The student leaders selected Mustard Seed Communities, a non-profit, Catholic organization, as the mission sponsor. Mustard Seed cares for over 600 children who have mental and physical disabilities and also children who are affected by HIV and AIDS. There are among 14 orphanages within the communities, located in Zimbabwe, Nicaragua, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic.
The College of Pharmacy stresses outreach to students and encourages them to use what they have learned to help others. “Learning through service integrates community engagement with instruction and reflection to enhance students’ growth and learning experience as well as teaching civic responsibility. By traveling to Jamaica, students were able to expand their service learning education globally,” said Kelly L. Matson, a clinical pediatric pharmacy specialist and clinical associate professor in the College of Pharmacy.
“Though many of the children were both immobile and unable to speak, their faces would light up in your presence. Spending time holding them and singing to them was enough to make a lasting connection. For those children who were more vocal, we played games with them, helped them with their homework, and even made lists of words for them to practice. For those who were more mobile, we played a lot of soccer with them. And I mean a lot,” said Morgan Ratte, a fifth-year pharmacy major and student leader of the trip from Hudson, N.H.
The largest Mustard Seed community is located in Kingston, Jamaica, with several homes that provide care to almost 400 children, including pregnant adolescents and their infants, children with HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, and other pediatric chronic diseases.
“This was a dual-purpose trip requiring pharmacy majors to both care for the disabled children of Mustard Seed, and teach the caretakers about medication administration and side effects among other drug and HIV-related topics,” said Ratte.
The weeklong trip included three general medication administration workshops, and one HIV-specific workshop. The workshops were set up as stations and lectures, where the caretakers could interact with the students in small groups and ask questions.
“This mission trip to Jamaica took a lot of planning, fundraising, and commitment by the students volunteers. Over the course of nine months we raised over $29,000,” said Allison Stefanski, a fifth-year pharmacy major and student leader of the trip from Westerly, R.I. “Every moment of fundraising stress and time commitment was worth it.”
With the help of family, friends, and community members the group was able to donate hundreds of office, medical, and baby care supplies, as well as, toiletries, toys and clothes for the children in need.
The students and faculty stayed at one of the orphanages named Sophie’s Place, a home to 21 disabled children. There, students were able to feed the children breakfast and dinner most days, which sometimes posed a significant challenge due to the children’s’ conditions.
“Nothing was more rewarding than finishing a bowl of food with a child who had been eating so poorly in previous days. From these interactions, we grew closest to the children at Sophie’s Place. They will forever have a place in our hearts and we’ve already discussed how much we miss them and can’t wait to one-day visit again,” said Ratte.
The caretakers are employees of the Mustard Seed Community in Jamaica. Caretakers from the communities are not trained medical professionals or first-aid certified so the benefits of visits by groups like URI’s are beneficial for the missionaries and the communities.
“Once the workshops concluded at each orphanage, we left the caretakers with the materials we used during the workshops – including a handmade drug reference guide of the commonly used medications in Jamaica, instructions and diagrams for each route of administration, normal pediatric lab values, and Lexi-Comp® Drug Information Handbooks for both adult and pediatric populations,” said Ratte.
The trip solidified in the minds of the students that the U.S. has remarkable resources and health care, but that is not the case in other countries. In Jamaica, there is less training for specific health care jobs and it is more difficult to reach a doctor.
“It made me realize that first-line therapy is not always an option there, and that substitutions and compromises must be made to do the best with what’s available,” said Ratte.
“This was an amazing experience, and we met the most beautiful and loving children who remain happy despite their circumstances and disabilities. It was also an eye opening experience to be able to provide medication information to the caregivers at the orphanages, and truly see what few resources they have and how much still needs to be done to truly make a large difference. Our workshops were successful, and I would love to return in later years to continue to work through Mustard Seed to help these children in need,” said Stefanski.
This release was written by Caitlin Musselman, a URI Marketing and Communications intern and a public relations and political science major.
Group Photo: Dr. Kelly Matson, Sam Ambielli, Alyssa Peckham, Morgan Ratte, Allison Stefanski, Brett Glasheen, Hannah Shorty, Jessica Corio, Melody Popp, Nick Leung, Gabe Noel, Jimmy Handshaw, Marisha Okpala, Meghan Kelly, Lauren Burke, Kelsey Sheehan, Beth Aldrich, Noelle Messner, Joe Nardolillo enjoy the sites in Jamaica and pose next to a statue of musician Bob Marley.
Brett Glasheen, a fifth year pharmacy major from Belgrade, ME plays with a young boy at the Mustard Seed Community.
Lauren Burke,a fourth year pharmacy major from Fairport, NY comforts and cares for a child at the Mustard Seed Community orphanage.
Photos Courtesy of: Morgan Ratte