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[[center]]by Jerry Jensen[[br /]]recounting my trip in August 2017[[/center]]


[[p]][[strong]]One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words - except when you are unwilling to take a picture[[/strong]].[[/p]]
[[p]]I had every intention of taking pictures of my trip to St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). After arriving, and seeing, and experiencing; I couldn’t. It just wasn’t right. It would be an invasion of privacy when people are most vulnerable and it would be a disregard of their pain. I can’t explain it well. Even the best 1000 words would not be adequate, but I just couldn't take a picture.[[/p]]
[[p]]Some things just need to be experienced and felt.[[/p]]
[[p]]Since I was unwilling to take a picture, here are a few thousand words. It’s the best I can do.[[/p]]
[[p]][[strong]]My Very First Shock[[/strong]][[/p]]
[[p]]I held my mother’s hand when she died. A sacred moment, a gentle moment, an extremely sad moment. I watched each breath, breath-by-breath, and then she stopped. Forever.[[/p]]
[[p]]I went to find the nurse and told her, “I think my mom died.” My unspoken plea was, “Please, tell me I’m wrong.” The nurse came to mom’s room to check and looked up at me. No words were needed.[[/p]]
[[p]]I’m not huggy with strangers, but when the nurse hugged me, I hugged back – hard. And I cried. And cried. I was in complete shock.[[/p]]
[[p]]Even then, I was surprised at the shock of it. My mom had recently been in intensive care, and when moved to her current room she assured me she was still receiving "critical care." That mom could die at any time was not new information. She had 20% lung capacity and had been living with a big green oxygen tank for years. Yet, when she died, I was shocked. Empty and shocked to the very core of my being.[[/p]]
[[p]]That’s the first time I encountered the difference between the shock of learning new information, and the shock of experience. Visiting St. Vincent was the second.[[/p]]
[[p]][[strong]]Visiting St. Vincent and the Grenadines[[/strong]][[/p]]
[[p]]I knew that St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) was a poverty-stricken country. I did the research to compute that 48% of the population lived on $2.72/day (or less).[[/p]]
[[p]]I knew what poverty was like through the experiences of my daughters who had visited Guatemala. Brianna had lived among the poorest of the poor for 1 ½ years volunteering for Common Hope. She then returned to Guatemala many times during the next five years while organizing Vision Team trips for Common Hope. I have an ache in my heart for her story of visiting the Guatemalan dump – and her dramatic telling of it as a place where people live. Some Guatemalan families live in the dump.[[/p]]
[[p]]I knew about poverty.[[/p]]
[[p]]I was picked up at the SVG airport by Bishop County and a wonderful missionary from Ireland, Fergal Redman. They drove me on narrow roads to the Pastoral Center – the Bishop’s home and diocesan offices. When I say narrow roads, I mean narrow roads as in “can two cars really fit here?” with an answer of “not always!”[[/p]]
[[p]]Every town has sections that are “run down” with buildings in need of repair and maintenance and, perhaps, a homeless person here and there. So, I expected this in Kingstown (the capital of SVG) but I also expected that we would get through this section of town soon. We didn’t. This was downtown.[[/p]]
[[p]]Along the way, Bishop and Fergal pointed out the sites. The Government Center and the Post Office, a bank, the Anglican Cathedral, the Catholic Cathedral and a few other buildings appeared to be sound structures and well kept. Bishop pointed out the hospital and the adjacent cemetery with the comment that too many people go in the front door of the hospital and out the back door to the cemetery. The hospital didn’t impress me as a place I would like to enter, much less a place to get health care. (Later I learned that this was the back of the hospital and it had a nice facade on the front. By the way, on Saturday the Bishop was informed that the hospital had run out of medicine, again.)[[/p]]
[[p]]On this first trip, I learned that there are no traffic lights in Kingstown. Instead, traffic police direct at some corners. Many people in SVG walk everywhere and pedestrians walk much closer to vehicles than seems safe to me. Although I'm an "older guy," I have a lot to look forward to and am afraid of a 1 ½ ton vehicle traveling in my direction at speeds that might put me in the front door of the hospital – or out the back. Vincentians don't seem to have this fear. Or, as I reflected during the days of my visit, maybe they don't feel that they have a lot to look forward to.[[/p]]
