Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mission Gone South, Part 7 (Missionaries in Training)

Not long after we arrived at Siparuta Mission Academy, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence, and the girl from the village they claimed was their adopted daughter, left on a two week trip to Bethany Medical Missionary College, also known as the GAMAS resort (their nickname, not ours). They told us that when they returned they would be returning with some missionaries to do some work on SMA’s campus. When they came back we learned that these missionaries were part of a program called the Missionary In Training, or MIT, program. Later on, we learned that Granny’s son, Mr. McDaniels, who is the GAMAS board member in charge of education, just had an idea to find a use for all the former Kimbia Mission Academy students who were sitting around with nothing to do. While that is not a bad idea in and of itself, it was not executed in the best way. The program had no definite structure. It seemed like an off-the-cuff idea that Mr. McDaniels ran with. When the MITs arrived in Siparuta, the bulk of their time was spent renovating Granny’s house down in the village, doing MIT laundry (the young women) and cooking meals (the young women) for everyone living at SMA (MITs and SMA staff and on campus students). What they did do on campus was to build a septic tank for the house where we were living, which we were most grateful for, as it allowed us to have a toilet in our house, making our son’s potty training less harrowing.

When we spoke with Pastor W. James a month or so ago, we found out a few things. W. James had been made known to us as the Vice President of the Guyana Conference of SDAs; President R. James of the Guyana Conference of SDAs informed us that he was not the VP, but the Wills and Trust Director. We found out that W. James was the president of GAMAS. He did not know about that MIT program at all. He also was not aware that persons without CXC (Caribbean Examination Council) subjects were allowed to attend Bethany. Not surprisingly, he also claimed to be unaware of what we had gone through, stating that he was only informed that the two families—meaning ours and the Lawrence couple—could not get along. He told us he knew nothing of Pastor Ash’s trip to Siparuta to mediate, nor of the letter Pastor Ash wrote (see the end of Part 5) on behalf of the GAMAS board, on which W. James was carbon copied.

Back to the two-year MIT program that the GAMAS president knew nothing about. This had become a point of discussion between us and the SMA administrator and principal. They had stated repeatedly that the villagers did not want their children being trained to be missionaries. Yet all of a sudden, they wanted to stream all the fifth-formers into this new idea that Mr. McDaniels had come up with. So we asked them to clarify what the mandate of the school was: to prepare these students for CXC exams and beyond, or to get them to agree to join this MIT program. My husband pointed out to them that the school needed to have a primary focus, so he knew when he had met his objectives with his students. They kept vacillating between the two. We pointed out that they could not change the mandate of the school without informing the parents and allowing them to make a decision about whether they wanted to keep their children at the school. Doing this was deception. They got parents to enroll their children with promises of giving them a solid education and getting them four to six CXC subjects. They were not fulfilling that mandate, and now they wanted to change it without the knowledge of the parents.

But that was not surprising, considering how they tended to handle things generally. Parent-teacher meetings were more about Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence and Granny telling the parents things than actual dialogs between parents and teachers. This was not only a concern for us; multiple parents expressed that they found that when they interacted with the Lawrences, they did not listen to them. Similarly, staff meetings turned out to be sessions to tell the staff what they were to do rather than have meaningful discussions about issues on campus.

Following the departure of most of the MITs, a vocational training program was suddenly implemented. This was approached with little forethought, as was also evident with the MIT program. Both were suddenly implemented without any planning into what skills and knowledge they wanted participants to accomplish, how training would occur or how trainers would ensure that trainees had gained the skills intended. In fact, letters went out to the parents on Friday, November 8 about the vocational program that was to start Monday, November 11. It stated that the students would be trained in Construction, Mechanics, Electronics, and Agriculture. The first set of classes began that Monday with no previous staff meeting and staff members and students were assigned to Grounds, Agriculture, Construction, and Food Preparation. Despite the fact that I expressed concerns that they were simply modifying the work program from the primarily dorm school that was Kimbia and calling it a vocational program for the primarily day school that was SMA, class titles were merely adjusted one or two times, but the approach didn’t change. The basic approach was to use the students to accomplish tasks on campus without ensuring that the students were learning the theory and gaining the practical skills, or even ensuring that the tasks were completed properly. In fact, the entire program was flawed because most of the teachers themselves did not understand how to do what they were teaching the students to do. Beyond this vocational training program, class times and teachers were shifted around quite a few times—again without informing parents or seeking their input.

