‘Every person wants to be loved’
By Kaitlyn Cuevas
for the Salisbury Post
Going to Jamaica for spring break would sound like heaven to the average teenager.
And Katie Washington did get to go to Jamaica. But instead of slathering on suntan lotion and soaking up the Caribbean sun, she was doing something more selfless ó putting lotion on suffering shelter residents.
Katie, 14, and her parents, Bill and Renee Washington, spent 10 days in Jamaica at the end of April caring for the residents at the shelters of the Missionaries of the Poor.
Consisting of many Jesuit priests and brothers from around the world, the Missionaries of the Poor is a Catholic order that focuses on helping the poor, sick, and homeless people of Jamaica, India, Uganda, Kenya and the Philippines.
“I had heard from my mom and Paul how great it was, so I wanted to experience it myself,” said Katie, who is an eighth-grader at Sacred Heart Catholic School.
For the four years that Katie’s brother Paul Mendez was in high school, he and his mother travelled to the Missionaries of the Poor in Jamaica along with the Sacred Heart Catholic Church High School Youth Group to do mission work.
Sacred Heart continues to make the week-long trip to Jamaica each summer.
The plight of the sick and suffering in Jamaica did not come as a huge shock for Katie.
From 2005 to 2007, Katie witnessed Paul fight and suffer from cancer first-hand. This prepared her emotionally for the rough conditions she would see, as well as the hardships she would endure on her mission trip.
Paul lost his fight against cancer in May 2007.
The Missionaries of the Poor in Jamaica was founded in 1981 by Father Richard Ho Lung and has now grown to more than 500 brothers. It has been recognized by the Vatican.
It consists of five different centers that each focus on a specific characteristic. The shelter where children stay is called Bethlehem. Lordes Place houses HIV/AIDS victims, Jacob’s Well is for adult women, and Good Shepherd Center and Faith Center are both for young and old men.
Most of the residents at the Missionaries of the Poor suffer from diseases and conditions such as HIV/AIDS, Down syndrome, malnourishment, and mental illness. Physically, a majority of the residents are crippled or have benign tumors.
In Jamaica, destitute parents sometimes abandon their children and leave them at the Missionaries of the Poor because of the lack of money and food available. Katie says that police officers will also bring abandoned kids that have been found on the streets to the shelters where they can stay.
Katie said that one of the most exciting parts of the entire trip was the first day of arrival.
“We arrived for an hour and then BAM, we were at work,” she said.
At the shelters, Katie’s daily activities included putting lotion on the residents’ arms and legs, washing their feet, clipping their fingernails and toenails, feeding them, and helping them dress.
When Katie wasn’t working, she was playing cards, reading and goofing off with the residents.
“I was proposed to three times and became a godmother,” Katie said. “The most important things were to just be their friend, be nice, and make sure they’re having a good time.”
Through her experience in Jamaica, Katie discovered her calling in life: to become a missionary doctor. The co-founder of Missionaries of the Poor, Brian Kerr, influenced Katie greatly during her time in Jamaica.
“He came right up to me and said ‘You’re spectacular’,” said Katie, as she describe meeting Father Brian for the first time.
Kerr is the “funniest man ever,” Katie said, adding that his guidance and knowledge encouraged her to continue doing mission work and caring for those less fortunate.
Next summer, Katie plans to travel to the Missionaries of the Poor base in Campalla, Uganda, with her mother to do more mission work.
“Treating everybody like family” is important no matter what condition they are in, Katie said, because “every person wants to be loved.”
Those interested in helping to fund Sacred Heart’s high school youth mission trip to Jamaica this summer may call trip coordinator Renee Washington at 704-213-1055.
Kaitlyn Cuevas is a senior at Salisbury High and an intern for the Post. She will attend UNC-Wilmington in the fall.
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