[[p]][[strong]]The Pastoral Centre[[/strong]][[/p]]
[[p]]We arrived at the Pastoral Centre – the Bishop's home and Chancery offices – where I would be staying on my visit. I was welcomed graciously and treated with the utmost kindness. Bishop County, Msgr. Mike, Desmond, Martin, Fergal, Pam, Carlita, Catherine, and so many other staff and guests took care of me and kept me safe from the edges of steep cliffs. I shall always remember those many kindnesses.[[/p]]
[[p]][[strong]]Tropical Storm Harvey[[/strong]][[/p]]
[[p]]Friday the island was hit by Tropical Storm Harvey – which was in a mild stage as it went through St. Vincent. There was no major damage, and no one was hurt. Nonetheless, the island was "closed" and our first meeting was postponed until Monday.[[/p]]
[[p]][[strong]]Visiting The Lewis Punnett Home – The Beginning of the Shock[[/strong]][[/p]]
[[p]]I knew about poverty. From this day forward is where I experienced the shock of poverty.[[/p]]
[[p]]On Saturday, Martin invited me to see a bit of the island and help with ministry at the government-run Lewis Punnett Nursing Home. Martin is a volunteer social service coordinator for the Catholic church. He's from Ireland and been in SVG for ten years.[[/p]]
[[p]]Ministry consisted of delivering biscuits (cookies), greeting folks (some who just stare back catatonically), singing some Christian "bible camp type" songs, and sharing a brief scripture and prayer.[[/p]]
[[p]]The Lewis Punnett Home, which is the only public geriatric facility, was created to house the indigent elderly. However, it is being overwhelmed with many young mentally and physically challenged, along with paraplegic persons, abandoned by their relatives. It is definitely not a Medicare-approved facility – and I wonder if there even is a national oversight group. If there is, they haven't visited this place for a couple of decades.[[/p]]
[[p]]There are two dorms – one for men and one for women. The dorms have a roof, walls, and unscreened openings to the outside that resemble windows and doors. Now, we had just experienced a tropical storm, so I'm hoping that all the water everywhere is due to this overwhelming event and not how it is after every rain. I have been drier in my tent while camping in the rain. I've been drier outside my tent when camping right after a rain.[[/p]]
[[p]]Each person has a bed. There are various bins (in various stages of falling apart) for keeping belongings. Some people choose to use the bins. The alternative is to pile up clothing – and I do mean pile, not to be confused with fold and stack neatly. Neat is not a word to use at this facility. Each person has about 8'x8' personal space in the dorm for their bed and possessions.[[/p]]
[[p]]The residents have various afflictions – blindness, amputations, mental health or cognitive issues. Seriously, I think I saw maybe one person with a full set of teeth. One gentleman crawled – not face down on hands and knees (like the natural baby crawling), but facing up and a bit more like dragging himself. Ansel (a volunteer who came with us) stopped one resident from throwing a boulder about the size of a cantaloupe for the second time at another resident (the first struck the resident with a loud thudding sound). A 2x4 was taken from a dismantled "couch" as a weapon, and Ansel again intervened with the Jesus prayer and a calming effect.[[/p]]
[[p]]I was not surprised that no staff person came to the rescue since I only saw one person (maybe two) resembling a staff person anywhere on site. And most frustrating of all (besides the despicable living conditions) – why was there a boulder like this on site in the first place? It certainly wasn't part of the landscaping (there was no landscaping except what the rain, the wind, and trampling feet provided.) Wouldn't someone have noticed that we have troubled people living here and that maybe we should take anything resembling a weapon off the premises?[[/p]]
[[p]]The reading and prayer were about love. One resident spoke softly, "Well, no one loves me." His facial expression didn't seem to change after the leaders addressed the meaning of love and sang "Jesus Loves Me This I know." (The theme of "no one loves me" came up numerous times during my interviews with social service care providers. A counselor shared the example of one client who told her "that language [love] doesn't work for me.")[[/p]]
