Misericordia Guyana Service Trip 2014
Sunday, June 15, 2014 10 p.m.
Maureen Romanow Pascal, PT, DPT, NCS, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy
This is the eighth time I have been lucky enough to visit Guyana. When someone asks why I have wanted to return, I always say, “The people.”
Since the first time I came here about 10 years ago, I have met an extraordinary number of wonderful people, especially the Sisters of Mercy.
A big part of this trip is about being present to all sorts of people: staff at the places we visit, the children and adults we meet in the different ministry sites, and even sometimes people we meet casually in a public place.
I feel like I’ve done this part of my job if someone seems to have the feeling I’ve listened to them and care about their concerns. Everyone has their own story. The willingness to tell one’s story, and the time to sit and listen to it, is something we don’t always get to experience enough in the U.S., and I guess that is what I really love about coming here: the gift of time to be present to others.
At St. Paul’s Retreat Center where we are staying, there are some full-time residents who rent rooms at a reasonable price. One is a single mom with a 3-year old and one on the way. She lives in one room, and has a shared bathroom and kitchen. She was recently dismissed from her job due to her pregnancy.
Many of the staff here have shared their stories too – about health, family and each other. Gossip is alive and well. On Thursday of our second week, a ward assistant at Mercy Hospital wanted to talk to me about his job, and figuring out how to improve his skills and get the acknowledgement he deserves for all the extra duties he performs.
I also got to talk to Sr. Lionise, a Missionary of Charity who lost her dear friend Sr. Josita to illness earlier this year. It was a talk filled with tears, compassion, and sadness. A talk to tell the story again.
I know that the biggest reason I get to hear these stories is because I have the time to listen. Another factor is that my name and face has become familiar to many of the people at our ministry sites here. Many of them are now friends and like family you get to visit once every year or two.
One the final morning of our trip, I had the chance to hear a new story, from a new family member. Jamal recently started living at St. Paul’s Retreat Center. I first met him the day I was looking for my friend who is pregnant. Someone else there informed me Jamal can’t speak English, but he can speak Spanish and French. I know a little of both, and we had a nice conversation in French, just exchanging pleasantries.
Then I found out Jamal was helping out at the retreat center. We have a tradition of tipping the staff on our last day. When I gave Jamal his tip, he asked me in French if I had five minutes to sit and talk. He told me that the staff only prepares food when there are guests. Since we were leaving, and there would be no guests for a few days, that meant no food. He told me prayed to God that morning, asking for a way to get food until the next guests arrived. Then he told me our tip was the answer to his prayers.
Jamal went on to tell me that he fled Morocco during the Arab Spring. He worked at a university there, as a professor in the languages department. Now he does extra jobs at the retreat center, and can’t even speak the main language of the country. He wasn’t complaining, but I could see the pain in his face. Then he told me that this morning he didn’t pray to God; he prayed to Allah. I asked him if he was a Muslim, and he said, “Oui,” and then quickly added, “L’Islam est une religion de paix.” Islam is a religion of peace. We had a short discussion about how both Christianity and Islam should be about peace, but it hasn’t always worked out that way.
Maybe if we all had a little more time to listen to each other’s stories more often, there would be a little more peace a little more often, too.
Photo caption: The Misericordia visitors listen as Candacy Sampson, a 19-year-old developmentally disabled patient of the Ptolemy Reid Rehabilitation Center in Georgetown, Guyana, sings for them a song about accepting those with disabilities. The lyrics included the lines, “Respect those with disabilities, together we will achieve,” and “Everyone should agree, there’s a place for me in society.” Partially funded by the Guyanese government, the Center is home to the National Orthotic and Appliance Workshop for prosthetics and hearing aids and provides comprehensive programs in rehabilitation for children with various types of physical and other developmental disabilities.
Additional photos at: Flickr.com/misericordiau