By Katie Choi
God willing, I’m headed back to Harmons, Jamaica in January. It will be six years since I’ve been on the island and to this community. A pandemic has taken place, a sweet woman from Harmons that I met one day back in 2017 has since died, my family grew, and a lot of other life-moments have happened. And, I can’t wait to go back.
When I decided to go that first time many years ago, I wanted to go and serve others. I knew the organization that my company partnered with, Won by One to Jamaica, helped build homes for people in the area that needed a home, and that is why I wanted to go. I wanted to go and I wanted to help; I wanted to build some houses. But like so many people who have been to Harmons, one quickly realizes that they don’t really need your help to build the houses. Sure, having many hands is helpful, but the Jamaican crew that oversees the work sites could run laps around my house building abilities. As important as getting that house up for a well deserving citizen is, what is equally important is building relationships with the people of Harmons and the people that you go alongside. You learn from them, they learn from you, on all sides. My husband, Ben, has been back every year since I went in 2017. He has friends there in Harmons that he can’t wait to see again.
The other day Ben was eating some beef jerky, and it reminded him of Harmons. He had taken some with him to a work site, and the Jamaicans loved it! Every year they remind him to bring some of that ‘American flavored beef’ back with him, and he will certainly oblige. He laughed at their description of the jerky, describing it like a true delicacy. Small, human moments like that that help make the trip to Harmons so special. Sharing something of yours with someone else and finding such joy spring from that simple act.
And it goes both ways.
On some level, we are all familiar with poverty. Most of us tend to think of poverty in the material sense. Then, you go to a place like Harmons, and the lack of infrastructure is just staggering. Horrible roads, clean running water is hard to find, jobs are scarce, and a big mining company has come in and transformed the beautiful landscape into a mining pit over the last few years. You see all that, and you think you have seen poverty. And in the material sense, you have. But then you spend some time getting to know the folks that live there. You talk to them, you listen, and you realize how they have fostered such strong connections with one another. Hanging out in their front yards, on their porches, everyone knowing everyone and doing what they can to support their neighbor. In Harmons, one can quickly realize how much we may be lacking some of the emotional and spiritual wealth which the Jamaican’s seem to have in abundance, through their rich community. Witnessing this has been a gift. And it’s the reason I want to go back. Sure, I want to help build some houses, but I also want to be around the community of Harmons and be reminded of how they live and love together.
I’m grateful to have had this experience, and I’m grateful to go once more.
**If you are reading this and you or your spouse work at VU, you have the chance to come alongside me on this trip! I’d love it if you gave it some consideration.