“We are all one family”

A 2014 grad reflects on his service through the Jamaican Experience

By Dan McMahon, '14  |  Photos courtesy of Dan McMahon

Left to right, Stephen Fleischer, ’14, Matt Radford, ’16, Jummie Moses, ’16, Dan McMahon, ’14, and Ashley Margraf, ’14, take a quick break from building a home for a needy family in a town named Porus.

As Americans we see poverty abroad depicted in the same fashion over and over again. Images on the news show malnourished individuals, usually of color, milling around squalid, make-shift homes looking sad and in need of help.

The Jamaican Experience was the first time I had a personal glimpse into this type of poverty, although I found it to differ greatly from the images we are presented in the media. Being exposed to this level of material poverty contributed to my growth as a person. It provided a new perspective on how much of the world’s population lives in similar conditions to those found in rural Jamaica, as well as how easy it is for me to take everyday amenities, such as running water and access to healthy food, for granted.

The experiences we had provided an incredible insight as to what I valued seeing in other people performing service: I was transformed by the strength I saw in young men of John Bosco as they attempted to navigate the world despite the lack of a traditional childhood; I was inspired by the work of the nuns and priests associated with the Diocese of Mandeville; I grew from seeing the selfless giving of Rannie and other construction workers throughout the week; I smiled when I saw the loving embraces given by the caretakers at Mustard Seed to the children in their care.

Seeking Direction

My relationship with God in the past several months has been a distant one. Numerous times I have attempted to discern my future following graduation seeking God’s guidance, yet I felt that I had no direction from Him. Before Jamaica I was potentially considering performing post-grad service, however I did not given myself the time to determine whether my hesitation to it originated from a lack of being called or my own desires of starting my career as quickly as possible.

Although I acknowledge that God was working through our group in Jamaica, I felt more connected to how God was working through the people that we encountered.  I remember in particular the woman at Mass who spoke during intercessions. She gave a beautiful, albeit long-winded, soliloquy expressing her prayers for the new year, throughout which she never failed to thank God for how she had been blessed.

I saw God in her expressions of thanksgiving, and I hope to one day have a faith as strong as hers.

A Personal Struggle

As I reflect on Jamaica, an image that frequently comes to mind was the first home we visited on our first full day. We met three beautiful and shy little girls who lived on a small plot of land with their mothers, grandfather, and other family members. Somehow, their residence held a total of 26 people in the two small homes.

I will always remember the way I felt when I gave them their bag of food staples. I felt absolutely horrible because even though giving them food was—at a very basic level—an intrinsically good action, I could not help but feel as if I were acting as the white, American male savior who flew to Jamaica because I pitied them.

What made me most uncomfortable is that when I reflected how I felt, I truly did pity them. This is a process with which I will continue to struggle, but I have realized that these people do not need my pity. Indeed, they might need help from time to time to make ends meet and go to bed fully nourished, but serving others necessitates starting off on an equal level.

Instead, I have realized that it would be more appropriate to stand in solidarity with this family.

All One Family

Solidarity is an interesting concept. As John Paul II stated, “we are all one family in the world.” If someone in my family were materially poor to the extent of many of the people we saw in Jamaica, my reaction would be one of solidarity rather than pity. Of course, I would feel bad for them, but the sentiment of pity necessitates feeling superior to another person. Before Jamaica, I felt pity for many of the people I saw depicted in the pictures I saw and the stories we read.

However, I did not realize how this pity was informed from the experience of a comparatively very privileged, white, American male perception. I looked upon their situation with pity because I knew that I knew a better life, and that I was, naturally, happier than they were.

McMahon clips the fingernails of an elderly resident at the Missionaries of Charities Home in Balaclava.

Having now come to understand solidarity to a greater extent, I do not pity the people of Jamaica. Of course the plight of the lack of resources that many Jamaicans face is heartbreaking, but they do not need my pity. Instead, I can only hope to work in solidarity with them to help provide the things they need, while I learn from them how happiness is not truly correlated with material possessions.

This has been a truly moving experience. Before coming on the Jamaican Experience, I had not seriously considered a period of service post-graduation. In my last semester of my senior year, I reapplied to go back to Jamaica in June for one year of service, and I am serving there now.

Jamaica was like a bow on the present of my Loyola education. It pulled together my experiences of Catholic social teaching, Jesuit ideals, a commitment to service, and what I have learned in many of the classes for my Global Studies and economics areas of study regarding distribution of wealth and resources.

Although it is impossible, I wish the Jamaican Experience were a requirement for graduation, because a large number of students would greatly benefit from the perspective that the Jamaican Experience gives.

Dan McMahon, ’14, participated in the Jamaican Experience in January 2014. He has returned to Jamaica for a year of service with the Passionist Volunteers International, working at many of the same sites. He is looking forward to seeing the Loyola group when they come to Mandeville in January for the 2015 Jamaican Experience.

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