Community Learning

My education of working with educators continues. You will call in my last entry I wrote about Fr. Anthony, the lone native Jamaican of the Mission Society. He teaches English and Literature for the upper grade students. When he discovered my background in acting, he asked me to help his students, the same Fifth Form I wrote about last time, as they studied Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie. He wants me to talk with them about the play from a staging perspective, how actors approach a script, and what it means for an actor to make choices with their character.

Fr. Anthony presiding over his literature class.

I have been at it a few days and I am finding it difficult to translate to a group a process I have undergone several times. When I receive a script, I know (more or less) where to begin building a character, understanding what he wants out of every scene as he traverses the arc from the beginning of the story to the end. But I have never explained to someone the techniques my acting teachers have taught me. I suppose this is as much of a learning experience for the students as it is for me. And, once again turning to the teaching from my hand analysis, I am supposed to be putting myself in the position of “not knowing.” So I find myself not knowing how to teach doing something I know how to do.

One very interesting aspect of the experience is explaining the Great Depression, the decade in which the play is set. This kind of context helps character development. Although I can explain the Great Depression, the idea of America being gripped by widespread poverty does not compute. I suggested the students stop thinking about it as American characters in an American setting and instead thinking of it as entirely Jamaican. I wanted them to start thinking of the play in terms of their own lives and let it alter the way they see the play and the themes it explores. Next week we are going to start acting out scenes in class. That should be fun.

An after school study session with Deacon Raymond.

Aside from the eye opening experiences of trying to teach, I am fascinated with the sense of community here. People come together and take a vested interest in each other’s lives, especially when it comes to these kids. As Monsignor Mike said to me, “There is a common idea in Jamaica. No child goes without a home.” Though the pervasive sense of an ultra-tight knit community has eroded a bit with modernity, it would still not be at all surprising if an elder member in the community took in a child that was not theirs to ensure he or she had a place to sleep, food to eat, and the chance to go to school. In these more remote corners of the island, it really does in fact take a village.

Fr. Sam reading a paper while overseeing an exam.

And this village finds a way to get it all done. For the students who cannot reach the school on foot or by some form of transportation, the priests might step in and arrange for someone in the community house that otherwise stranded child so they can have a chance at an education. Tuition is sometimes arranged through bartering, and the school finds ways to collect funds to provide scholarships. Sometimes that money comes from local sources, but it is not uncommon to rely on foreign benefactors. Indeed, education is the key and every child has a right to the chance for something better. These are core beliefs here.

In addition, the village never tires of coming together. For example, today being Sunday, many in the community came to 9:00 a.m. Mass but arrived extra early just to socialize more than they already do. This is 180 degrees out from the increasingly isolated experience back home where something like an iPod allow us to further insulate our radius of personal space against everyone and everything around us.

Deacon Raymond, Nancy, and Br. Brad after Mass.

Local Jamaicans take the Sabbath - and the required attire – seriously. I have never seen such participation at Mass. In the States we talk about coming together to celebrate the sacred mysteries, but here at St. Vincent Strambi, they celebrate. For example, there was a power outage this morning during Mass. (Those happen a lot here) which rendered the electronic keyboard moot. Fr. Sam helped solve the problem by busting out a viola. (he is a well-trained musician.) Someone else picked up a drum and another a tambourine. In less than a minute the entire congregation was soaring with singing, clapping, and swaying. There is an enthusiasm and life during this Mass that we would do well to learn from back home.

And what does all of this have to do with me trying to find a higher and better use of myself? I do not know. For now I am going to continue trusting the reason will reveal itself in due time and keep singing along to the church song stuck in my head since this morning. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday.