Fi Di Likkle Pickney (For the Little Children)
On this trip I experienced a moment, a moment of realization, one that hit me like the rushing waters that attacked me at Dunn’s River Falls. As I sat during lunch eating my bun and cheese, I looked at the children in front of me. They were Abigail and Allison. I looked at these two beautiful children and suddenly it hit me. How can I put into words what I realized at that moment? I looked at Abigail who is so skinny, not because of lack of food but because she has a disease, and then I looked at Allison who was born with no kneecaps. While looking at these girls I saw how happy they were, how carefree they were of whatever troubles they have faced or may be facing. In that moment they were just happy that were there. They were laughing, joking around, taking pictures and just enjoying themselves, grateful for life. At that moment it was all too much for me to take. Regardless of the problems they faced they were here in front of us happy and smiling, appreciating everything that we were doing for them. I escaped to Mamma Nicky’s room where I cried like a baby. Even writing about it now and thinking of their beautiful faces, their happy smiles to see us, how they would just come up to us and grab our hands and take us somewhere to play, really gets to me.
In that moment I realized how much it takes to truly delight in life and be so happy even when you have encountered so many misfortunes at such a young age. It wasn’t that I felt guilty; no I’m sure it wasn’t that. It was the fact that these girls were able to be so strong regardless of what they’ve gone through. It was the fact that they shouldn’t have had to go through the things they’ve gone through. Even now I don’t think I can express how much I admire those girls for being so strong, so cheerful and so open with us. So for me the awareness and the moment I gained my sense of purpose on this trip was when it hit me how strong those girls have to be to be delighted in our presence, to not be completely submerged in grief about the things they’ve gone through.
From April 23, 2016 to April 30, 2016 I went to St. Andrew, Jamaica with a group of 17 Lehman L.I.F.E. members on a volunteer service trip. Jamaica is located in the northwestern Caribbean Sea. When people hear Jamaica, they typically think of the northern coast and the suburbs of Kingston, which is home to tourists, and wealthy Jamaicans who live in first-rate housing. However, what people do not know is that Jamaica is actually the second poorest country in the Caribbean it is referred to as the “richest poor nation on earth.” Not far from wealthy districts, and tourist attractions are a significant number of poor Jamaicans who live in squalor with poor housing, limited food supply, inadequate access to clean water, low-quality health care, and/or lack of education.
That is why our team went to St. Andrew, a parish situated in the southeast of Jamaica. We worked in collaboration with Jamaica Volunteer Programs, a for profit organization that houses volunteers and drives them to their destination.
Our mission on this trip was to provide personalized attention to girls in an orphanage: Annie Dawson’s Home for Girls and paint their home. That was the line that I continued to give to people when they asked me about what I would be doing in Jamaica. Little did I know how much the beautiful girls at Annie Dawson’s Home for Girls would impact my life.
On the first day of arrival in Jamaica my team and I got situated in Smokey Manor, located in Smokey Vale. One the second day we enjoyed one of Jamaica’s natural treasures: Dunn’s River Falls. On the third day it was time to do what we came there to do. We went to Annie Dawson’s Home for Girls where we were introduced to Mamma Nicky the head of the home, the two aunties: Auntie V and Auntie G, and the handy man Richard pronounced (RichAAAARD).
Through Mamma Nicky we learned some of the girls backgrounds. But, just from her talking to us I saw how passionate she was about her girls. She is a single woman, never married, who has adopted two kids and devoted her life to her precious 14 children.
I can only imagine the love, the patience, and the care necessary to devote your life to 14 children who have had a rough life. But I did not have to imagine it because I saw it everyday when I returned to Annie Dawson’s. Mamma Nicky, Auntie G. and Auntie V. all devoted their time and attention to the girls to give them a home, to give them a family and to give them something they may not have had otherwise.
Meet Tia. Tia is six-years-old, she has a lot of charisma and so much energy. She is extremely knowledgeable and aware and she is a leader of the girls at Annie Dawson’s. I was fortunate enough to get the chance to spend a lot of time with Tia. Together we painted, played quack diddi oso and just played around. Being with her for four days I got to see how sensible she is. A few days before we came Tia went home to her family and they really beat her up and sent her back to Annie Dawson’s Home looking blue. Also before we came she just got surgery on her stomach so she was not in school in order to let her stitches heal. Tia was so immersed in everything we did and she frequently got paint in her hair. Her energy was amazing and the fact that she could be so happy, so lively, so friendly and so open with us was truly remarkable given what she had been through jus a few days before we came.
Meet Briana. Brianna was between the ages of 12 and 13. She is another delightful, intelligent girl at Annie Dawson’s. As I painted the front of the house I asked Brianna what she learned in school. She told me that she learned about loving your neighbors. I was so amazed at how Jamaicans educate their children on how to treat each other, which is such a fundamental skill. Then I asked Brianna what she wants to be when she grows up, and her reply was
I want to be a teacher, I want to be the head of an orphanage, I want to fly airplanes to take people to their destinations. Also, I want to be the head of a community and I will own a community garden rake and allow everyone in my community to use the rake when they need it.
