PROVIDENCE—It was a memorable experience for a handful of La Salle Academy students who journeyed to Jamaica to make an impact in the lives of disadvantaged children.
The group, composed of 12 students and four faculty, traveled to Kingston, Jamaica to volunteer at Mustard Seed Communities, a home for abandoned and disabled children. “I went with the hope of helping the children,” recent graduate Jacquelyn Desrosiers said. “But, I left with the appreciation of knowing that the children were the ones that helped me.”
Mustard Seed Communities is a Catholic organization that began in Jamaica in 1978. It consists of 10 distinct communities that each caters to a different set of needs, such as Matthew 25:40, the home for teenage boys that are HIV positive, and Mary’s Child, one of the few facilities in Jamaica that cares for pregnant teens and their babies.
Each morning, the students woke up early to feed and play with the kids at Sophie’s Place, a home for children with severe disabilities, before going to a different Mustard Seed community.
“Our students were absolutely amazing,” Maryann Donohue-Lynch, of La Salle’s Campus Ministry, said. One day, the students gave manicures to the young mothers at Mary’s Child while the adults watched their babies.
“It was like for those couple of hours, they could be teens again,” she added. “They had an incredible connection.”
Matthew Daly, also of Campus Ministry, who organized this year’s trip, started the first Lasallian trip to Jamaica in 2008. This is the third year for the program. Daly had been on several international mission trips before coming to La Salle and said that the impact they can have on students is incredible.
“It’s a common way for young people to find God and experience their faith,” Daly said. “God becomes very real—he’s right there in your face. Waking up early in the morning to feed a kid that’s been handicapped and abandoned is faith-affirming. It’s life-affirming.”
“In Jamaica the people are so faithful, and are thankful for things such as their fingers, toes, and living to see another day,” rising junior Alex Randall said. “A mission trip such as Jamaica could do everyone a world of good.”
Students are only allowed to go to Jamaica once during their Lasallian career to give others the opportunity, but rising senior Tim O’Reilly said he plans to go back after high school. “I’d like to go down for a few months,” he said.
For many of the students, the generosity they witnessed was the most surprising and heart-warming experience of the trip. The students brought a piñata to Matthew 25:40 and lined the boys up shortest to tallest to take turns.
“The first couple of kids who were really weak from the disease couldn’t do much damage to it, but it worked out because the last kid finally broke it,” O’Reilly said. “The most amazing part was that when they were done eating, they went out into the street and shared what little they had.”
“Doing these kinds of trips is what the Gospel tells us to do,” Donohue-Lynch said. “The way that it challenges you, you don’t get that by sending money.”
“When the students come back, because they’re speaking from their hearts, it can’t help but transform the people that are listening,” she added.
Since the first Lasallian mission trip to New Orleans in 2005, started by Donohue-Lynch, the demand for mission trips at La Salle has soared. For the 12 available slots on “Jam 3,” there were at least 60 applicants. Two more mission trips have been planned for the coming school year; in February, there will be a trip to Camden, New Jersey, the second poorest city in the country, in addition to resuming the New Orleans trip after a one-year hiatus. During April vacation, students will go to a Native American reservation in Billings, Montana as well as continuing the Jamaica tradition with Jam 4.
Daly said that students apply what they learn on trips like these in different ways—some quiet, some extraordinary. “Some people bottle it up and aren’t ready to deal with it yet,” he said.
“As much as I would like to think that I helped them, [the kids] helped me so much more,” rising senior Janelle Rondeau said. “They taught me how to love unconditionally and how to open my heart to others.”
For more information about Mustard Seed Communities, please visit www.mustardseed.com.