by Sebastian Skarba
For our group, the Jamaica Magis journey started in late June, when we all received the long anticipated email stating that we made it through the application and interview process. When we returned to campus for the fall semester, we started our weekly Monday meetings. We participated in different exercises to build close relationships with each other, since we would be spending two weeks together in another country over Christmas break. Our group meetings usually consisted of everyone talking about their highs and lows for the week, as well as performing the Examen.
Our group leaders also tasked us with “Magis dates,” in which we would be paired with another group member in order to get to know them. We were also split up into groups to present on various topics concerning Jamaican life and culture. All of these exercises provided us with some information about what our trip would be like, but I believe that I can speak for everyone when I say that it was not possible to prepare for the amazing experience we shared together.
Once we arrived in Jamaica, we were completely immersed in life in Kingston. We mainly served as teaching assistants at the Holy Family Primary School, which Fr. Michael Davidson attended in his childhood. Many of the people that we met in Kingston were impoverished regarding material goods, but they were blessed with a loving and genuine attitude that was difficult to rival. Our days usually consisted of going to the school in the morning, going to various Mustard Seed communities or other service communities, and hearing from some speakers in the afternoon, along with nightly group reflection. Although we were all exhausted by the end of each day, it was common to see everyone engaging in wonderful conversation at nighttime about the day’s happenings.
The children that we met at the Holy Family Primary School showed us true unconditional love without receiving anything in return. Our visit to the Missionaries of Charity allowed us to speak with the elderly, and some of them even shared with us their life stories despite barely knowing us. In addition, we met with young boys who had contracted HIV and, despite that, had more spirit and happiness than the average child from a different country.
One of the lasting questions that we had tried to answer was how to bring all of what we had experienced back home with us. It was heartbreaking to see that there were so many ways to help, yet so little time. The love and connection that we shared with everyone we met—as well as with each other—was something that we will all cherish for the rest of our lives. We truly felt included in the children’s lives at the school, and we were even called “Aunties” and “Uncles.”
During one of our nightly reflections, one of the group members commented that the trip made it truly easy for all of us to be our ideal selves. We were so accepting, loving, and present in everything we did that it was a challenge to return to life in the United States. It was definitely a change to return to campus and sit in a classroom without constant requests of “Can you sharpen my pencil?” and the like. In realizing this, we all saw that we have so much for which to be thankful. Although we were not able to bring the people of Kingston out of their under-resourced situation, we were able to fill their lives and our own with joy and gratitude for the beauty of life. We were all able to experience love in its simplest form and learn a little bit more about what it genuinely means to feel alive.