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Global View through Local Eyes: Montego Bay, Jamaica

Posted: 2009-04-15 00:00:00

David Simensen and Christian Pezzuto, Juniors at the Virginia High School and active youth of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Virginia, spent a week volunteering through Mission Jamaica last summer. We thank them for donating a week of their summer to help people in need and for taking the time to share their story with us.

Jamaica is a country of extremes. The expansive, breathtaking beaches clash sharply with the dirty, overcrowded slums at the edge of Jamaica’s major cities. The beautiful, lush landscapes are not reflected in the tired and hopeless eyes of the rural poor. Poverty in Jamaica seems inescapable, especially for Jamaican children.

While the hotels and tourism companies maintain clean neighborhoods near their pristine beaches, a quick trip to city outskirts reveal a completely different Jamaica. Many rural Jamaicans have never even been swimming in the ocean. “There is widespread poverty and a widening social gap between the rich and poor as evidenced by concentrations of extreme wealth, a shrinking middle class, and a stagnant economy… Poverty limits families' choice of where to live; poor families are effectively relegated to neighborhoods with low social capital, and which expose them to a confluence of physical, social, and psychological risks.” *

David and Christian encountered these stark contrasts on a trip with Mission Jamaica, a program through St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church of Mahtomedi, Minnesota.** They joined a group of more than 75 sophomore, junior and senior students for 8 days at YWAM (Youth with a Mission) in Montego Bay. They stayed in bunk houses and spent each morning and afternoon with a different assignment.


One of their assignments was working at the Boys Place of Safety, a combination orphanage and juvenile delinquent facility in the mountainous community of Westhaven. “It looked like a third world prison,” described Christian. Rusty metal bunks and broken plastic chairs provide the only relief for thin bodies. But for many of these boys, the solid roof and dependable meals seem like luxuries.

One of David’s assignments was to help a family build a new home through a program called J’Abode, Jamaica’s new housing program modeled after Habitat for Humanity. Ignoring the luxurious gated communities and hotels, the average house in Jamaica is “like a shanty”. But even pounding a hammer or painting a wall was not so simple when encountering cultural barriers and differing perceptions; “It was frustrating….so slow.”

Nevertheless, David and Christian knew they were making a difference in the lives of the Jamaican children, as well as their own lives. “A little bit...small changes…” said David.

Just like the work of Habitat, change comes nail by nail, home by home, family by family, child by child. Each coat of paint at J’Abode and each game of soccer at the Place of Safety demonstrated compassion and brought hope. Whether in Jamaica, Mexico, Kyrgzstan, or the Iron Range, together we are making a difference.

*Smith, Delores E., and Godwin S. Ashiabi. "POVERTY AND CHILD OUTCOMES:
A FOCUS ON JAMAICAN YOUTH." Adolescence 42.168 (Winter2007 2007): 837-858.

** for more information about Mission Jamaica visit www.saintandrews.org/mission_trips_2009.aspx.