Mountains filled with rocks and fallen leaves mark the trail that Lori Yap Shing and her volunteers must follow to get to the houses of those in need in Jamaica.
Yap Shing, a Florida International University medical student, had no idea that houses made of palm and wood were built in those mountains.
She felt at that moment that she truly needed to continue helping her homeland.
We Care, a non-profit organization created by Yap Shing in Jamaica stems from her experience growing up in Montego Bay and her realization that many of those on the island are not as privileged as she was.
More than 400,000 people live in poverty and 14,000 live in extreme poverty on the island. This accounts for 15% of the country’s 2.7 million people.
Families living in poverty don’t have access to goods such as toothpaste, flour, or toys for their kids because they spend most of their income on the basics just to survive.
Yap Shing, born in 2002 and raised in Montego Bay, lived on the island til age 10.
She describes her experience there as beautiful, as she was able to connect with her culture and the people who lived near her.
“Everyone knows everyone,” she said. “When my dad comes with me back to the island, they’re always like, ‘Oh I remember you, we played football in school together.’”
In 2012, her mom and dad decided to leave Montego Bay and move to Miami to give her, her two older sisters and her brother the opportunity to study in the United States.
She did not realize until she moved to Miami that some families in her homeland did not have access to everyday essentials such as toothpaste.
“Sometimes you give them toothpaste because a lot of people don’t have it, which I didn’t know,” she said. “Some of them in the community walk to the store and they bring their toothbrush and they’ll get squeezes of toothpaste.”
Along with the toothpaste, the We Care donations include cooking oil, flour, and rice. They also make special bags, which include candy and toys, for the kids on the island.
The We Care organization is registered as a non-profit corporation in Florida, which allows it to collect aid. It began with donations from her mom’s friends.
“It started off small, cause you know, it was just my family and sometimes the money was tight, so we had to stretch it and try to give them things that will last them a while,” said Yap Shing.
Donations sent to We Care are held in a warehouse in Jamaica where Yap Shing and her volunteers package them up to be donated.
The organization also collects goods in the United States that are later shipped to Jamaica.
Now, they have gained more recognition and the help of her extended family plus volunteers.
They aim to help at least 50 families with every event they hold and so far have assisted 250 with $4000 raised.
“A lot of people aren’t working right now so they don’t have the resources in order to get their necessities,” she said.
Yap Shing worked along with her sister Mia, who has noticed a change since the start of their non-profit.
“Because of We Care I noticed that Lori has become more understanding of everyone we meet, it’s something she’s very passionate about,” Mia Yap Shing said. “You could see how happy she would get seeing the look on the families faces.”
One of the volunteers who helped leave an impact on these families was Crystal Sims, a Jamaican police officer who worked along Yap Shing to help out during food drives.
She explained that it was a great and collaborative experience to work with the organization.
“It feels awesome and heart-stopping to be part of such a supportive organization,” said Sims.
Yap Shing plans to continue her organization in Jamaica and hopes to branch out to Miami.
”It makes me feel like I’m doing something important,” she said. “You can see there that you’re making a difference.”