In the midst of me writing Part 5, we found out about the plans for the current fifth-formers at SMA. Next month, they will all be enrolled in this MIT program. When Jermaine called W. James to find out what was happening with the MIT program, he informed him that it was now an approved program with forms that needed to be signed by parents and the local pastor. Note: the local pastor has somewhere between seven and nine churches in his district covering over 100 miles and doesn’t get around to Siparuta very often. He depends on Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence for reports about the youngsters in Siparuta. Mr. McDaniels will come for all six young women and carry them to Kimbia Mission Academy where they will spend six months. After that they will be taken to Bethany for another six months. Then they will be placed at one of the GAMAS projects as teachers/staff. This reduces the amount of missionaries GAMAS will need from outside, and gives them ultimate control over their projects. They are also guaranteed a regular volunteer work force.

We are very worried about what will happen to these young women. But how do we stop this? The young women do need a viable option post-graduation. However, the GAMAS/SMA system has already failed them. In January of this year, Jermaine had to use primary school books to teach the fifth-formers how to do fractions and decimals, since, over the years, the school had failed to lay a foundation for further Mathematical knowledge to be gained. Multiple pleas were made to the SMA Administration to extend the time in classes before allowing the fifth-formers to sit CXCs but this was sternly refused. To make it worst, little to no extra classes were done. Also in April, over the Easter break of three weeks instead of doing rigorous revision/preparation, the entire SMA staff left the school and journeyed to the other end of Guyana on a “mission” trip, leaving the girls to prepare themselves for exam and returning just a few days before their first exam. Though we and many others are praying for the girls’ success in their exams, the poor preparation they have received gives them a low chance of success. This has indeed been the case for many years and the village council and those at Amerindian Affairs have expressed concerns that a lot of students leaving SMA have a primary level education and have to go back to learning things from the basics. By placing these girls in this MIT program, that offers them no tangible future beyond GAMAS, not only would these girls have lost the value of their high school years, but also two or more years beyond. Also, let us consider what will happen when these girls and others like them are placed in classrooms to teach other students. How can they impart what they have never gained? Lest you think this could never happen, consider this. One of the current teachers at SMA has no CXC subjects. He like these six girls has the potential to accomplish much with their lives for God, but those in the system have failed them. What are we going to do to stop this cycle?


One way to help is to pray with us that God will intervene by overhauling GAMAS or providing a better option for these students. If you would like to help in any other way feel free to contact us.

Mission Gone South, Part 6 (Let’s Define Human Trafficking)

In my last post, I mentioned that the village council was concerned that the situation constituted a human trafficking case. They explained to Granny and the Lawrences that they couldn’t bring people in (especially from another country), ill-treat them, be making money from the work they’re doing but not pay them, then when they’re done with said people, put them out. Mr. Lawrence jumped up to tell the senior councilor that he didn’t know what human trafficking was and proceeded to give his definition, which could easily be gained from a popular understanding of trafficking in persons but was indeed incorrect.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) breaks down the legal definition into three components. Here is what they say on their site:

On the basis of the definition given in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, it is evident that trafficking in persons has three constituent elements;
The Act (What is done)
Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons
The Means (How it is done)
Threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim
The Purpose (Why it is done)
For the purpose of exploitation, which includes exploiting the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or similar practices and the removal of organs.
To ascertain whether a particular circumstance constitutes trafficking in persons, consider the definition of trafficking in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and the constituent elements of the offense, as defined by relevant domestic legislation.

