LOS ANGELES, March 17, 2014 – I am constantly reminded of the awesome learning experiences that come with setting foot on new soil time and time again. But one particular journey in the summer of 2012 was more than just a trip. In fact, it changed my life.
That year a group of young African-Americans packed themselves into a van in the middle of the night, unsure of what they would find in the day ahead of them. Their destination was Portland, Jamaica and the mission was the first of many more to come.
The group traveled through the sweet, humid Jamaican night air, through bumpy and windy roads and through the brilliant sunrise on a journey that would change their lives forever.
As the morning began to blossom, night turned to day and headlights disappeared into the early morning haze.
The sun stretched.
The young African-Americans needed coffee.
With sleepy eyes and limbs in desperate need of stretching, they pulled up in front of Jamaica Bible Church, a small, sky-blue, gated building resting across from quaint houses on a dirt road lively with chickens and roosters running free.
The sight was truly delightful but cut short by the reality of that touch of Jamaica heat rising on the back of their necks. They knew a long day lay ahead of them.
They quickly proceeded to set up tables, chairs, thermometers, blood pressure and blood glucose monitors, countless medical brochures, and notebooks and pencil kits for the children who would soon be starting school.
The stage was set, and the group patiently waited along with the flies for Portland’s residents to flood the church in need of medical assistance.
One-by-one the people of Portland arrived. But they did not seek help at first. Instead some walked around the church checking everything out, some hesitant and some a little curious about these unknown black kids from America who wanted to probe and prod them while asking questions on top of questions about their health.
But the black kids checked out okay.
Within the next few hours, word had spread as the pews of the church began to fill with men and women, mothers and children, all of whom traveled from long distances just to get checked out.
As the day went on, many expressed their gratitude that this same group of unknown black kids who called themselves “Traveling Medical Missioners,” had the nerve to travel all the way to Jamaica to simply lend a helping hand.
Traveling Medical Missioners, also known as TMM, is the brainchild of Ft. Lauderdale Florida resident Janice Facey-Brown, whose heart and hometown are both in Portland, Jamaica.
Facey-Brown believed that along with faith and her experience as a registered nurse she could make a difference not only in the lives of those in Florida, but in those back home in Portland, Jamaica as well.
Her mantra, “Walk by faith, not by sight,” has been the fuel for TMM, along with a strong spiritual foundation that gives a greater meaning to its purpose.
“There were so many inspiring moments, but one in particular was when these two older ladies pulled me aside to express their gratitude and prayed for God to give me and the group the strength and means to continue doing what we are doing,” Facey-Brown said.
“Many cannot afford to see a doctor.”
Most members of the TMM group of 12 that traveled to Jamaica have extensive medical and scientific backgrounds.
The group included: Facey-Brown, Tomika Knowles, Arlene Brown, Sheean Sterling, Maddy Libema, Rebecca De-Lowyeah, Debby Parrish, Mondy Guillaume, Candice Toles, Adis Kiros, John Williams, and Aziza Jackson.
The only male in the group, John Williams, is a professor of Biology at Albany State University where his focus is on Anatomy and Physiology. Williams was responsible for providing the visitors with an educational perspective on their test results, including the significance of blood glucose and cardiovascular testing.
“The biggest impact for me was seeing the distances people traveled simply to receive medical testing,” Williams said. “We often take for granted the basics that we are afforded with health care. But something as simple as blood sugar or blood pressure testing was a gift for those who attended since they may not be able to afford it on a regular basis.”
While everyone in the group provided service at their respective stations, there was a moment where Sheean Sterling and Candice Toles attempted to take a woman’s blood pressure but the machine could not register the results.
“With my experience with blood pressure machines, I knew that wasn’t a good sign,” Toles said. “Janice then came over and assisted with a manual blood pressure check. The results reflected that of a patient that could have a stroke at any minute. Janice and I locked eyes because we knew the lady needed serious education in addition to seeing a doctor as soon as possible.”
During a raffle towards the end of the day, that same woman won the only blood pressure monitor prize at the health fair.
Adis Kiros, a registered nurse who obtained blood glucose levels, said the one thing that impacted her the most was realizing the simplicity of accessing healthcare in the United States.
“Most of the time we are able to go into the clinic, emergency room, or hospital without any knowledge of health and expect to get the best care, or at least gain knowledge. If we don’t, we will demand until we do,” Kiros said.
“Most of the people in the community that came to the fair ran out of home supplies and were struggling to purchase more,” she noted. “Some people came with seriously problematic blood pressure and blood sugar numbers and didn’t even know how detrimental these numbers were. We provided basic testing and the community was so grateful as if we provided organ transplants.”
Although the health fair was mostly aimed at adults, the children of Portland, Jamaica certainly made their impact on the TMM group.
Because the children would be starting school soon, free notebooks and pencils were handed out to whoever was in need until there was nothing left.
An inflatable jumper, or “bounce-about” as the children called it, was also available for them as their parents and grandparents were taken care of inside the church.
“Throughout the day I would see many different people,” said Tomika Knowles, a middle school science teacher who handed out notebooks to the children at the registration table. “The age range varied tremendously but I must say that the children made a huge impact on my perspective. They have so little but were filled with so much personality and happiness,” she observed. “As a teacher, I want children to have the best opportunities to resources and education, so while doing the health fair I noticed that their intelligence did not reflect their resources.”
As the children played outside and inside their “bounce-about,” stewed and curried chicken, rice, and plantains were served as a sign of gratitude from the church members.
Music boomed in the background but was slightly overshadowed by the children’s laughter and the buzz of questions being asked and answered inside the church.
The day began to wind down and every visitor was checked out or had a brochure in his or her hand. The TMM group was indeed worn out as the last trail of visitors left their station. But as they looked around the church and into each other’s faces they knew that what they had just done and the people they just met would forever change their lives.
“Working together on a common goal of providing for their basic needs forged a strong bond among us,” said Mondy Guillaume. “It was evident that the villagers have a deep respect for us. You could just tell they were happy and content. The trip has shaped my life.”
As the TMM group once again packed themselves into the van and waved goodbye to the people of Portland, some came to terms with the fact that they would never see those people ever again. However the good they had done that day would forever linger in their hearts.
And although the people of Portland will never fully understand the impression they made on these black kids from America, please believe that it was as sweet and enchanting as the same Jamaica night air that carried them there.
For more information about Traveling medical Missioners, visit http://tmmcorp.wix.com/medicalmissioners.