After listening to this little beauty I had no doubt that she was going places. There was no way that she couldn’t with all of those plans for her future. I loved how she wanted to do the things she was constantly surrounded by for instance: open an orphanage and educate others.
Later that day I found out that Brianna steals items and sells it to her classmates.
When she went to a psychologist she was asked to finish this statement “I will stop stealing when…”
Brianna finished the sentence by saying “When I have everything everyone else has.”
Meet Allison, I cannot remember her age completely she is between the ages of 8–11. Allison was born with no kneecaps and she uses a walker However, she doesn’t like to use it. Allison is vivacious, enthusiastic and tenacious. It was obvious that she was a very brave and determined girl. She did not let her illness stop her. While we were there she led the group all around the house when we played follow the leader and she even did 22 pushups with one of our volunteers. Allison even followed one of our volunteers around helping her paint. It was astounding how she did not let anything stop her and she was so strong willed and determined to prove that she was just like all the other girls. The thing is I never saw her as different she was just as beautiful, just as silly, entertaining and sweet as the other girls.
When we first met the girls they had to introduce themselves to us. When Allison came forward she looked nervous and she was playing with her shirt. It was a bit heart breaking to see her look that nervous because I wasn’t sure if she thought we wouldn’t be as friendly to her because of her illness. Nonetheless, she opened up to us and saw that we loved her just as much as all the other girls regardless of her disability.
Meet Abigail. Abigail she is between the ages of eight to ten years old. Abigail has sickle cell anemia disease, which causes her to be extremely thin. Abigail had her moments when she was extremely quiet and reserved, however when she came around she was a force. She played jail with us, quack diddly oso, and she was always hitting the boys in our group. She was pretty funny and all around adorable, energetic and tough.
Meet Lesiah. She was between the ages of ten to twelve years old. Lesiah was very intelligent, a sweet heart. She walked around calling me her mommy and it was honestly sweet yet heartbreaking.
Lastly meet Moya. Moya loves to take pictures, be wild, and she just has a whole lot of personality. She can be a lot to handle but she is precious and you certainly feel her presence. Her and Lesiah both reminded me of myself when I was younger.
At times they were not the most vocal bunch, but they were always willing to play. Yes they were aggressive at times, but it was all a part of their rough play and I didn’t mind it one bit because they were the ones who made the whole experience worth it. Annie Dawson’s girls were very respectful, when they came home from school to find us painting they would say “Good afternoon Aunty” or “Good afternoon Uncle” to the boys. Being called “Aunty Lisa” was actually very rewarding for me. Just calling us Aunty and Uncle showed not just the respect and appreciation that they had for us, but how accepting they were of us and how inviting they are: letting us in to their lives, into their family.
The most interesting thing about these girls is how they are still able to love, to play, to live and to laugh. I find myself wondering now, what is it that they think about themselves?
What do they mean when they tell us “You are my mommy.” Surely they know that we aren’t, but what do they think about the word “mommy” Could anyone of us ever fulfill that word? No because we would be leaving in a few days. What weight does that word carry to them? What is their understanding of it?
What are the secrets that they are carrying? Keeping locked in? What is their understanding of why they are at Annie Dawson’s?
Pardon my intrusive questions, but when I think of these children and all they have been through it hits me hard because no child should have to go through that. The fact that these angels are have gone through so much and may still be going through a lot but they can still be open, can still show love, can still be happy, can still be open to strangers and laugh an play with them makes me wonder HOW? How is it possible?
Paint on hands and paint in hair. Paint on braids, and on clothes, on lips and legs. My team and I painted the outside of Annie Dawson’s Home for Girls as well as the whole inside with the exception of 2 rooms. While this was an exhausting task, the girls helped me get through. Because of them I knew my purpose on this mission, I knew why I had to paint every room and the outside of the house. Because of them I wanted to paint every room and every corner outside and inside. Nothing is more satisfying than knowing that we accomplished what we came there to do: we painted the house and provided individualized attention to our angels.
Our mission on this trip was to provide personalized attention to girls in an orphanage and paint their home. That was the line that I continued to give to people when they asked me about what I would be doing in Jamaica. Little did I know how much these beautiful girls at Annie Dawson’s Home for Girls would impact my life. These children have gone through so much yet they continue to smile, laugh and enjoy life. Despite the adversities they have faced they were able to open their home, hearts and arms to us: eighteen unknown volunteers. Their ability to stay strong and appreciate all that life has to offer was an eye opener for me. They are such silly, funny and lovely children who don’t deserve all the misfortune that comes their way. However, I know that they will be able to rise above it because they have such beautiful souls.
I know that my team and I have made a lasting impact on these girls because they have done the same for us. It’s hard to be back home and not think about my babies back at Annie Dawson’s, but I know they are in good hands. I am happy I got to experience this with these 17 individuals: “My group, not my group, my team, not my team, my friends, not my friends, my family.” In the end, we did it all for those little children and we definitely made an impact on them because they certainly had a lasting impact on us.