Jessie MacNeil will spend six months at family-style foster homes in India
Sydney River woman quits job to spend six months in India.
Volunteering has always been important to Jessie MacNeil and that’s one of the reasons she’s going to India later this month.
The Sydney River native will leave on Feb. 15 and for the next six months will volunteer at Sarah’s Covenant House, a community of family-style foster homes that care for children and young adults with medical and special needs, doing behaviour therapy using applied behaviour analysis.
This will be the second time MacNeil has spent time in India as a volunteer. In 2012, she spent a month at the same facility.
“When I was there I was able to spend time and build connections with the children,” said MacNeil. “I’ve seen recent pictures of them and they’ve grown and changed so much — I’m really excited to see how they progressed.”
MacNeil started volunteering in 2009 after travelling to the Dominican Republic on a mission with a group of volunteers, led by Pastor David Sawler of Lighthouse Church.
After taking part in three separate missions, MacNeil began raising money to participate in the World Race, an 11-month Christian volunteer mission in 2012. As part of the trip, she held postings in India, Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
MacNeil credits Sawler for helping her realize how important it is to volunteer.
“It was my first experience doing mission work and I knew from the first time I went, it was something that I had a heart for,” said the 26-year-old.
While in India, MacNeil will be working toward becoming a board-certified behaviour analyst.
“One of the requirements in order to write my exam is to have 1,500 hours experience, under someone who is a (behaviour analyst),” said MacNeil. “I am able to use my time over there as hours of experience and I have a supervisor in the United States, who will be skyping me every week, overseeing what I’m doing.
Sarah’s Covenant House is home to more than 150 previously abandoned children who have been rescued from government orphanages that don’t have the ability to provide adequate care for their needs.
Sarah’s Covenant House is spread out over six apartmentstyle homes that include caregivers, nursing staff and house parents.
The children receive needed medical care as well as experience love, restoration and emotional healing within a family.
MacNeil will be working in the jubilee home, where she is expected to work with pre-teen girls with autism spectrum disorder, behaviour disorders and developmental disabilities.
After living in Halifax for the past three years, MacNeil recently quit her job having worked with the Halifax Autism and Developmental Support Service and doing private practice with families with children with autism spectrum disorder.
During her time in Halifax, MacNeil also volunteered with Autism Nova Scotia and L’Arche Halifax and is currently a member of the Atlantic Provinces Association for Behaviour Analysis.
MacNeil said, as a Christian, she felt she needed to go back to India to help.
“I know that I have the skill set now and I know that if they were to have this type of therapy, they would have to pay a lot of money for it out of pocket,” said MacNeil. “I know what I trained to do through my school and experience. It’s something they need and something I can provide to them on a volunteer basis, so they don’t need to pay.”
During her time in India, MacNeil will live in an apartment with fellow volunteers.
“It’s a two-bedroom apartment that houses on average two to 10 people,” said MacNeil. “It’s a much better living situation now than the last time I travelled — we didn’t have our own space, but I’ve been told I will have a bed.”
MacNeil said she told her family in late October she would be applying to participate in the six-month volunteer initiative.
“They support me no matter what I do,” she said. “When I came back from the first trip, they said they were glad I got my travelling out of my system, but I kept telling my Dad that I was serious that I was going back to India some day, but he never believed me.”
MacNeil had to fundraise in order to make the trip possible. She expects the trip will cost close to $9,000 which includes meals, lodging, supplies and her passport.
“I’m blessed to have been receiving so many donations — I thought I would receive a lot of smaller donations, but I’ve had a lot of people come forward to give larger donations, which has really helped.”
“I’m pretty close to reaching my goal,” said MacNeil.
“Some people raise money when they go away, but I decided to raise all the money up front so that when I’m there I can focus on my work.”
Residents wanting to make a donation to the trip can contact MacNeil by email at email@example.com.
For those wanting to following MacNeil’s journey, go to www.behaviouraboard.wordpress.com.
Jessie MacNeil is shown holding a child during a 2012 volunteer trip to India. MacNeil will be returning to that country on Feb. 15 to volunteer for six months at Sarah’s Covenant House.
Jessie MacNeil of Sydney River will be leaving for India on Feb. 15 to volunteer for six months at Sarah’s Covenant House, a community of family-style foster homes that house and provide care for children and young adults with medical and special needs.