The Dispatch Project Visits JDV
Click Rain Serves: Jamaica 2016
How can one week change your life? But it can. I miss Jamaica already, and I am going through culture shock as I write this. I arrived home yesterday from the beautiful island country, and I accomplished many firsts in this weeklong trip. It was my first mission trip, my first visit to a tropical island, my first visit to a developing country, my first time being in a minority, my first proper construction project, and my first time signing with deaf people.
Coming back to the United States, I was struck by how nice our houses and roads are. Things like hot water, air conditioning, windows without bars, and the amount of clothes in my closet are more noticeable. My wedding ring feels heavy wearing it again, and our house seems unusually large. We have a dishwasher, stores for our every whim, and commercials to get us to buy more. Our American over-extravagance makes me miss the simplicity of life in Jamaica.
Everyone goes on mission trips for different reasons. But at the core, I think all volunteers have the element of service as their driving motivation. I served with five other volunteers through Dispatch Project during this trip, including fellow co-workers from Click Rain: Tim Schoffelman and Serge Sushchik. Our destination was Manchester, Jamaica, the home of the Jamaica Deaf Village – and one of main campuses for the Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf (CCCD).
We landed in Montego Bay on Saturday. You can always tell how efficient a country is by its immigration line speed in the airport. Jamaica isn’t fast, or air conditioned. The moment we stepped into the tropical sunlight and met Ben, the missionary for JDV, I knew I’d be sweating for the whole week. “Might as well embrace the humidity,” I said to everyone as we walked into the week (and sauna) ahead.
We piled into a van and set off for Jamaica Deaf Village (JDV), a 2 ½-hour trip through sidewinding mountain roads with top speeds of 40 mph. Dodging potholes every 10 feet and two-lane traffic on roads most Americans would drive only one way on was quite the experience. Ben says it’s only a close call in Jamaica if your vehicles exchange paint. The twisting and turning means passengers have a good opportunity to view the countryside.
Immediately we were immersed into real Jamaica. Leaving the touristy resorts of MoBay and the northern ocean coast behind us, we ascended into the blue mountains of the island heading for JDV. Taller-than-your-car sugar cane fields and lush green jungle trees greeted us, as we climbed up the mountain road. I fell spellbound to the natural beauty—including waving palms, eucalyptus trees with outstretched branches, and banana trees with wide spread leaves. Fiery tropical flowers dotted the tree tops and ditches with little patches of hot pink, bright orange, and florescent yellow.
Rain-weary shacks with tin roofs were covered with cinder blocks, half-finished houses with steel rebar poking skywards (Jamaicans build houses as they can afford it, so one floor at a time!), and gated properties were intermixed as we traveled upward. Jamaican houses come in vibrant colors, like fuchsia, tangerine peach, and robin egg blue, that contrast greatly with the verdant nature around them. Jamaicans aren’t subtle with color—or with anything really. We got many yells of “White people!” as our van passed by villages.
The pure, developing country, with its lovely light-filled valleys and proud dark green mountains, is a relief against the stark contrast of surrounding poverty. Trash is everywhere, shacks are built from tin and ply board, and people stand by the road with blank faces. Jamaica faces close to a 50% true unemployment rate (although the government says it’s only in the teens) and an 80% illegitimacy birth rate. People walking with machetes are a common sighting; they are a tool and a weapon. Jamaica is a survivor.
After settling into JDV on Saturday night, we spent Sunday morning at the church for the deaf on campus. Interpreters helped us along as we worshiped with songs and service completely done in sign language. I realized then, how little I knew. I picked up words quickly with songs, due to the repetition of words—but the signing was so fast, I felt like I was always a few signs behind with the songs. At church we met Pastor Sheldon and Crestmore who led singing. It’s amazing how much body language you pick up on when surrounded by the deaf. I was thankful they weren’t too shy to say hello and start conversations.
In the morning we helped demo roof ceiling tiles and house beams ruined by termites at a new house for a missionary friend of Ben’s named Erin. She is making the house into temporary housing quarters for new mothers who need help getting on their feet. Erin already runs a day care children’s home for babies and toddlers, but short-term children interrupt her long-term foster children waiting for adoption, so this new house will fill a specific need for new moms.
Demo work took up our whole morning with heavy cement ceiling tile coming crashing down, shoveled up into wheelbarrows and carried out back to a dump pile. Wood beams with nails and wiring also got tossed into a separate pile in the backyard. Deaf men who live at JDV worked onsite with us, but they were adding on a new garage. Such hard workers these men are! I lamented my desk-job body more than once.
The construction work was hard labor, but in serving others we become more like Christ. I remember a few white and yellow butterflies floating through the open house (the roof was also removed to be replaced), and being jealous then appreciative of the lightness they added to the scene. Every trip to the dump pile I felt more refined, patient, giving, and strong as a person. Everyone was starving at lunch, and in the afternoon we replaced sweaty jeans for shorts and met the lovely deaf children at Knockpatrick campus.
Ben introduced us to several children, and we attempted to communicate with our faltering signing. I met Paris, a beautiful girl with one blue eye and one brown eye. Ben said it’s common with deaf to have blue eyes. Often deaf suffer from other disabilities too like poor walking or motor skills. Unfortunately, the deaf are shunned by society in Jamaica—and children who attend a CCCD campus often live there in dorms. Classmates become their siblings, and vocation tech skills are taught after they complete elementary, middle, and high school. I forgot it was Halloween that day, as it’s not celebrated in Jamaica. I didn’t miss it at all.
Tuesday we did more demo at Erin’s house in the morning, but we were all much stronger that day, after completing a lot of the heavy work the day before. This day I focused less on the heavy lifting and more on meeting the people around me, asking questions, and building relationships with Erin and Ben. There’s nothing like sweating in a construction zone in the middle of a hot, humid foreign country to bring a team of people together.
Comradery abounded as we played 80s music to the sound of floor tile destruction with crowbars—and the banging of roof beams falling to the floor. Termite remains aren’t the most pleasant thing, let’s just say it that way. A spirit of joy came over the team as we heartily went about our chore of basically tearing everything but the walls out of the house. I wonder what the Jamaicans thought of our demo skills—but they smiled a lot and gave us thumbs up, so I hope we didn’t do too badly.
Rain showers happen every day, often at lunchtime. We had just finished demoing on the second day when a shower hit us. The mud in Jamaica is heavy, and the earth there is red. I have a feeling some of the clothes we wore for demo should be incinerated due to their biodegradable status! In the afternoon, we went back to play with Knockpatrick kids again, and I figured out how to type with children back and forth on my phone to communicate better. Their broken English was way better than my signing.
At night, we unloaded a shipping container filled with donated food and paper products. JDV receives a container every six months, and we unloaded tons of goods into the warehouse where deaf men do woodworking on campus. The workshop became temporary storage for thousands of diapers, toilet paper rolls, buckets of rice, and endless cans of food. Every haul of items off the storage truck was a blessing for someone, somewhere in the CCCD campuses. I also quickly realized I couldn’t haul multiple buckets of rice as well as the strong Jamaican men, who lifted everything with seemingly effortless ease—wearing flip-flops nonetheless.
I think it’s safe to say we all went to bed exhausted that night, after finishing unloading in the dark between 10 and 11 p.m. I remember the stars being amazing that night, and with no light pollution, you can clearly make out millions of stars in the galaxies overhead on the island.
Veronica the JDV campus cook spoils teams with her amazing cooking. I got to try new foods and fruits I had never heard of before, like cassava, plantains, and bread fruit. Some of my favorite moments of the trip were talking around the table as we ate, and chatting with team members as we took turns washing up the dishes after meals. In the morning we played with babies and toddlers at Erin’s current children’s home. With around 20 children in the front yard, there was always someone to play with, swing, or push on a bike. I met two volunteer women from Germany and Canada, so it was fun to visit with them—and talk about why we all were in Jamaica.
In the afternoon we visited the elderly infirmary. This was the hardest thing for many on our team, and while the living conditions were hard, I enjoyed visiting here. It was basically the equivalent of a poor nursing home in the States. The mentally ill, the disabled, and the elderly were all mixed together, but separated by gender in dorms. Rooms held 10-15 beds close together with about a foot in between, the incoherent mixed with the depressed and lonely.
Some people yelled and drooled and others talked with you and told you their ages. I sat with Debbie on the porch of the ladies dorm for a while. I also met a man who told me he was 100. When I told him my age, he smiled with a toothless grin and told me I was a young girl. I also met Ms. Morgan with one leg and a beautiful spirit chatted up a storm with anyone who sat nearby her.