[[p]]At another bedside, a resident led the reading and preached for us, much better than I've heard on many a Sunday. He should be ordained.[[/p]]
[[p]]Did I say that there were chickens and goats wandering everywhere and leaving behind "evidence" that they had been there? When I say everywhere, I mean everywhere.[[/p]]
[[p]]Originally, I resisted saying this but 1) it’s true and 2) I had recently updated my personal mission statement with the following: “... to speak up for the vulnerable and oppressed.” These residents are indeed vulnerable and oppressed, so here it is:[[/p]]
[[p]]In the USA, if dogs were living in similar conditions, the kennel would be shut down.[[/p]]
[[p]]I couldn't take it anymore. How can this happen? How can people be allowed to live like this? I had to let go, I came to help the children. I hoped they were treated better than the adults.[[/p]]
[[p]][[strong]]Driving the Streets of St. Vincent[[/strong]][[/p]]
[[p]]On a side note, there are about seven distinct cries that babies make signaling hunger, tiredness, over-stimulation, being scared, being physically hurt, needing a burp, and needing a cuddle.[[/p]]
[[p]]In SVG, there are two stoplights. They were used a number of years ago and are now permanently turned off. They have traffic police who direct traffic at some intersections (it provides a job and helps the economy). On sharp curves and the very narrow streets, drivers are on their own. Honking helps.[[/p]]
[[p]]People with vehicles honk their horns – a lot, all the time. So far I have discerned the honk meaning "hi," "go ahead," "thank you," and "I'm coming around a sharp curve in your direction." If there are seven distinct honks, I haven't figured them all out yet. I forgot to ask Martin or Fergal for a translation.[[/p]]
[[p]][[strong]]The Meetings and the Kids[[/strong]][[/p]]
[[p]]On Monday, I met with the Kingstown Diocesan Social Services Committee (DSSC) – a group of directors and board members from the agencies that Bishop County assembled for monthly connecting meetings. I have been so impressed by the hard work, caring attitude, and giving of self I saw in all the people I met.[[/p]]
[[p]]After hearing an overview of concerns and where the community needed help, during the next two days I visited each of the centers/homes. All the buildings were well-kept and maintained, the children clean and clothed. But as a few of the providers mentioned, "the basics of food and shelter are provided, but really nothing more." The homes are overcrowded and understaffed.[[/p]]
[[p]]The staff themselves are asking for help because they don't have the training needed to work with these abandoned, abused, and forgotten children. It seems to me they also don't have the emotional reserves. These are kids that take a lot of energy and the staff experience vicarious trauma from providing care for these traumatized kids.&nbsp;Pay is so low that many work two jobs adding to their own distress.[[/p]]
[[p]][[strong]]Guadalupe Home for Girls[[/strong]] is for victims of sexual abuse providing a home for twelve girls 12 – 19 years of age. Salene, the director, gave me a brief tour that was interrupted by three girls who had been having arguments throughout the morning. Typical, I am told. I observed the intervention which ended in a truce that didn't include reconciliation.[[/p]]
[[p]]While teens typically try to play one parent off against the other, these girls seem to play the orphanage home off against their birth home. I heard "I want to go home" as a manipulation – and I also sensed it as a more basic "I want to be loved."[[/p]]
[[p]]From this visit and others, I heard that there is an element of older men who prey on teens. The teens’ mothers turn a blind eye to the sexual abuse because the men provide food and clothing to the family. One person suggested there was a “rape-culture” here and gave examples I don’t want to repeat.[[/p]]
[[p]]En-route to my next destination, Salene pointed out different girls walking the streets and one-by-one stated, "She should be at our Home." I don't want to be judgmental, but they looked like "street walkers," so I thought Salene meant they were the kind of person who could benefit from services at the Home. Later, I understood that the girls who "should be" at the Home had left the Home by choice (or parent choice) rather than complete the program. Salene believed that the attention they got from their "boyfriends" was a powerful motivator.[[/p]]
