My journey to PRM came by chance. Around December 2011, I was looking online for a vacation. I had always wanted to go to Jamaica, so was looking there. Someone had once told me that they went to Jamaica and stayed in a hut on the beach…their honeymoon I think. I wanted to stay somewhere unique like that, so I typed in “Jamaica huts”. The first site that came up was Great Huts. I looked and fell in love with the place. I looked around at other situations but kept coming back to GH. On one of those visits I noticed the offer of volunteering – 30 days it said they require. Flights were expensive and the money I was expecting from resigning from a 19 year career with the federal government still hadn’t come. So I set this dream aside. A few months later I did a bit of travelling to a couple places in the U.S. In June 2012 I looked again at the possibility of Jamaica because I got an email from “Go Last Minute”. A site that notifies one of deals on flights, hotels, vacations. There was an amazing deal on return flights to Kingston. I went back to the GH site and sent an email to the contact for PRM.
I had to admit that I had never volunteered before, but as many people do, I had often thought of volunteering in another country. I wanted to do that in New Orleans and Haiti but life got in the way (work, funds). I didn’t have any medical/social work experience, but I could offer office help and anywhere else that I could be used. I asked for a quick reply as this flight deal was only 24 hours. Obviously I had no idea of the process nor how busy those involved were. Later that night, without having received a reply yet, I booked a flight for September 2, 2012. I figured I could always change it or cancel it. 30 days in Jamaica. By myself. I was very excited!
Over the next 6 weeks or so I corresponded with Dr.Paul (owner of GH and founder of PRM), Rachel (the volunteer coordinator at the time) and Julie (a former manager at GH). I also had one telephone conversation with Lloyda (PRM’s saving grace, Centre Care Manager). After all the required paperwork had been provided by me, I was accepted and approved as a volunteer! My friends and family, for the most part, thought I was perhaps a bit crazy for wanting to do this, by myself. Me? I was excited beyond belief!!!
September 3rd, 2012 I arrived in Jamaica. I was mesmerized during the trip from Kingston airport to GH (and perhaps a little freaked out by the ride lol) with taxi driver, Jingles. That night I met Lloyda for the first time. She asked me if I would be ready to start in the morning. Of course I said yes. That night I marveled at the foreign surroundings and night sounds. The chirping of the crickets/tree frogs/lizards (depends who you ask, what the sounds are .. each person says something different .. I’m going to say all of the above). After settling in for the nit I slept fitfully and woke at 5:30 a.m. unable to sleep any longer. I got up and took a walk down to the water and watched, what felt to me, the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen. I was in paradise. For real.
That morning I went to my first day of work at PRM. There began my journey of most rewarding experience of my life. Over the next 2 1/2 months (after two weeks, I changed my flight from 30 days to November 12th) I got to know, and love deeply, the clients of PRM. It took some getting used to. The sweating from morning till night. The language barriers. When I wasn’t helping Lloyda with office work, I chatted with the clients (I don’t have a counselor background, but I am a good listener. And I give good hugs :-), handed out medication, helped in the kitchen, the garden, and basically did what I could. “Use me” was my mantra. I wanted to do more … so much more. I enjoyed, very much, the morning meetings. Led most times by Lloyda; an excellent Chairperson and motivational speaker. Hearing from each of the clients, even when it was often only a few words and then singing to close the meetings.
The clients live a very hard life. Yes they are provided food, shelter and friendship at PRM. But they do suffer from poverty, mental challenges and addictions. They are often taunted and shunned by the community, but at PRM it is recognized that they are worthy. Every last one of them.
PRM is a beautiful place. Through the very hard work of the employees, the volunteers, and the clients… the grounds are gorgeous, the building unique and very homey (not the stereo-typical idea of an “institution” at all) and the atmosphere as home-like as possible. It is very inspiring to witness the community spirit of the place. The coming-together of staff, volunteers and clients in times of need.
On November 12th arrived and I had to go home. However, my good fortune did not end there. I was blessed with the opportunity to come back on December 8th. I offered to come back so that Lloyda could take a very overdue Christmas vacation with her family. I was very nervous, to assume the duties of Centre Care Manager (as a volunteer). But with the constant help of the volunteers and the tireless assistance of the other staff members, we managed. I got to stay this time until January 30, 2013. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I were still there. I did get to go back for three weeks this summer , but didn’t work at PRM because I brought my sister with me and also had other family members join me. When I did stop in for visits, it was truly like coming home. I got to see clients I missed terribly and I got to see the transformation of the grounds to a thing of more beauty, as well as the work done and things purchased from a grant we received while I was there.
I have been truly truly blessed to have had the honor of becoming a part of the PRM family. My experience changed my life, my soul…for the better. So much better.
Go .. if you can. And donate if you are able. Every little bit helps. Little by little.
Diane (aka Dee, Deanne, Dionne and Miss Diane) Bergeron
(The picture is of me and one of the former clients (with his permission) and the art I purchased from him)