A team of Misericordia University students and chaperones faced scenes far worse than most of them had ever imagined during a service-learning trip to Cross Keys, Manchester Parish, a rural community about an hour and a half drive from Kingston, Jamaica. During their seven-day mission in January, the group cleaned and painted a home that lacked running water, a kitchen or bathroom, and housed as many as 20 occupants, many of them children. They also volunteered at a home for the elderly, a parish school, and a school for delinquent boys.
The students were all members of the service-learning course, “Theology in the Church,” taught by Christine Somers, D. Min., director of Campus Ministry, that was held during the fall semester. They discussed the socio-economic conditions of Jamaica before their trip and returned with a much greater awareness of the needs of people in underdeveloped nations. The students were accompanied by Michele Brague, assistant professor of education; Joseph Cipriani, Jr.,Ed. D.,O. T. R./L.,professor of occupational therapy, and Jeffrey Passetti, assistant director of Campus Ministry.
“I went on the trip hoping to change lives there … but in reality, they changed my life,” says health care management major Johnna Miller of Wapwallopen. “They have so little, yet do the best they can with what they have. I did not want to come back with just pictures and stories … I want others to learn about what we found and how we can work together to help.”
Seeing plastic lawn chairs being used as wheelchairs provided a lesson for Amanda Casem on the limited resources at St. Mary’s Help for Christians Home. “I realized that it is the little things in life that can be so very important…like putting lotion on someone,” says the occupational therapy major from Mountain Top. “For me, it was all about the interaction … talking to them … showing that you cared about them … we could tell that it made their day. And at the end, they prayed for us … and we thought we were the ones doing the giving.”
The students have vowed to advocate for the people they met. They are planning a series of fundraisers and are also working to raise awareness about the needs they witnessed.
“At Misericordia, we are definitely seeing that service-learning classes and trips such as this one continue to impact students after they graduate,” Dr. Somers acknowledges. “So many of our alumni are carrying on our mission of Mercy all over the world and are making service to others a component of their lives and careers. It is the perfect melding of classroom and real-world experience. This is what true service learning is all about.”
For information about service learning opportunities at Misericordia University, please log on to www.misericordia.edu/servicelearning.