Mustard Seed Communities

Mustard Seed Communities is a large catholic organization with a strong presence all over the island. It was founded by Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon and has 12 apostolates across the island. We have worked in many of those sites but focus primarily on their homes for orphaned and abandoned children living with HIV/AIDS. There are three homes, Matthew 25, Martha’s House and Dare to Care. The latter two are located in Spanish Town, 15 minutes out of Kingston.

The homes are part of a large compound called Jerusalem! which is also home to The Little Angels School, an egg farm, fish farm, plant nurseries, goats and sheep raising, a church, a home for children and adults with physical and developmental special needs, a physiotherapy clinic, semi-independent living community for high-functioning young adults with physical and developmental special needs and one of our largest projects, the Jerusalem Developmental Play Centre.

The Jerusalem! Developmental Play Centre

On March 16, 2009, there was a fire at Martha’s House, destroying the facility and everything in it. Thankfully, all the children and caregivers escaped safely. Mustard Seed decided to rebuild at a different location – at Jerusalem!, their facility in Spanish Town. At the new location, five cottages were erected in a semi-circle to house the children displaced by the fire. There the children have space to run and play.

To assist in the redevelopment of Martha’s House, Students Crossing Borders initiated the “Container Project”. Our main goal was to create an early childhood education playroom for the children of Martha’s House. To achieve our goal, we raised funds to purchase a 40 foot shipping container. Then we began gathering. We began filling the container with furniture and household supplies for the new houses – couches, kitchen tables, dressers and so on. Next we gathered furniture, toys, painting easels, equipment, and program supplies – everything that is needed in an early childhood setting. Finally, we packed doors, windows and air conditioners so that the container could be converted into a classroom once it arrived at the new Martha’s House. Still, the donations continued, and we received many other items that contributed to additional projects with our other Jamaican partners.

The container was then shipped to Jamaica and delivered to Jerusalem! where it was eventually converted into a new building – the Jerusalem! Developmental Play Centre, which officially opened July 15, 2010. We also interviewed and trained a newly graduated ECE student who currently works in the centre. The JDPC provides a child-directed, play-based environment for children 18 months and up. The centre is available to all the children on the Jerusalem site, including, children with special needs and those living with HIV/AIDS.

 

Jerusalem! Village Learning Centre

After setting up the JDPC there remained a generous amount of furniture and program materials with which we were asked to create an adult learning center for the residents with physical and developmental special needs. In less than 2 weeks our team mobilized a massive work effort and we converted a rundown cottage into a beautiful learning center, which is open all day, 7 days a week.

 

Homework Library

Using more materials left over from the container and many materials brought down with our group we were asked to revitalize an existing library and homework centre for the girls of Dare to Care. The room consists of a book library; computer workstations, desk and table space and a office and art supply storage area.

 

Educational Assessments

In 2008 SCB helped the children of Mustard Seed get placed in school by conducting educational assessments that were required for their school enrolment. Prior to that 90% of the children were not in school.

 

Professional Development Workshops

Most of the caregivers who are directly responsible for the care of the children are nurses who have no training in early childhood education or behaviour guidance. As a result caregivers have difficultly keeping children stimulated, engaged and out of trouble. In 2008 we were asked to provide professional development trained for all the caregivers on topic such as, Learning through Play, behaviour guidance and activity planning. These trainings are ongoing.

 

Classroom Support

Much like in Riverton, we assist in the classroom wherever we are needed during the day. We help with organizing, creating resources, planning activities and taking small group out of the classroom for focused activities. We also replenish their classroom supplies such as paper, pencils, etc. Participants are asked to get to know the teacher and ask how they can be of assistance rather than heading straight for the children. They are not allowed to carry children around, give them candy, and take pictures or other distracting behaviour during class time.

 

Summer Camp Program

Each summer the Little Angels School on the Jerusalem! compound runs a summer school program. Last summer we were asked to help enhance the program by helping teachers plan more interactive and play based activities. This will become and on-going project area.

 

Field Trips for Children

The Mustard Seed Children have some unique challenges due to their circumstance, which has them living in a group home. One of the biggest challenges is lack of opportunities to experience the world off the compound. Children are kept sheltered there due to horrible societal stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS and also because of lack of funding. Each year we run a number of highly anticipated field trips including a beach trip for all children, and a movie night for the boys at Matthew 25. Occasionally we hold a slumber party or workshops for the teenage girls and/or boys at our accommodations, St. Theresa’s.