[[p]]Since Guadalupe (and the other homes) reluctantly but willingly take placements, they get many referrals beyond those they are meant to serve. Government caseworkers, too, are overwhelmed and need placements for children. The people helping children in SVG are good people with loving and caring intentions. They can become overwhelmed and isolated while trying to do good without adequate resources, adequate numbers of staff, and the training needed for the enormous undertaking.[[/p]]
[[p]][[strong]]Marion Centre[[/strong]] is a walk-in counseling center. They also provide parenting programs, youth guidance programs, education, and offer a resource center. Marion Center has ten employees, two of whom are paid. Jeannie, the director, and her staff gave an overview.[[/p]]
[[p]]One of their many programs is to provide counseling to residents at each of the orphanages. The counselors feel overwhelmed by large numbers of clients and the increasing severity of client’s needs. They feel inadequately trained to help with the more serious cases such as suicide ideation, cutting, and violent behaviors.[[/p]]
[[p]]The centre is overwhelmed with referrals from the courts and ends up acting as quasi-probation officers (there are no probation offices in SVG). Marion Centre is serving more and more people from the criminal justice system, some of whom might better be in prison, but there is no room.[[/p]]
[[p]]As a way to visualize how all the institutions are being overwhelmed, I'll use the prison as an example. The prison was built to house 120. A few years ago there were 400 inmates. An additional jail was built so now there are 200-250 at each location (but still capacity is 120). Overcrowded + criminals = bad combination. I am not exaggerating when I say that all the systems are stretched past capacity like that.[[/p]]
[[p]]<a href="/https://changeforchildren.org/past-projects/st-vincent-bread-life/">[[strong]]Bread of Life[[/strong]]</a> was established for children with AIDS/HIV and underprivileged children. Currently, 3 of the 19 children have AIDS.[[/p]]
[[p]]Sr. Zita, foundress and director, told me some stories of children who had nowhere to go before they came to Bread of Life. They have nowhere to go after – so they remain. She told me of many difficult and painful experiences. At this point I am almost unable to listen to another story of a 3-year-old with AIDS crying, "I don't want to die!" But I am here to listen, so listen I did. Even though these were stories – not experiences in real time like some places I visited – I was almost to my breaking point.[[/p]]
[[p]]Then, as saving grace, it came to me that our visit must be like it was for people who sat with Mother Teresa. Truly a holy woman with truly unholy situations that lead staff to feel hopeless.&nbsp;Sr. Zita was the one who told the Bishop what everyone knew but didn't voice, "These children need psychological help!" She also intimated to me, in different words, that the staff could use a listening ear, too. I was amazed at the number of directors and staff people who opened up and shared their own stories of pain, loss, and hopelessness. Maybe I come across as a good listener. More likely, they are so full of pain that it easily comes to the surface.[[/p]]
[[p]]<a href="/http://www.stbenedictshome.org/">[[strong]]St. Benedict’s Children’s Home[[/strong]]</a> provides care for those who were sexually and physically abused, abandoned orphans, malnourished and mentally challenged children. Besides the people I met at the Pastoral Centre, this is the first place I remember seeing smiles. The mentally challenged kids were all smiles and hugs. A wonderful uplift from a couple of very difficult days – like an oasis of happiness in a desert of hopelessness and gloom.[[/p]]
[[p]]But then, back to reality. Like the other organizations, St. Benedict's takes all ages and ranges of challenge. In the USA, it isn't sensitive to use terms such as "wheelchair-bound," so instead we use "person who uses a wheelchair." I like that sensitivity and use of language. But language needs to reflect reality, and in St. Vincent the reality is truly "confined to a wheelchair" – anything else is not descriptive in the least. Most do not "use a wheelchair," someone else pushes it and they are confined to it.[[/p]]
