Features: Students Help Caribbean Elders

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii — A University of the Nations field team recently returned from the Caribbean where they had the opportunity to serve those who are socially isolated. The group of students — who received classroom training at Port YWAM Kona prior to their April departure — visited Haiti and Panama over the course of 60 days. In both locations, the students did handiwork at elder-care centers and visited the residents.

 
In Haiti, the team built a rain-catchment tank at a home for seniors in the coastal town of Cariesse. On the island of Bocas Del Toro in Panama, the students repaired a termite-infested roof at an elder-care facility.
Michael Severi, 20, said his personal highlight was the practical aspect of the field assignment.
“I just loved it. I was super stoked to get building,” said Severi, a student from the U.S. “I love doing work where you see the fruit of your labor instantly and that was one of the big highlights, just being a part of that.”

 

The Haiti project required a large amount of effort with little time to complete because the team began work on the tank only days before leaving the nation. The students each logged between 40 and 50 hours during the four-day project. Jodie Kemp, a 21-year old student from Australia, said it almost required all of their energy to finish the water system.

“It was really hard labor. I was sore in the morning, but we had to get it done because there was a time limit,” Kemp said. “We were working from sunup to sundown — long days in the sun. I think the motivation was we had to do it. It was actually a lot of fun, so we didn’t really think of it as a hardship.

 

One of the team’s primary ministries in Panama was visitation. About 70 seniors reside at the elder center in Bocas Del Toro — many of them unable to so much as brush their own teeth. There, the students partnered with a ministry that assists residents with dental hygiene. The team also played music, danced with residents and gave encouraging messages from the Bible. During their last week in Panama, they also refurbished the roofing above the facility’s restroom. Simen Moe, 22, said the elders seemed most encouraged by his team’s mere presence.

“Most of them sit in that care center all day and have been doing so for years,” said Moe, of Norway. “There’s not much happening, so there’s such a great joy on their faces when they see young folks coming in and sharing their time and their love with them.”

 

Neither Panama nor Haiti has a substantial population of elders. Among the 47 island nations, Haiti has the lowest life expectancy and only 9 percent of the population is older than 54. Only 8 percent of the Panamanian population is older than 64, according to CIA statistics. Neither nation invests heavily in aid to care for the elderly. Moe said it’s up to Christians to fill that void.

“It’s a privilege to get to minister to the elders. I think it makes a big difference in their lives,” Moe said. “A lot of them are on their deathbed and don’t have too much time left. It’s important to share with them the Gospel and the hope that we have for eternal life.”


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