A homeowners Story – Lenel McKay
Submitted by Barb Most ~ St. Andrews Church, Mahtomedi, MN
January 25th – February 1st, 2014
Lenel McKay, or Len, chatted with me in the warm Jamaica sun in Hague, Falmouth, up on the hill, with her bright yellow sided house being constructed with the help of Mission Jamaica teams the week of January 27, 2014. She was so thankful, so humble, and so grateful. I wanted to hear her story. Lenel has long been a habitat volunteer, in fact, since 1999, the first year habitat started in western Jamaica, with the help of the Canadians. Habitat in Jamaica is now called J’Bode, short for Jamaican abode. What also makes Len special is her faith, her constancy, and willingness always to help others.
Lenel was born in Haddo Westmoreland, into a family of 12 children, and Lenel was born the 11th of those 12 children, each child being born 2 years apart. Her mom died when she was 2 years old, shortly after she had her last baby, Len’s youngest sister.
Len’s father died when she was 10. Len’s older brother took care of her after the family was then split up. Her brother lived in Kingston, and this is where she attended school in the Kingston 8 area. When Len turned 17 she got her own apartment in Kingston and started to take care of her younger sister, who was then 15.
Len’s children had her first son, Fabian, when she was 19. Her daughter Sherica was born the following year, and the 3rd baby, another son, Kareem. The children’s father was transferred from Kingston to Montego Bay, working with the Banana Board as a skilled mechanic. At that point Len left her sister with the apartment in Kingston, and started a new life with her family in Cambridge, not far from the location of her birth, Haddo. But every month she would go back to visit her sister. The kids went to school in Cambridge and Montego Bay. The father then migrated to the US in 1982 to do farm work in Connecticut. His parting words, when he left her for work, were always “later hon.” But this time, there was no later, and he never returned, and they gradually lost contact.
Len was left to care for 3 children aged from 5 to 4 months, as well as pay the rent. She struggled to make ends meet by working in her sister’s grocery store. In 1999 she moved to Falmouth, interested in starting her own vegetable gardens and selling fruits and vegetables. This is when she met Delsie Murrey, and became involved with volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity. Delsie is a local activist and spokesperson for the widow, orphan, homeless, and challenged, another truly remarkable woman in Jamaica. Delsie helped Len understand the importance of Habitat for Humanity, and Len became a dedicated volunteer. In the meanwhile, Len was making ends meet as a vegetable vendor, and in her spare time volunteered for Habitat.
At one particular habitat site, Len met a man who had land in Salt Marsh Falmouth, and wished to share this land with her, if they could build a habitat home together. This was Len’s life dream! She would at last have her own home for her and her family. After years of work, they heard the news in 2001 they would get a home. When Denny and I visited it in 2008, what I remember the most is the tiled patio that Len created by hand, with pieces of broken ceramic tile she artfully arranged and configured. She lovingly collected the broken pieces from the hardware stores as discards. It was truly beautiful and showed so much of her spirit and personality.
After 12 years, Len sadly realized the relationship was broken, despite repeated attempts to reconcile. She had to leave, and she lost her home she worked so hard for! It was a once in a life time opportunity and dream, and now it was gone. She had attempted to get her half of the equity in the property, but the man was unrelenting, and her legal recourse was limited. All her dreams were dashed and she was back in a rental in Duncan’s in the Trelawney parish.
It was then in September of 2013 that she heard she was candidate for a new J’Bode home that would truly be her own! It was in Hague Falmouth, there would be room for garden, and she would have a home, and continue to provide a means for herself, children, and grandchildren! She looked at me with wide eyes and asked how many people ever get a second chance? I am truly blessed!