and were now competing and winning, but of course they need supplies. I had brought enough equipment to give them some uniform parts and balls.-Soccer project #5! These players and coaches have volunteered their time to assist with the upcomoing camp. As I predicted during the years I fought for this complex, it is a beautiful sport that brings people together and now it is a reality.
Day 4 we returned to the school site for painting day. What color paint had been chosen was my question. Yellow of course as this was a Barbara project and yellow is my color in Jamaica! Yes, Barbaras Village is yellow! After a few strokes with the paint brush, the children( ages 2-6), as this is a primary school, and I were not allowed to paint anymore. I am known for my painting accidents in Jamaica. I spent the morning doing my Dog Meets World project with the children as I am an official dographer for Jamaica, just another of the hats I wear! The goal of the project is to take pictures and print them on site in 3rd world countries and give them to the people, who without access to mirrors have sometimes never seen themselves or had a picture. So we had school picture day with Barbara. An older resident of the village came walking down the dusty road in her Sunday best and stopped . She said "I heard you were taking pictures today. Could you take my picture as I have never had my picture taken." She was 75 years old! While at the school site the principal and I discussed my vision for the future-Phase 2 and her needs for the children. The list included security fencing, a storage building, a computer center, uniforms, a playground to include soccer goals and a garden. The teacher requested small soccer balls and shoes for the children and I launched my primary school soccer project, which will include Steph's Place schools-My soccer project #3!
Our next stop of the day was Poor Relief, the homeless shelter in downtown Kingston. I love this stop and see many dear friends. I sang, gave lots of hugs and we fed the residents rice and a little meat and watered down hot chocolate. I wore my yellow Beach Diner shirt and they named their dining area Beach Diner Jamaica! It was just like being at home as the waitress in me came out, as in my normal style back home, I served and hugged! It was an emotional moment when I was told one of my favorite residents, Ms. English had passed since my last visit. It is always hard to find out someone has died since my last visit. I can only afford to travel once a year and I look forward to seeing the same people at our stops. They so enrich my life and are all my family.
Our final stop of the day was Golden Age, two clusters of senior citizens, most with the minds of children. They are part of the throwaway population, who depend on their wonderful FFP caregivers and the visits of us from the US to give them love. Waiting at the roadside and in the courtyard area were so many familiar faces. I held crippled bodies, kissed wrinkled cheeks, held hands with some who only knew by this brief human touch someone was there. The one thing they know about Barbara in Jamaica is I am the donor who will always come back and will never stop loving them. I found my friend I always sing with and we again sang Moon River and some revival songs. I laughed with my ladies who just sit and laugh all day. They are locked in their own world, but it is a simple happy place and they just sit on a bench and laugh all day. I went from wheel chairs to hospital beds to the floor where severly crippled bodies lay all day and I said "I love you" to each of them. I never have enough time at this stop and it is one of my favorite stops.
Again I traveled with a wonderful group of people, some old friends and some new. Led by Father Paul, as I will travel with no other leader, it was another enriching experience. As usual the week passed too quickly and I did not want to leave. Leaving for me always brings tears. There is a piece of my heart I leave in Jamaica every trip/ There is a connection with the poor there I cannot explain. All I know is they are my family and I will be forever connected to them. It is a lifetime comitment to change their lives and I wll travel there for the rest of my life at least once a year. I would invite anyone reading this to join me on a mission trip as I guarantee your life will never be the same. You will become a better richer person. The next trip is scheduled for August 20-27, 2012. Contact Nancy Clark in the FFP Missions office to make your reservation. My goal for next years trip is to have Phase 2 of the school project completed so we can build the playground and open the computer center on that trip. I plan to have the Jeffs Band project completed so the music instruments can be distributed to a village on that trip also. I am also working on a Hope van project for Poor Relief to provide transport to the shelter and street outreach to the homeless in Kingston. I have to get a van donated first. As usual I have numerous projects in my head and heart and as soon as I complete one project I kick off another one. I know I probably drive them crazy at FFP, but I am one ordinary, unstoppable crazy woman who is just trying to make a difference. As I always say. "If we could all find something to get passionate about, we could change the world!" My one ongoing project is housing and I will continue to raise funds and place families in homes, one family, one village at a time. I will commit to financing out of my tips 50 houses in my lifetime and I've paid for 4 so far. If as a single mom and waitress I can do this , you can help. All donations are tax deductible and can be made directly from this website. I need your help!