The UNODC Country Profiles document states that “The current legislation on trafficking in persons in Guyana covers all forms of exploitation indicated in the UN Trafficking Protocol.” Also, on the UNODC Checklist for the Criminalization of Trafficking under the Protocol, “Servitude” is added to the Purpose element after “Practices similar to slavery”. Servitude is defined as “the condition of being a slave or of having to obey another person” or “a condition in which one lacks liberty especially to determine one's course of action or way of life”.

Now, based on what we were being told before we got to Guyana/SMA, we would not have expected what we found. By way of example, the house that only needed “furnishings” and “fixtures” turned out to be a shell. It had no windows or doors; we struggled with the campus cats a few nights and wondered what other creatures we might find in our house. We did not have much freedom to make improvements to the house. Everything Jermaine tried to do was met with resistance/reluctance and almost all the improvements had to be done by him personally, with little to no help. We finally got windows on our bedroom and a front door in December. Also, our primary reason for going to Siparuta was to work on meeting the medical needs of the area. Our intentions kept being thwarted. We thought we were going to help these villagers, not realizing we were being recruited just to teach at the school. While Jermaine was able to get a quick call to his father from another staff member’s phone, I did not speak to my family until December, after being inspired to ask that same staff member to allow me to send a text to my mother. Even after multiple expressions to them that my family didn’t even know if we’d gotten to the village safely, they hadn’t even facilitated us sending a text. Mrs. Lawrence would tell me about speaking to her mother who is in Jamaica, and would tell me how when she and her husband arrived they didn’t get to speak to their family for months. Mr. Lawrence offered to tether internet from his phone to Jermaine’s but there was rarely an actual opportunity created for that. Especially with Lights Out being at 8pm during that first semester. Mrs. Lawrence suddenly remembered near Christmas that she had an extra sim card that she wasn’t using, and that’s how we finally got in touch with family and friends and were able to get back online. We felt so cut off from everything before that. Another thing that cut us off was their extreme reluctance to assist us by budgeting for diapers for our children. They kept telling us, and were supported by their supervisor (Granny’s son, Mr. McDaniels), that based on GAMAS policy, diapers were not something to put on the budget and that as far as they knew missionaries used cloth diapers. Occasionally, they would purchase a pack of diapers after much asking and being reminded about the budget. They did not assist us to get cloth diapers until January. We were just being pressured to get sponsorship without any reliable means to contact potential sponsors. And even when my mother sent a package from the end of October—without being able to get in contact with us—to Pastor W. James at the Guyana Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and messaged Mrs. Lawrence to let her know, they did not prioritize us getting said package. I had a hunch my mom sent diapers. And when we finally got the package in January there were diapers inside. I cannot begin to describe the nightmare we experienced especially during a particular four-week period. We couldn’t go anywhere because the children were constantly messing themselves. Yet we were being criticized by Granny for not going to church every time there was church (Sunday, Wednesday, Friday, and twice on Saturday), and being questioned by Mr. Lawrence almost every time we needed to pump water over to the house so I could stay on top of washing the kids’ clothes and our sheets. We were forced to potty train our son during that stressful time, which was made more challenging by the fact that we had to get him to the outhouse in time. We tried to potty train our daughter, but I think she was just too young. Even though, I found out afterwards that Amerindians tend to potty train their children by the time they’re about two months old. I didn’t learn that technique till we were living in the village.

The most major clashes that we had surrounded their constant attempts to control us and make us do what they wanted. We would sit down and have apparently amicable conversations expressing our concerns, but nothing would be done. And the longer we were there, the more we learned, and the more concerned we became. Till, eventually, they forced us off campus.

