PERU — As Peru Community Church prepares for its 15th-annual Jamaica Mission, Co-Coordinator Harriet Burrell looks back on the changes she has seen during her years of visiting the island nation.
“They’ve gone from bad to desperate,” she said of the poverty-stricken conditions in Jamaica’s interior.
“At the same time, the Jamaican people are the most hopeful people I’ve known.”
The mission has focused on the town of Mandeville and the surrounding area — too far from the coast to see income from tourism.
Its only industry consisted of bauxite mines that closed down five years ago, Burrell said.
At first, the closure was believed to be temporary, she recalled.
“People were saying, ‘When the mines reopen ...’ Now, they feel that the mines will never reopen.
“That kind of hopelessness is hard to see,” she said.
Such feelings are contrasted, however, by what she sees as the hopeful spirit of the Jamaican people.
“They have a deep faith that things will be taken care of. It’s a lesson to us.”
This year’s Jamaica Mission trip, with a group of nine volunteers, sets out on Saturday, Jan. 11. Two participants hail from Connecticut, but the rest are from the North Country.
“Other years, we’ve had people from all over the country, but this year it’s more local,” said Burrell, who heads the mission with her husband, George.
Since five of the nine people on the mission this time are skilled builders, once again, a building project will definitely be on the agenda. And that will require a difficult choice.
The mission relies upon Ridgemount United Church in Mandeville to narrow down possible applicants, and three have been selected.
The Peru Church’s own advance group — this year, Dee Doolittle and Hank Horn — will scope out sites for safety and determine who has the greatest need.