Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 9, 2005
Orphans open Holy Trinity hearts
Mission team lends a hand - and heart - to abandoned Jamaican elders and babies
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
With a grandfather's kindness, Guenther Breymann held a two-year-old Jamaican girl in his arms as they smiled into each other's eyes. The moment forever connected the retired auto body shop owner with the child orphaned when Hurricane Ivan decimated areas of the Caribbean island last year.
Breymann was captured by the girl among 35 other homeless children in a remote orphanage because while his pockets bulged with candies, what the child wanted was a hug.
"It breaks your heart because all they wanted was love," said Breymann, 69, a grandfather of three from Stony Plain.
Breymann was part of a 10-member mission team from Holy Trinity Parish in Spruce Grove-Stony Plain and Parkland County that spent a week in the Diocese of Mandeville, a rural area in Jamaica far from tourist havens along the island's shoreline.
"I like to work and to help people," he said. "When the idea was announced at our church, I thought I should try it."
There are few riches in Mandeville. The roads are rough. Connecting power and running water to the higher reaches is rarely seen as a matter of importance. Last year the area was pounded by unrelenting tropical storms, including Hurricane Ivan, a Category-5 monster that took the lives of several locals.
Ivan made orphans of a few children, while others were abandoned by their families. None were denied the affection of the team members who each spent about $1,500 to travel to one of the poorest countries in the world, to paint the outside of an old school.
Mission team coordinator Brenda Caspar said a strong spiritual presence of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity helps to make the lives of the residents a little less difficult.
"We had an idea what to expect but you don't get a sense of the mission until you go on the mission," said Caspar, a travel agent in Spruce Grove.
For about 11 years, Mandeville has encouraged short-term Catholic relief missions from across North America to help with various construction projects. Holy Trinity pastor Father Paul Terrio attended a stewardship conference in New Orleans last year which was forced to disband early because Ivan was headed its way, days after it hit Jamaica. But he heard enough to bring the message home to Holy Trinity. The parish's response was absolute.
The team took donations of school supplies, clothes, toys and candies. They brought personal items like soap, shampoo and toothbrushes.
Along with painting a primary school where the students were aged 3-6 years old, the group made several stops including the orphanage, a seniors home for abandoned and destitute elderly, meeting several local families and visiting the home of Bishop Gordon Bennett.
Many residents of the diocese live in one-room structures that Breymann described as "storage sheds with windows, but a castle to them."
No water, no power
The team spent a day framing and panelling four walls of a home being built for a local family. Caspar said they live in "extreme poverty" without running water and power.
Despite their plight, the locals attend church faithfully. At the primary school each morning, the children gather for morning prayers and one student is selected to sing the country's anthem.
The team attended a lively Sunday Mass where children played trumpets and bongo drums.
"The mission was a reinforcement of how blessed we are up here in Canada," Caspar said. "We met so many wonderful people who were genuinely touched that we came down and did it for them."
When the group went to the orphanage, each member soon had a child clinging to them. When it was time to leave, the children cried for them to stay.
Caspar said the most disturbing moment came when they visited the seniors home. They were well taken care of by Mary Help of Christians, but Caspar hopes she does not end up in a similar fate. "They were completely abandoned by their families," she said. "They had no money; absolutely nothing. But with a roof over their heads, a bed to sleep on and a meal every day, they felt like they were in heaven."
Susan Coughlan dipped into the family savings so she and three of her five children could make the trip. "I listened to a parish member who went earlier and it sounded really interesting," Coughlan said.
"We were busy but no one complained. My children were amazed by what they saw."
Coughlan is grateful for the blessings in her life. "The contrast between the very rich and the very poor is more profound there. It is hard to believe."
They are going back
Caspar said plans are underway for a team to return in November and a group of parish seniors is looking at a mission visit next February.
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