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Pack a suitcase, change a life!

A Christmas vacation to the Caribbean for most returning residents means swapping snow shovels and heavy winter coats for warm sunshine, pristine beaches and traditional island vibes with family and friends.

This is not the case for Thelma Duncan and her husband Delovan Duncan who have been travelling to Jamaica for some time now for humanitarian purposes.

The Duncans travel with other family members each year to participate in what has become an annual tradition of giving back to their community of Logwood Walk in Trelawny. Thelma, who lives in Toronto, would like to see other vacationers take up the challenge of helping their local communities when they return home.

JMC spoke to Thelma recently about her trip to Logwood Walk.

JMC: When did this community initiative start?

Thelma: For the past four years, Jamaicans abroad in both the U.S. and Canada, have been going back to our district and helping the residents with identified needs.  My family and I got involved two years ago.

JMC: What was the focus this year?

Thelma: This year we gave out backpacks with school supplies to children and they were very happy.  Parents were very appreciative as that is a great help to them – it was one less thing they had to worry about as some had to provide for other school needs and some had more than one child to provide for.

Not only did we give the children school supplies but this year I was able to use my skill as a nurse to run a blood pressure and blood sugar clinic.

JMC: How was this service received?

Thelma: It was well received as all the testing was done free of cost.  I found that there is a great need to educate people on the importance of taking their medication.  Many were diabetic and they’re not taking their meds and not realizing the great harm they do to themselves.

We also got some help from an organization called Not Just Tourists Toronto.  They gave medical supplies such as gloves, masks, syringes, splints for the arm, disposable booties and disposable gowns. All this was donated to Falmouth Hospital.

JMC: How do you fund this initiative?

Thelma: Every year my family and I come together and do a “pardner,” which is pooling resources together and doing a scheduled withdrawal for each participant. Whatever the pardner draw is, all the funds from my family’s contribution goes to the project.  This year the Canadians focused on providing the school supplies while the Americans were responsible for providing the food on the work day – this means feeding the workers and the community at large.

The local residents play their part by helping to coordinate this joint effort.  They secure the venue where the event is held and they are responsible for advertising.

JMC: Why do you do this?

Thelma: This a chance to give back to the community and people truly appreciate what we do as it brings the community together.   In a country where there is a strong political divide, on the work day we had a member from the opposition party on site, commending us on the work that we were doing and he also donated some funds to the cause. I feel very fulfilled when I do this.  I’ve been blessed and I in turn, can be a blessing to others.  All around us there is need and we can make a difference in the lives of those in need.

Thelma has managed to change the views of some who claim that their communities have done nothing for them and therefore have to give back.  She said, “Once you are able to help, you should help because there are others less fortunate than yourself.”

As you plan your trip to go to your homeland for Christmas, with the second semester of school coming up, exercise books, binder leaves, pens, pencils, crayons, art paper could go a long way for students in your host community.  Remember, Christmas is indeed, the time for giving.  To borrow the slogan of Not Just Tourists, “Take a Suitcase, Change a Life!”

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