We had supper with the deaf families of JDV, and I growing more confident with my signing, engaged more in conversation as the week progressed. The children of the deaf village put on a little worship time and sang/signed songs to us. It was beautiful to watch! We played card games with the deaf late into the night almost every day. I have my signs down for numbers and face card names, that’s for sure.
We traveled to Kingston in the morning and visited the CCCD campus there. We saw the newly built Deaf Can Coffee shop and met the CEO of CCCD Tashi (a deaf woman and former student at CCCD) and her husband Blake. We all ordered many coffee drinks and purchased merchandise to support the enterprise. Deaf Can Coffee teaches deaf students how to run a business and how to be confident business owners after graduating high school. DCC is already planning on expansion, and another shop is in the works, this time in an office building, complete with food service. We spent the morning learning about the coffee shops—as Ben and Tashi discussed the new CCCD website, soon to be launched.
We enjoyed a lunch at Usain Bolt’s restaurant (of course!), and in the afternoon met and played with the children of the CCCD Kingston campus. This campus is smaller than Knockpatrick, with fewer students and dorm rooms. Playing Frisbee you quickly realize how the deaf have less of a sense of danger without being able to hear sound. A little girl commandeered me immediately and we chased bugs and picked flowers together. Basketball, Frisbee, and soccer are all big hits. Snapchat filters (especially Face Swap) got lots of laugher and smiles from the children. A pogo stick came on the shipping container, and we brought it to Kingston—and I think they didn’t stop using it from the time we handed it to the children!
Ben treated us with a trip to Treasure Beach on the south coast where we all swam in the dark blue water. The water temperature was much warmer than Mexico, and we explored beach life and sea creatures, along with coral. After a long week, it was nice to float peacefully in the Atlantic and watch the palm trees waving in the wind from the beach. In the afternoon traveled to Alligator Pond, where we all ate our body weight in fresh seafood at Little Ochie. Fresh fish of the day, lobster tail, and jerk shrimp were on the menu.
My last night in Jamaica was spent watching the sunset over the Atlantic. Much laughter and storytelling was done in the van, and when one of the teammates feel asleep on another’s shoulder on the way home—we all had a good belly laugh on the way back to JDV. Something about Jamaica makes you feel right at home, even though we were thousands of miles from South Dakota.
Watching the cattle graze in the high pasture, the bright white patches of egrets flying against the dark green valleys, and the shadows turning toward sunset in the evening—these are the moments that make up Jamaica. I didn’t mind the lizard in my room, the lack of electric light use, the sudden rain showers that beat on the roof, the rustling of banana tree leaves at night, or the extreme humidity (my passport curled it was so humid!). I came to love all these things. Maybe it’s the land, the people, the feeling of being useful and appreciated that makes you feel welcome.
That volunteer feeling of “What the heck am I doing here?” changes quickly into “I am so glad I am here!” as the week progresses. I’ve never known such peace and happiness both from the Jamaican people—and, surprisingly, within myself when I was there. I’m not sure how it happened, but Jamaica stole a little bit of my heart. I left a part of myself back at JDV, and I took a part of their peace home with me. It was only one week, but it changed my life. I hope I can visit Jamaica again someday.
What Happens Afterward
A mission trip can’t help but change your point of view on life and your relationship with God. What you do after a mission trip is up to each individual. But here are some things I am taking forward with me:
- Continue to Learn New Things
Education makes us better-rounded. Learn more so you can give more. I really want to take an ASL signing class now!
- Volunteer Your Skills
Traveling isn’t for everyone. Help instead by giving your talents and skills to your church or to a charity.
- Support a Missionary
Give to those on the ground, through your church or another organization.
- Sponsor a Child or Give to a Charity
Need is everywhere. Find somewhere to give whether internationally or locally. You have way more than the rest of the world to share.
- Pray for Those Serving Abroad
International mission work takes a special breed. Pray for those braving danger and harsh conditions to spread God’s love.
- Go on a Mission Trip Again or Encourage Someone Else to Go
Life change happens when you’re outside your comfort zone. Push someone else or yourself to see the world in a new light. (Interested? Learn more about Dispatch Project, and invite your employer or co-workers to participate!)