Medical missionaries making people happy
From Monday, January 22 to Thursday, January 25, twenty-seven volunteers from the United States under the Jamaica Partners programme were in the island on a medical mission in parts of rural St Andrew, St Mary, and Portland.
This is the 30th year that the volunteers have been coming to Jamaica offering medical, dental and optical treatment to people who cannot or can hardly afford such.Over the four days, 403 children and 842 adults were attended to, while 3, 901 prescriptions and 992 pairs of glasses were given out.
On Friday, January 26, The Gleaner caught up with the group at Tapioca Village Retreat in Devon Pen, St Mary, where they stayed.
Gayle Evans, a paediatric nurse practitioner and the mission's medical director, has been coming on the mission for 23 years. She said Jamaica is like her second home and that she would continue to return until she cannot walk the rugged paths. It's definitely a calling ... I do believe the spirit of Christ is here with me when I am down here," she said.
Nurse Evans' husband, Dr Larry Evans, a dental surgeon and a long-standing medical missionary, is one of the coordinators of the mission. He said the important thing about the mission is partnership.
"The big thing to emphasise is partners. We, as doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and oral surgeons ... if we don't have the cooperation ... it will not work. Nothing works unless we are partners," Dr Evans said.
As to why he has been coming for 26 years, he said: "How can you not keep coming back? You see the smiles of the Jamaican people, you see the relief from the pain, you see the happiness of the children, you just want to help."
'It feels good to give back'
The Jamaica Partners medical mission started as a church project in 1989, organised by Reverend Forrest Haggard and Reverend Richmond Nelson who met at an international Disciples in Christ ministry in Jamaica.
They saw the plight of the residents of some rural communities and decided to help alleviate their suffering. The first mission consisted of about eight volunteers.
The programme is still run through Disciples of Christ/Community Christian Churches in Kansas City, Missouri in collaboration with the United Church in Jamaica. However, volunteers from other Christian denominations participate.
Gayle Evans, a paediatric nurse practitioner and the mission's medical director, said the money that is used to purchase medicines and supplies is from a particular benefactor, but her husband, dental surgeon Dr Larry Evans said there are also donations from private individuals, the Central Christian Church Foundation, a Rotary Club, and the Community Christian Church.
Yet, the volunteers pay for their own passage and accommodation. This time around they came from Kansas City, Indiana, Florida, Georgia, California and Arizona.
Veveene Richards, a Jamaican volunteer who lives in Florida, said her involvement is a way of giving back because "it feels good to give back".
"I like to volunteer, I like to help people," the home-care nurse who saved from her salary to make the mission told The Gleaner.
Another volunteer, 81-year-old Phillip Kubler, a retired mathematician who worked on the Apollo Space programme that sent two men to the moon in 1969, has been coming for three years, but is not sure he will be back next year. It is very fulfilling to volunteer, he said, but it is hard work.