As much as we want to forget what happened and not talk about it, it’s not just about us. Our experience was not an anomaly. Other missionaries came to Siparuta who were run out of the village by Granny. There are other missionaries at SMA and within GAMAS who are not being treated properly. There is a pervasive mentality amongst the GAMAS administrators that the staff (non-administrators) are supposed to suffer, that that’s part of being a missionary. And what seems to make it worse is if the administrators had to suffer themselves when they came into the mission field. This notion was evident from the night we arrived, along with a Romanian father and daughter from Spain going to Kimbia Mission Academy. The accommodation made for missionaries just coming in and those from the interior needing to be in Georgetown for a while is the Mission House. To say it was dirty does not give a good picture of what it was like. But when you’ve been traveling for hours and have no other options, you’re just stuck with it. Beyond this, the villagers (inclusive of the students) in these various places are being taken advantage of and aren’t always being treated as a fellow brother or sister. As a couple of villagers said to us, how will they be towards us (villagers) if they treat their own brethren like that? In my next post, I’ll share what we found out about the GAMAS plans for those fifth-form young ladies I mentioned in Part 1.


“The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive, and die only when you are dead. To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of the life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To respect strength, never power. Above all to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.” -Arundhati Roy

Friday, May 16, 2014

Mission Gone South, Part 5 (What tipped the scales)

As I intimated in my last post, SO MUCH happened that concerned us. We’d probably have to write a hundred parts to share it all. Quite a few persons have suggested writing a book; we’re considering the idea. In any case, what tipped things over the edge surrounded a box of powdered soy milk.

We had our share of gastrointestinal problems while at Siparuta Mission Academy. But when one travels to South America, one tends to expect a little stomach bug now and again—even if it’s just related to adjusting to new foods. The most disconcerting, however, was the sickness our son started having after we’d been at the school for about 6 weeks, or so. He would wake up in the wee hours of the morning with projectile vomiting that had a very strange smell (not the usual sour stomach acid type smell). It would sound like he was heaving up his entire gastro tract. Then he would have a few episodes of diarrhea afterwards that smelled the same. Sometimes he would go through a second round. Jermaine found that he would also have episodes in which he would belch that same smell and have gastro upset. We were truly puzzled as to the source.

Over the end of year holiday break, when we were finally granted the privilege of preparing our own meals, we were able to narrow down possible causes of this illness. One day, Jermaine was inspired to look at the label on the box of soy milk we had been using. I had noticed that whenever I used it, there was this horrible bitter aftertaste in my mouth. We could not believe it when we saw the expiry date on that box. This was in December of 2013, and the milk had been expired from February 2013. We stopped using it right away and our son never had that problem again.

At the earliest possible time, we informed Granny about it and she said she would take it and use it. When the Lawrences returned from their time away, we also told them about it. We thought the matter was done there. We were no longer eating meals with the rest of campus which helped to improve our health. Our children started putting on weight, and we had the energy we needed to sustain the physical labor involved in the lifestyle there.

The second to last Tuesday in January, after recognizing that the dorm girls, who now lived on the floor above us, seemed to be having some gastro problems, and querying whether they had indeed been having diarrhea or any other tummy issues—which a couple of them confirmed—Jermaine went to speak to Mrs. Lawrence. He asked if they were still using that box of expired soy milk. She said yes. He shared his concerns that the milk may have been affecting the girls as it had affected us. She played it off, saying that they were probably just having their period and that they ate too many mangoes. When he shared with me her response, we determined that it couldn’t rest like that. Parents had put these people in charge of their precious children and they were being irresponsible. I walked down to the kitchen, hoping to prevent them from putting the soy milk in the porridge they usually made for breakfast. Miss Jaye, one of the teachers that had come on staff full time in January, and who had been given charge of the kitchen during her time on campus at the end of last year, was in the kitchen cooking something when I arrived. I said to her that I didn’t know if she was aware, but that the soy milk was expired. I showed her the date on the label of the box, which was sitting on a shelf right beside her. She was appalled and said that she wouldn’t use it any more.

Around midday, Granny traipsed over to our house on one of her rare trips to visit the girls upstairs. Not long after my husband left the house to walk over to the school for his afternoon classes, Granny came downstairs, walked around the back of the house, and started calling my name very loudly as she came around the side of the house. I was just putting my children for a nap, so I was delayed in going to the door. When I opened it, she was already walking away from the house. I called to her, thinking there must have been some important reason for her behavior. She turned back and, looking at me with disdain, and apparently feeling very pleased with herself, she said, “Your house is filthy.” I didn’t respond to her. Then she walked away. I came inside and closed the door and picked up my Bible and prayed. The only things I thought she could be referring to was the pile of clothes on the veranda we had sorted from our things to give away, and the things the children had been playing with outside. They had also, over the weeks, pushed a lot of things through the boards forming the floor of the veranda, as the spaces between were very wide. But beyond that, I realized she just wanted to be mean.

