Working in Jamaica
Four Square Gospel Church Repairs
Our service work exposed a significant difference in the way Jamaican society operates. Jason and Mr. Melbourne (a church board member), were appointed project co-leaders for the repairs to the Four Square Gospel Church in Hagley Gap. It had suffered minor cracks from an earthquake and needed repainting.
Working side by side with the locals, singing and chatting while we worked, we got a lot accomplished. But it wasn't organized the way it would have been in America. The paint started going on the walls immediately, without covering the floor or windows. This frustrated Jason. He wanted to do things the way he was used to. "After we finished painting, everyone started to do the puttying and plastering," he complained. "I personally feel that we wasted a lot of time, because they repainted everything after we left."
At one point the roller extension pole broke. Without a spare, and the nearest store over two hours away, Jason was sure we couldn't continue. But one of the local people surprised him by simply going outside, cutting a suitable branch and fashioning a replacement.
The Jamaicans are ingenious at creating something out of nothing, like making toy cars out of milk cartons and bottle caps. They are remarkably able to work with what they have, instead of going without because they can't buy what they need. Our amazement at this ability just indicates how much our own culture has lost touch with this everyday resourcefulness.
We often walked a path through the backyards as we made our way up the hill to the church in the town square. We stayed in the community center by the river. At first we viewed the walk simply as good exercise, not realizing it revealed a fundamental difference in the pace of Jamaican life. Over the crowing of a rooster or baying of a goat people would call out, "How ya be today," or, "God brang us a wonderful day he did!" We often stopped to chat for a few minutes and discovered the walking as a process. Instead of passing right by it all, as we usually do at home in our cars, we could slow down, look around and enjoy the journey. It took a few days, but we learned from the Jamaicans that it is just as important, if not more so, to be with each other--to have the human connection--than to hurry blindly towards our destination.
The community of Hagley Gap asked if we could bring a dentist along on this trip. Isolated by distance and lack of transportation, most villagers hadn't seen one in over two years. Dr. Herb Smith, from Oakland, gladly volunteered his services for a week and this turned out to be the most important single contribution we made there.
Our first morning there, Dr. Herb walked up the hill to his new clinic, the minister's office in the back of the church. The room was cramped--not more than eight feet square--with one small table for all the tools. A wooden church bench was brought in for the patients to lie on. Our teens took turns being dental assistants, and the first thing Eboni-Starr and Anna learned was how to load syringes with Novocaine. They were thrilled. It was a wonderful learning experience, a chance to really help, and a big responsibility.
Soon there was a line of patients out the back door of the church. The first one came in and lay down on the hard bench. Anna held a flashlight for illumination while Eboni-Starr held the patients hand. Jason stood ready with the instruments and Dr. Herb began. He took the opportunity to teach the teens about dental hygiene with every patient, explaining the cause of each problem and its treatment. He encouraged his assistants to take an active part in the work, instructing them in all its phases.
Eventually Anna got up the courage to use the parasitical, under the dentist's supervision, to cut the gum around one woman's tooth. For Anna this was fantastic. Being "the dentist" delighted her. Dr. Herb helped her with the forceps and she pulled four teeth, wadded up some gauze and instructed the patient to bite down. Anna felt great and was dubbed "Dr. Strand."
Because of extensive cavities due to the high sugar content in the local diet and the lack of a regular dentist for follow-up care, pulling teeth was the most feasible option. Dr. Herb was really glad his young assistants caught on so quickly, because they were able to pull almost 150 teeth during the five days the makeshift clinic was open.