Group of 11 Siena Heights University Faculty, Staff and Students Visit St. John Bosco School
A group of 11 Siena Heights faculty, staff and students made a service trip to Jamaica to help St. John Bosco School. To view a photo album of their trip, please click on the photo above.
By SHU Faculty Member and Mercy Sister Pat Schnapp
To an outsider, St. John Bosco School, up in the mountains of central Jamaica, can seem not only austere, but forbidding. Rachel Duff-Anderson, Siena Heights University’s director of First Year Experience, along with SHU faculty member and Mercy Sister Pat Schnapp, organized a recent service trip there for 11 students and staff.
Duff-Anderson remembers especially the boys’ morning rituals. In a tiny auditorium at 9 a.m., after breakfast, chores and showers, 160 boys gathered each morning for prayers and hymns before starting their classes. All the boys stood in straight lines, and all were in uniform — khaki shorts and plain t-shirts.
“I wonder,” Duff-Anderson reflects, “how many of the boys had structure in their worlds prior to Bosco.”
To her first-world eyes, she says, it would be easy to judge the regimentation as too harsh, with pokes and stern words from the Jamaican teachers for any boys who wiggled, slumped or stepped out of line. It seemed like a military boot camp for youth. Duff-Anderson was moved, however, by the boys’ harmonious conclusion to their prayers: “Good morning, teachers and classmates and friends.” This greeting signified for her a sense of community at the school often missing in other groups of students.
Mercy Sister Susan Frazer, a friend of Sister Pat, has been administrator of Bosco for 30 years. Most of the boys are brought to the school by the courts, and all have histories of abuse, neglect or delinquency.
“This is their last stop before prison,” she states bluntly, as she emphasizes the need for the boys to develop both self-discipline and sufficient job skills to find work once they leave — usually at 17 or 18.
To this end, they attend school and, in their later teens, have the opportunity to learn the skills of cooking, baking, butchering and catering. A sister-school in Kingston expands their skill options to include carpentry, music and bookbinding. Many Bosco boys get jobs when they leave in Jamaican resort areas or on cruise ships.
Sister Pat notes that the 9-day trip provides both an immersion experience in a different culture and an opportunity to be of service in a concrete way.
“It’s a win-win,” she says, “and we always get much more than we give.”
Adam Deline of Adrian, Mich., a Siena Heights senior, is one of the students who helped tear down a greenhouse struck by a recent hurricane and moved heavy equipment from a corrugated zinc shed on the compound.
“I’ve never done so much physical work in my life,” he says. But the trip made him realize how good his own life is. “I can’t even imagine the experiences some of the boys have had,” he says, “but looking at their faces, you could never tell.” He concludes, “I will never forget this trip. It was truly life-changing.”
Along with pounding, sawing and painting outside walls of several buildings, some of the Siena students tutored during school hours. All of them organized and played games with the boys, especially soccer, during their after-school break.
Jessica Dehn, a junior, says she learned about more than just St. John Bosco School while in Jamaica.
“We also learned a lot about ourselves and one another,” she says. Calling the trip “an experience of a lifetime,” Dehn adds she is grateful to have been a part of it. It was hard to leave her home, she admits, but “even harder to leave the boys” at the trip’s end.
Would she return? “In a heartbeat.”
Duff-Anderson echoed that sentiment in one of the nightly reflections, each led by a student. These gave everyone a chance to help process the experience.
“In a real sense,” she commented, “this is a trip that never ends.”
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