Volume 12 Week 5

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(Posted 4:30 p.m., March 21)
Garneau students return from eye-opening trip to Jamaica

By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Jeun'Espoir Jamaique leader André Clermont poses with the recipient of one of the two homes the group built during the March Break. Photo supplied

For the past 11 years a group of students from Garneau high school in Orléans have spent their March Break doing humanitarian work in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Jamaica under the banner of Jeun'Espoir Jamaique.

This year's group of teen missionaries included seven Grade 11 students and three Grade 12 students. All but one of the participants was female. During a six day period they built two small homes, each for a local senior, visited a home for the aged, an orphanage and a local school. They brought with them energy and youthful enthusiasm and brought home a sense of what is truly important in life and a deeper appreciation for the blessings they have.

"I was blown away by how open and friendly everyone was. It was completely opposite to here," says Isabeau Morin, 16. "They are so happy and they have almost nothing. Here people have everything and they are still unhappy. It's all about getting the latest app."

As in past years, the Jeun'Espoir group stayed at a local Franciscan monastery near Trenchtown. Each day started at 7 a.m. and ended at just after 5 p.m. The group was separated into three smaller groups so that at any one time they were in three different locations. At the end of the day, they ate supper together and then had a group discussion about what they had done and seen.

Despite seeing hundreds of photos from previous trips and talking to past Jeun'Espoir participants, nothing could quite compare this year's group of young people for the bombardment on their senses that awaited them in the streets of Kingston.

"The sights, the sounds, the smells. Poverty everywhere. It was almost overwhelming at first, especially the smells," says Greg Garber. "There's an overwhelming smell of burning trash, exhaust from all the cars and trucks, dogs and people doing whatever when nature calls... it was hard to get used to."

The most rewarding part of the trip for both students was completing the small homes the group built for two eldely women, one of whom was a double amputee.

One moment Greg will always remember is when they got to hand out several soccer balls to some of the local children.

"About 40 or 50 kids showed up because they wanted to be one of the lucky ones in the neighbourhood to get a ball. They were so happy. They were just beaming and you knew they were going to get overused," says Greg.

The group took one day off for a side trip to Ocho Rios which is a popular tourist destination.

"It was a total shock on the system after spending so many days in Kingston, but I'm glad we went because it showed there was more to Jamaica than just the poverty we experienced in the capital," says Isabeau.

Despite the long days and hard work, the week passed far too quickly and before they knew it they were back in Ottawa, trying to process what they had just experienced and put it all into some kind of perspective.

"It made me grateful for everything I have, but at the same time I realize that I don't deserve it anymore than they do. I was just lucky to be born into it. It's just a huge injustice and it's hard to process," says Isabeau, who wants to return to Jamaica when she gets older.

The logistical mastermind behind Jeun'Espoir Jamaique is teacher André Clermont who took over the group in 2001. His wife Michele is also very much involved with the group, as is his 73-year-old mother Mimi who has become somewhat of a celebrity in the intercity neighbourhoods of Kingston.

Clermont first invited his mother to come with the group shortly after his father passed away several years ago. She enjoyed the trip so much she took her involvement to an entirely different level and now spends about two months a year there.

"She absolutely loves it," says Clermont. "She's like a little dynamo."

Well over 100 students have been involved with Jeun'Espoir Jamaique over the years. Many past participants have gone to study social sciences and start careers in government aid agencies and NGOs. This spring, prospective members will get to watch a slide show and listen to an oral presentation delivered by the group's newest graduates and the circle will continue.

Students with Jeun'Espoir Jamaique have been spending their March Break doing humanitarian work in the island country's capital for over 10 years now. Photo supplied

(This story was made possible thanks to their generous support of our local business partners.)

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Posted Jan. 12

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