April 12, 2013

Jamaica Mission focuses on housing, medical care, children


---- — PERU — The Peru Community Church Jamaica Mission focuses on essentials for its annual trip to the Caribbean, but this year, the volunteers also brought along some more fanciful items.

New Hope Children’s Home had requested costumes for the kiddies — they wanted to be superheroes.

“They are really starved for that imaginary play,” said Harriet Burrell, who chairs the Jamaica Mission with her husband, George.

About 25 children, from newborns up to age 6, are under the care of Amanda Williams, a native Californian who has run the center for about 28 years. 

”She came to Jamaica as a young woman and never left,” Mrs. Burrell said in a phone interview. “To support herself, she babysat. Pretty soon, people were asking her to take their babies” to raise.

Some at the Children’s Home are orphans; others were taken there by parents who could not afford to feed them. Many have disabilities.

“Visiting is heart-wrenching,” Jamaica Mission volunteer Donna Scott of Plattsburgh said, reminiscing at the Peru Church Fellowship Center recently. 

“You’re ambivalent in the sense that you feel so bad for them but you can see how they love this woman who cares for them. 

”And you can see that they are very loving children.”


The mission came of a windy autumn afternoon 14 years ago, when Jamaican Roy Jones climbed a ladder and reached up to try to pick a perfect apple at a Peru orchard. 

He fell and was left paraplegic by his injuries.

Between that accident and the present are many stories.

The Peru Community Church’s annual Jamaica Mission began with efforts to help that injured worker 14 years ago. 

Roy was returning to a house that was not handicapped-accessible.

”A lot of people here knew him, and some of us went down to Jamaica to help,” said Mr. Burrell.

“We did some projects to make his home handicapped-accessible, and we did some other projects while we were there.”

Years ago, the mission group repaired the galvanized roof on the house.

But hurricanes and the salty air caused deterioration, and last year, volunteers fixed part of it. This year, with no time to finish the job, they provided the money for Roy to hire someone to complete the project.

They also visited with him and his wife for a day.

”He is doing extremely well,” Mrs. Burrell said.


Also on the mission trip in January, the group of about 20 volunteers helped out at the Children’s Home and a preschool and staffed a medical clinic.

And, as the missionaries do every year, they built a small house for a needy family.

Maureen Powers, a woman of about 50, lived with her her 87-year-old mother and 18-year-old daughter, Kimberly, in a two-car garage on a property up for foreclosure.

Maureen, whose mother has dementia, works about two days a week, bringing in $20 a day.

”That would just cover the rent,” Mrs. Burrell said. “There was no money for food; they were living off the kindness of neighbors and friends.”

But a relative gifted her enough land for a house, and with donations paying for materials (including $300 from Sunrise Rotary in Plattsburgh), the mission got to work.

The volunteers almost completed the 25-foot-square home before leaving Jamaica, and a local carpenter who had helped from the start was charged with installing doors, finishing the roof and other work.

”Within a week, they had it completely done,” Mrs. Burrell reported.

Working on such projects in Jamaica, Mr. Burrell said, “we see the contrast of the real people from what the tourists see.”

Sunrise Rotary also gave $300 — with a $300 match from Peru Church members — to the Children’s Home to sponsor two children for a year.


Scott, a retired nurse, also worked with retired dermatologist Dr. Euclid Jones of Peru to run a medical clinic during the mission. 

It brought back memories of her first trip with the group, when she hadn’t known what to expect. 

Although “there are routine things that you always do in a physician’s office in the States,” they didn’t always apply at a clinic in Jamaica, Scott said. 

“One day, we had the patients’ charts; one day, we just had a huge logbook,” she said. “And finding equipment was quite a challenge.”

“I’ve been there about 10 times now,” Dr. Jones said at the Fellowship Center, “and this time, I worked with approximately 20 patients a day.”

He noted a major difference from the past. 

On previous trips, he said, “we got free prescription drugs from the pharmaceutical companies — free samples that we could give out.” 

Pharmaceutical firms “don’t seem to be giving out as many samples,” Mrs. Burrell said.

So mission members bought more than $600 of medications wholesale.


That meant focusing on the essentials. 

“I took antibiotics, antifungals and antihistamines,” Dr. Jones said. “But without having samples to give them, I’m sure people weren’t getting the prescriptions I gave them for chronic conditions.” 

Impoverished patients couldn’t afford to get them filled, he said.

“You can give them a little medicine, but you can’t do more than give them enough for a few weeks,” Scott concurred. 

Volunteers were left to wonder what would happen to patients with chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, who could not afford a continued supply of medicine.

One experience that Dr. Jones appreciated about this year’s mission was his first trip to the New Hope Children’s Home. 

“I’d never been there before, because I’d always been working the clinic full time.” 

The experience left him filled with appreciation for the work Williams does. She truly cares, he observed, and the children who live there are happy and well cared for.

”All of the children had some problems, whether birth defects, failure to thrive,” Dr. Jones said. Even so, he said, it amazed him “that her success rate in placing them was about 80 percent.”

— News Editor Suzanne Moore contributed to this report



The Peru Community Church Jamaica Mission travels to Jamaica every January to help the poor there.

Donations are welcome anytime to assist with the cost of building materials for the small home the group builds each year. And it costs $300 a year to sponsor a child at the New Hope Children's Home, so donations are welcome for that purpose as well in any denomination.

Checks, made out to Peru Community Church and with the notation of Jamaica Mission or New Hope Children's Home, may be mailed to the church at P.O. Box 38, Peru, NY 12972.