[[p]]The older children who were confined to wheelchairs were not all smiles. Nor was the 26-year-old who had been there many years and would remain there all his life – he was in a modified wheelchair that was more of a "wheel platform." There was nowhere for him to go and little possibility of any meaningful work. After all, 48% of the general population make $2.72 a day or less, there is above 30% unemployment, and there are no sheltered employment workshops.[[/p]]
[[p]]I met Sonja and two other staff persons on the porch with the 12 – 15 kids. I was finishing up my visit and asked her if there was anything else anyone would like me to know, any other areas where they needed help. They looked at each other as if silently saying, "Should we tell him?" Then Sonja said, "Come here." She and another staff person led me into the house, down a hall, and into a narrow dimly lit corridor.[[/p]]
[[p]]At the end of the corridor, I could see what looked like a chain-link fence. It was a door - like a kennel door. Beyond the door was movement and grunting, and fearful noises which increased in intensity as we approached. I can only describe them as “animal noises.” I had heard about the boy in a cage, but I had thought it was figurative language.&nbsp;Wrong.[[/p]]
[[p]]The locked door was a chain-link fence and the rest of the room looked to be cinder block – no windows that I could see. The boy (about 11 or 12 years old) was becoming more agitated, so I stopped walking and in my most gentle Mr. Rogers (of Public Television) voice I said, "Hello. My name is Jerry." Maybe he had never seen a white person before and maybe my voice wasn't as gentle as I thought because his agitation increased along with the fearful/angry grunting sounds.[[/p]]
[[p]]"What's your name?", I said. His response was scampering, noises, and spitting. He spit at the staff person leading us down the corridor. I decided we had scared him enough.[[/p]]
[[p]]As we left, I asked, "Does he speak?"[[/p]]
[[p]]“Does he make happy noises?”[[/p]]
[[p]]Sonja paused and then said, "Yes." When I asked what they sounded like, she couldn't imitate the happy sounds. I guessed that she really meant "no."[[/p]]
[[p]]I don’t know the boy’s total history, but I will find out. Some if it has to do with beatings and being chained when he was under 3-years-old. I don’t remember if it was he or another boy who was lit on fire by his birth parents. When he came to the home, he raged and acted aggressive from time-to-time but he was small and the staff could physically control him. Now he’s bigger than some of them. The staff are good people, but they don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do – this is not a typical case. But I have some ideas. I know love, prayer, and patience have the power to heal.&nbsp;We need to help all the children, but I need to know we are doing something for this boy in the cage.[[/p]]
[[p]][[strong]]Enough Already[[/strong]][[/p]]
[[p]]The Diocesan Social Services Committee (DSSC) also mentioned that the children's Homes are only a part of the needs. Teachers in the four Catholic Schools were seeing more and more children facing difficulties.[[/p]]
[[p]]The Catholic School teachers had a professional development day with a marvelous presenter, Sr. Julie Marie Peters, M.S. who is the director of the Franciscan Institute for Personal &amp; Family Development in Trinidad. The topic was violence and dealing with traumatized children. Sr. Julie suggested, “We should treat the whole population as traumatized” and that these difficult children were “Holding a mirror to our face as to the condition of society.”[[/p]]
[[p]]We should treat the whole population as traumatized.&nbsp;Trauma evokes many behaviors and emotions. One behavior is violence and aggression (anger turned outward), another is depression and isolation (anger turned inward).[[/p]]
[[p]]We should treat the whole population as traumatized.[[/p]]
[[p]]We should treat the whole population as traumatized.[[/p]]
[[p]][[strong]]Veni, Sancte Spiritus[[/strong]][[/p]]
[[p]]I reported to the DSSC my initial observations and gave some ideas for ways to address the needs of the children of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I'll publish that here soon. I will send some implementation ideas to Bishop County this week. Once a course of action has been determined – we will proceed. We will need much help and many prayers.[[/p]]
[[p]]Creating Spirit to your people come,<br />Descend from Your eternal home;<br />And with transcendent grace,<br />Fill hearts that you have made.<br />Veni, Veni, Sancte Spiritus <span style="font-size: 8pt;">(from Veni, Sancte Spiritus by Michael Joncas)</span>[[/p]] 

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