Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 28, 2008
Sturgeon Catholics build new homes for Jamaican poor
Witnessing profound poverty changes parishioners forever
By RAMON GONZALEZ
- photo supplied
Parishoners visited with the children at Bosco Boys Home in Mandeville.
With a similar aim in mind, over the years Kieftenbeld has also taken many students to Edmonton's inner city to feed the poor. But a trip to Jamaica just adds to the experience, making participants more eager to help the needy locally when they return.
Kieftenbeld learned about the plight of the Jamaican poor during a stewardship conference in Chicago a few years ago. When the late Bishop Paul Michael Boyle of Jamaica asked conference delegates for their solidarity, she decided to act. She organized the first mission trip in March 2004.
Scores of church groups from across North America have been going to Mandeville over the past 15 years. Kieftenbeld's group was the first Canadian group to go. Since then, three other parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese have followed suit, including St. Theresa Parish in Millwoods, which sent a delegation in 2006.
"The first year that we went the youth asked for sponsorships. But then I decided that if we are going to do stewardship we wouldn't ask the churches or people for money," Kieftenbeld explained. "Stewardship means sharing of our time, our talent and our treasure so we started paying our own way."
Kieftenbeld and her husband Harvey have taken three of their five children on mission trips.
Tickets and accommodation are about $1,300 a person. Participants stay at a mission house just outside Mandeville, Jamaica's third largest city with a population of 250,000.
Groups from the Sturgeon region have built close to 10 houses in the last five years, including four in 2005. In 2006 there was no money available to build a house so participants refurbished and painted a church and a Marian shrine.
Catholics in Jamaica are only about four per cent of the population, but the Catholic Church spends a good portion of its resources housing, feeding and educating the needy. The Diocese of Mandeville has an ongoing project to provide housing for the poor.
To be eligible for a house, people have to have some land and agree to build a cement pad on which to place the house. Many of those who receive houses are single mothers, who abound in Jamaica as women feel pressured to have children at a young age to prove their worth.
The houses are small - 12x12 feet or 12x16 feet - and have no running water or electricity or kitchen. But they are a big improvement for their proud owners, participants said. People cook outside and wash their clothes in a pail or in the river. The cost of each unit is about US$2,500.
It takes about five hours to put a house together. People from the community, especially the new homeowners, are usually around to help.
Kieftenbeld recalled visiting Cutie, a woman who had received a house previously. As Cutie washed her clothes outside she turned to Kieftenbeld and asked, "Do you have a (washing) machine at home, Perry?'"
Kieftenbeld recoiled at the realization she had just bought a $3,000 washer and dryer while Cutie was washing her clothes in a pail of dirty water. But the experience wasn't wasted.
"Now she is a person to me," Kieftenbeld says. "She is someone with a name; she is someone that means something to me. And now it's very important that I help her." During a visit to an old age home, the members of the group were shocked to learn some of the home's clients were found literally abandoned in the hills with no food and no one to care for them.
Kiaya Kieftenbeld, daughter of Perry, was just 13 when she went on the first mission trip to Mandeville in 2004. The experience shocked Kiaya to the point she had difficulty going back to the comfort she is used to at home, especially after she realized her room is twice as large as the house she helped build.
The trip also changed the teen, making her more willing to be of service to others.
"Most people think that they are going there and going on a mission and they think they can save the world or change a country but you can't," Kiaya said. "You go there to help them but not change them."
Samantha Kemp, Tony Kemp's sister, went to Mandeville two years ago with her mother. The shocked teen wanted to quit her job at a grocery store after she returned because the store was throwing so much good food away while little children are going hungry.
"I became more aware of poor people (after the trip)," Samantha said. "I'm more conscious of what I should do (as a Christian)."
Hurley Kieftenbeld, Perry's son, went to Jamaica two years ago and he is still shocked by Jamaica's family system, which he says is non-existent.
"There is no family system (as we know it)," he said. "A woman would typically have several children from different men that she sees. They consider their kids as their retirement fund who will take care of them in their old age."
Marcel Kerckhof, a retired mixed farmer from Riviere Qui Barre, has made four trips to Mandeville. Now he donates a lot of money to charity and is sending money regularly to a woman to help her put her children through school.
Parishioner Marie Bourque joined the last mission trip to experience the Jamaica tourists don't see. "I had been to Jamaica before on a holiday but you just see the resorts and I wanted to experience the other people," she said.
In the process she helped paint the three houses the group built. Two houses she painted blue and one yellow.
"They like bright colours," she noted.
The trip made her more conscious of how wasteful Canadians generally are with water and other resources. Now she doesn't let the tap run unnecessarily.
"I'm a lot more conscious of what we have and not to abuse it."
Keith Marler, an electrician with Edmonton Public Schools, remembers being shocked by the sight of a man with a machete in his hand looking at him.
The shock lasted until he realized there was no harm intended. Peasants usually carry a machete to clear brush and cut cane.
Marler went on the last trip because his daughter Carol had gone previously and it made a big change in her life.
"I went to see if it would make a change in me," he said. "I went basically to help myself." A widower for the past two years, Marler took all of his wife's beautiful clothes to Mandeville and donated them to the women who needed them.
Kieftenbeld said the Sturgeon region mission trips to Jamaica will continue until parishioners put a stop to them. That may not happen any time soon as every year 10 more people are ready to go.
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