Friday, February 24, 2012

Exeter-Milligan Graduate Works in Kingston Jamaica

Exeter-Milligan graduate Talisa Krejci knew she had chosen the right career when she recently took a mission trip to Jamaica to do occupational therapy.

Krejci, a graduate student at the College of St. Mary’s, is working toward her certification in occupational therapy and found this trip was the perfect opportunity to test her skills and gain some experience.

She and seven other occupational therapy students traveled to Kingston, Jamaica to work in five different shelters and an orphanage in the heart of the ghetto of Kingston. Their group was part of a mission trip to assist the work of the Missionaries of the Poor, a monastic order of Brothers.

Krejci heard about the trip, “It was always on my bucket list to leave the country and go do work for others and when I brought the opportunity up to my Dad he told me I couldn’t pass it up.”

She raised the money with donations from family and friends and prepared to leave the country for the first time. While in Jamaica their food and shelter was provided by the Missionaries of the Poor organization in the Kingston ghetto. Part of the experience was staying with at the monastery for part of the week and then with the sisters at the convent and eating a “lot of rice or noodles with a type of stew. It was hard to eat because they left the bones in the stew. They also served a lot of Achi, which is Jamaica's flower. You had to boil them to cook them. Hard to describe the taste! The weirdest thing I ate was rabbit.”

The students took along some of their occupational therapy equipment, such as splints and theraputty for hand exercises but, "It was hard to know what to bring the first time and where to even start. I would really like to go back and would know better what to bring. They always need diapers, clothes, and sandals."

Their primary focus was two women’s clinics, an AIDS clinic and an orphanage. “A lot of the things we did was to keep them clean and most comfortable. We helped brush teeth, wash hands and faces after meals, put lotion on and clip nails. We were able to help a lot of the kids who had tight muscles stretching the best that we could.”

Many of the children at the orphanage were disabled and were there because their families could not take care of them or felt that their disabilities were a disgrace to the family. “It broke your heart because they weren’t getting the help that they needed. There were fifteen-year-old boys in cribs because they couldn’t walk but if they got the therapy they needed they could walk. They do what they can for therapy but they just don’t have the resources. It’s frustrating,” explained Krejci.

The AIDS clinic was a personal challenge for Krejci as she had not been around any AIDS patients. The group spent some time at the clinic filling the patients weekly pill containers with the donated medications and interacted some with the patients, “It really got me out of my comfort zone to be around the patients and maintain my professionalism.”

For Krejci, that one week just wasn’t long enough but she knew it would be one of the last opportunities to get away as she approaches the end of her schooling. With a bachelor’s degree from Concordia she is in her second year at College of St. Mary and when her coursework is completed she will have six months of fieldwork before graduating in June of 2013.

“It felt like I was just getting started, I could easily stay there a month or two months. The first couple of days we were in shock. The most overwhelming thing was driving in Jamaica since they drive on the other side of the street and they are crazy drivers. They are constantly honking at each other but it is just to indicate who goes first, not that they are mad.”

One of the highlights for Krejci were the afternoons spent with some at the women's shelter where they danced every afternoon to gospel Caribbean music together. “It was just amazing seeing the smiles on their faces, and it was reassuring to see and realize that they know they are going to be alright because according to they lyric in one of the songs we danced to, ’Better days are coming.”

“I think about Kingston every day. Things have changed in my life, I’ve been given a different perspective about what is important in life and what isn't.”

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