Not long after that, she came back to the house, again calling me loudly from outside. She must have realized I was by the kitchen window because she stood right out there to speak to me. She informed me that we would be having a meeting at 2:30 to discuss the soy milk issue. I said, “Okay” and she left. My husband came into the house on the heels of that incident. He said when he saw Granny step past him at school and start heading over to the house, he took a break from class to come over and find out what was going on. You see, Granny had a penchant for antagonizing me about things home-related, and he suspected she was up to no good. She met him on her way back and told him about the meeting and that we needed to discuss the authority on campus, and respecting that.

I was in the midst of preparing our afternoon meal, so I continued to do that, and when Jermaine came over after school, he helped me get the children together to go to this meeting. The children were rushed out of school once the day ended, and Granny stood over at the school building yelling our names across campus and also screaming, “TIME! TIME!” Eventually, she and the Lawrences walked over to our house to have the meeting there. We asked them if they couldn’t just wait for us at the school. There was no place for us to meet at our house and we had already put on the children’s clothes and were about to go out the door. Granny decided to just cancel the meeting, sending the Lawrences away. She told us she had decided to allow the GAMAS board to deal with the situation. So, we were waiting to be informed about the date of that meeting.

The next day, Jermaine was pumping water and had to go over to the electrical room to check something. He heard Granny, and Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence slandering us to persons on phone and radio in the house upstairs. He came back home, and as expected, Granny came over to the house some time after. She said the GAMAS board had made the decision that we were to leave on the next boat possible. We told her that they could ask us to leave the campus, but not the village. Only the village council could order us to leave. We were told that the board would be writing a letter about their decision, so we told Granny that we would wait for said letter. Jermaine was told that he was to stop teaching immediately. Since he had class in a short while, he asked for the privilege to go to his class and tell them that he was being asked to leave the school. He asked her to give the reasons why we were being asked to leave so that he could convey a consistent message with what they would be telling persons. She eventually settled on three things:

1. We’re not fit for the work
2. Our beliefs are not in keeping with those of Siparuta Mission Academy
3. We’re a bad influence on the staff and students.

Jermaine went to class after that and relayed to the students that our family was being asked to leave as soon as possible. He prayed with them and then left. The class of six girls broke down crying and Granny quickly came in and took over the class. The next day the entire class was absent from school protesting the school/board’s decision. In fact, one of the girls had to be taken to the health center with severe migraines because she was so upset and crying. When most of the class returned the following day they were given quite the tongue lashing by Mrs. Lawrence.


This began a very hectic week and a half for us. We were called into a meeting with Granny and the Lawrences by the village council. The council was carbon copied on the letter that Pastor Ash wrote to us on behalf of the GAMAS board. A board member himself, he had become privy to a lot of the issues on campus when he’d come to mediate on the first weekend in January. We were quite open with him about the problems and the deep spiritual issues evident by how the SMA/project was being run. They were upset about the letter because they had been in the dark about there being issues at the school, and also because they pointed out that the letter made it seem like GAMAS was involved in human trafficking, as it asked us to move up our return flight and make our way to Georgetown immediately, where we’d be given temporary housing and transported to the International Airport to be sent back to Jamaica. More in the next post.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mission Gone South, Part 4 (Discrepancies and Inconsistencies)

Now, we came to Guyana with the understanding that GAMAS meant Guyana Adventist Medical Aviation Service. A few weeks after being in Siparuta Village, we learned that the GAMAS board had changed the meaning of the acronym to Guyana Adventist Ministries and Services. When we learned this we were rather disappointed. It seemed like a downgrade from the work they were doing before. There is great need for medical personnel and medical evacuation services in this country. With its vast hinterland, Guyana presents a challenge for proper healthcare coverage. Sure, it’s expensive, but God had provided in the past and would certainly provide again. And those persons living in the interior were most grateful for the help. Now, GAMAS is focused on these schools in interior villages where administrators frequently do whatever they feel like doing with a board whose supervision is largely laissez faire. What administrators say on the radio each morning cannot always be trusted. By what measure are they being held accountable?

