Outside of Curphey Veterans Home in south Manchester, Jamaica, few people know Mr. Clark or his story. This grizzled veteran of the Jamaica Defence Force is in his 70s and has not been able to care for himself since he suffered a debilitating injury a number of years ago playing ruby, which left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Mr. Clark is not alone when it comes to hardship amidst the brush in the mountainous region of this island nation. Far from the prosperous tourist regions of the country, many Jamaicans live in ramshackle homes or in group facilities that rely on the generosity of others to sustain them. Together, they cobble together an existence that is not measured by personal property or wealth, but rather by faith and family.
“We were told by one of the volunteers that the only way Mr. Clark could get a wheelchair would be if someone else died,’’ says Misericordia University student Caitlin Vitale ‘16 of West Pittston, Pa. “That stuck with me. I won’t forget that.’’
Misericordia University sponsors an annual service-learning trip to Cross Keys, Manchester in January with Father Patrick Mwangi of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church for the academic course, Theology of the Church. Students do volunteer work at facilities in need, such as Mustard Seed Orphanage, St. Mary’s Missionaries of Christ Nursing Home, Balaclava Nursing Home, St. Bosco’s School for Boys and others.
“Just about every one of us who went on the trip was encouraged and inspired by someone else who went on the trip before,’’ says Vitale, whose brother Sean participated in the mission trip in 2012. “Everyone has a story and you see their pictures and you hear their stories and it leads you there.’’
Local residents Amanda Casem ‘16, Mountain Top, and Johnna Miller ‘14, Wapwallopen, were among the students who accompanied Vitale and chaperones Michele Brague, director of student teaching; Dr. Joseph Cipriani, professor of occupational therapy, and Jeffrey Passetti of Campus Ministry to Jamaica from Jan. 2-8 for the 10th annual mission trip.
Together, they experienced the unsanitary conditions many large families are forced to live in, and how health care and educational facilities have to adapt to their circumstances due to shortages in supplies or the lack of basic necessities, like body lotion, wheelchairs and medical supplies. More importantly, Misericordia students learned the importance of caring for their global neighbors.
It was Mr. Clark’s story, though, that inspired the students initially in mid-winter and throughout the spring semester and into summer. Before leaving Jamaica, they vowed their week of service would continue to benefit those most in need and prove to be a legacy mission trip for them and Misericordia.
“The very last night we were there in the chapel we all agreed we did not want the service to end,’’ says Casem, an occupational therapy major from Mountain Top. “We really wanted to help out everyone we met. We knew we could make a difference, but you cannot make a difference in one week.’’
“A lot of them were emotionally shocked because I am not sure how much detail they knew about,’’ says Miller, the daughter of Todd and Lisa Miller of Wapwallopen. “I described to them the house and tried to put them in our shoes. I noticed a couple members who were tearing up. We just wanted to show them there is a different part to the world.
“Afterward, they were asking what can they do to help or how can we support you?’’ Miller adds.
The Misericordia University Board of Trustees donated $14,200 in support of shipping eight donated wheelchairs from Pride Mobility in Exeter, Pa., and various other worthwhile efforts.
“I really appreciate the board’s donation because it is a great feeling knowing the school supports you and stands behind your mission,’’ adds Miller, a physical therapy major.
“I am so proud of being part of a group that collectively wanted to take things further,’’ adds Casem, the daughter of Chuck and Elaine Casem of Mountain Top, who raised an additional $300 through a fundraiser with her St. Jude Youth Group. “I know a couple of the students who are going to Jamaica next year will take this over and pass it down. I really think we can get something started annually.’’
Students also are engaged in planning future fundraisers to benefit their Jamaica mission trip and future ones as well. They are examining the feasibility of hosting a soccer tournament and a food festival with authentic Jamaican food on campus with the assistance of Father Mwangi.
To support the Misericordia service trips, send your checks made payable to the Campus Ministry Jamaica Fund, Misericordia University, 301 Lake St., Dallas, PA 18612.