Barbara Ellington, Lifestyle Editor
Father replaces a book on one of the wooden shelves he made for the library that forms part of the Holy Spirit complex in Maggotty, St Elizabeth. - Photo by Barbara Ellington
Polish priest Father Marek Bzinkowski is no stranger to challenges and for nine years, he has faced and overcome many in the tiny community of Maggotty, St Elizabeth. It's a far way from home but just after completing his previous missionary assignment in the Ukraine, he deliberately sought to find the right challenge. On a recent visit, Lifestyle spoke with the affable Father Marek about his journey in God's mission field and his vision for the Holy Spirit complex in St Elizabeth.
Just a few minutes from the police station, the 14-acre complex sits on a piece of land, of which the first portion was donated by Lucille Lee of Apple Valley Park and the rest, acquired by the church. After completing service in the Ukraine, Father Marek wanted a more challenging mission, like in Siberia or Cuba, but a friend suggested Jamaica.
Family unhappy at first
"I was told that Jamaica is beautiful, very close to Cuba and there would be challenging work there, so I decided to come. My family was not very happy with me going so far away but I had been away before," he said. He explained that as a teen in high school, he had studied technical subjects but felt the call to do the Lord's work. "I was challenged to serve and I have no regrets yet and hope never to have any. The Lord put me here (Maggotty) and He has a plan for me, so he sends wonderful people to help me," Father Marek said in reference to the six other persons (including sisters and a nurse) who run the facility.
And so, he settled down to build a complex of institutions to serve Maggotty, and what started as one building, has now grown into his residence, male and female dormitories, the church, clinic, library, homework centre, residence for the nuns, classrooms and a computer centre that was outfitted with 15 new computers by the NCB Foundation. The dormitories house students who come for summer camps and on some evenings, the teacher Marta, a volunteer for seven years, also conducts exercise classes at the facility.
In the long run, Father Marek plans to establish a sausage factory to manufacture the item for sale. Why sausage? His homeland Poland is famous for it and each household dedicates at least one day of each year to make sausages. He would also like to build a proper community centre, as well as expand the farm on which ackee and June plum trees have been planted.
So far, education has become the primary focus of Father Marek's work in Maggotty. Holy Spirit Catholic Church sends at least 100 children to school, from basic to high, and parents assist by doing jobs at the complex such as working on the farm. When the computer centre was built over six years ago, it was outfitted by used computers donated by United States based organisations. Marta explained that being old, they presented problems and had reached a point beyond which further upgrades or repairs could be made; she said that many days they had to pray that the machines would start.
"We discovered NCB Foundation on the Internet and decided to write to them. One of our missionaries visiting from overseas wrote the proposal and they responded quickly," Father Marek said. Now that there are 15 newly outfitted computer stations with the latest software, students come from as far away as Mandeville, Spur Tree and Santa Cruz for classes and there is a waiting list 'til the end of the year.
"We are hoping to get Internet access very quickly so that we can be certified by the HEART (Human Employment and Resource Training)," Marta said. But already, the feedback from students, particularly the adults 18-55, is good. They told Lifestyle that compared to what they had learnt elsewhere, the classes at Holy Spirit were good.
Corporal Andrew Grant is stationed at Maggotty Police Station and tried to find a class in the past but the hours clashed with his schedule. "I can now come to classes on my days off or off-duty hours. I had never typed before starting classes last month (January). Since then, I have accomplished a lot. When my children began asking for a computer, I decided it was time to learn. Plus, in my job, we have to communicate daily with several agencies, so this is very good for me."
Sgt. Mary Anderson had also tried in the past to take computer courses but like her coworker, the hours clashed with her duties at work. She was recently sent on a course and had to do a power-point presentation. "I was at sea because I couldn't do it and had to ask someone to help. Since this class started last month, I can now do one by myself and I am even writing my reports on the computer and attend classes during the days when I am on night duty," she said proudly.
Marta revealed that the courses are making a difference and over the years, many have returned or just stopped her in the community to let her know how they have progressed. The new computers will increase the numbers they can reach and many more will be able to pick up jobs in hotels and elsewhere.
This is the dream of Susan Samuels who now cooks and sells lunches for a living. She told Lifestyle that since her relationship ended, she now has to care for her children alone, so she wants a more marketable skill that will equip her for a job in sales or other office positions.
The Holy Spirit complex is operated by grants from various sources overseas, donations and charities. The Japanese government assisted with some of the building but Father Marek said getting funds is hard. The clinic is one of the greatest areas of financial need because medication runs close to US$5000 monthly and the fees paid by clients is never enough to cover expenses. "Sometimes, we have to do home visits depending on the illness," he said. In the long run, Father Marek wants to see a clinic with a facility for rehabilitation. And the library needs a printer and its own computer.
Father with Marta Sotha who teaches students at the Holy Spirit Computer Centre to which the NCB Foundation donated 15 new computers last year.
Students in the adult class are now learning computer skills (from top left of picture) Zara Facey, Christine Facey, Susan Samuels and Tashana James. The class can accommodate 15 students.
Holy Spirit Catholic Church located in Maggotty, St Elizabeth, and the clinic that caters to over 200 residents of the community every week.