At Siparuta Mission Academy, we noticed some things that didn’t seem too kosher with the operations nor the behavior of the administrator, Mr. Lawrence, and the principal, his wife. The same went for the woman introduced to us as Granny, a Ms. Parnell, who was supposed to be the advisor to GAMAS regarding the runnings of SMA. We started to wonder if things were being done above board. Here are some of the things that we realized:
  • The morning after we arrived, very early in the morning, Jermaine awoke and saw some men standing in the distance by the Lawrences’ house. Thinking they were members of the village council come to meet us after learning of our arrival, he wondered if he should go over to meet them. The Lord told him to go ahead. He ended up walking into the midst of a business transaction. Mrs. Lawrence was about to receive payment for a 7500-watt generator that had been donated to SMA. It was being sold to a pastor of another church in the village to the tune of GYD $150,000. The down payment was 100K, with the rest being promised as soon as possible. Mrs. Lawrence asked Jermaine to check the count of the money and sign as a witness on the receipt. This was a rather interesting development considering: 
  • Mr. Lawrence had told us, while we were still in Jamaica, that all donations had to be used for their appointed purpose. Donors had to be contacted if administrators wanted to use donations for other things. He was quite emphatic about this.
  • Later on, we realized that our church did not have power. Even though it was wired for electricity—ceiling fans and all. Sabbath morning services were kept as short as possible because of the daytime heat. Evening services needed to end before sundown so we could see our Bibles.

  • There was constant talk from the administrator and his wife of a (rather elusive) budget that seemed impossible to meet.

  • Mr. Lawrence conveyed to us that he had to empty his bank account to clear, from the wharf, the container rammed full of donated items of all kinds. Yet, Granny told us that she paid to clear that container.
  • Mr. Lawrence told us that for the 15 people (inclusive of the female dorm students and our two toddlers) that eventually ended up residing on campus, they spent GYD $80,000 per month. Being that it was fed to us that food in Guyana was very expensive, we figured this explained the high food bill. But when my husband finally had the chance to leave the village in January, he couldn’t believe how inexpensive food was. Especially the things they bought. We ate a predictable revolving schedule consisting of some arrangement of the following purchased ingredients: beans, rice, pasta, oats, flour, tomato sauce, cornmeal, yeast, canned corn. These are not expensive things; probably the most costly items were the canned goods and the 10kg rice.
  • There was a constant negative portrayal amongst the Granny-Lawrence triad of other persons. Granny told us horrible things about the family that had run the school for the five years before. She conveyed that they were unGodly and were destroying the village left, right, and center. She seemed to state with glee that the family left “like the bees was after them”. Once we got the opportunity to interact with more villagers and the village council, we learned that Granny had orchestrated the removal of that family. That she kept antagonizing them until they gave up and left. Her mean streak became more evident the longer we were there. Yet, she constantly proclaimed, “Jesus knows I’m here” and claimed her allegiance to Him and the Bible. Students and others in the village know her true colors and talk about them readily.
  • Mrs. Lawrence felt it her duty to inform us that the villagers could turn on you very quickly (for no apparent reason). She told Jermaine that a teacher who had left earlier that year (2013) had gotten along really well with the students, like Jermaine was, but all of a sudden the dorm girls just turned on him. So she advised Jermaine not to befriend the students. Since then we saw how the students interacted with their former teacher when he came back to visit and saw none of the animosity she mentioned. She also told us that one of the dorm girls had a verbally abusive mother, but upon interacting with said parent on more than one occasion, we are hard-pressed to believe Mrs. Lawrence.



These things only scratch the surface of what concerned us as the days and weeks went by on campus.