In 1978, as a young academic, Fr. Gregory was lecturing in geography at University of the West Indies – Mona, Jamaica. While there, he began a ministry in a low income community situated at the gates of the University Hospital. Among the needs that he identified was a care center for children with disabilities. Through volunteer efforts and donations, he built a wooden building – this was the beginning of the Mustard Seed community. Through his passion, vision and unrelenting dedication, the Mustard Seed Community has grown. It is now headquartered in an inner-city community. Fr. Gregory lives and works at the Mustard Seed office location – the community that he serves – an intercity community subject to violence and periodic upset. From this location, the Mustard Seed Community serves those around it with day care, educational facilities and home feeding programmes for the poor and elderly.
Fr. Gregory tries to not only raise funds for his projects but to develop the skills of the beneficiaries – to enable them to “fish for themselves” and to look to their own financial self-sufficiency. In short, he has changed how social work programmes are developed, from a welfare model to a development model. He has started up a number of income generating projects such as fish and egg farming, a ceramic factory and vegetable farming. These projects have had a double impact, that of income for those who work in the business and the increased access by all the community to better nutrition and health. Fr. Gregory has sought to go beyond the ordinary, refusing to believe that poor people should lead second class lives – for instance, he started-up an internet café, enabling the inner city residents’ access to the world for ideas, homework assistance and markets for the goods and services that they produce.
The Mustard Seed community operates Government of Jamaica-sanctioned homes for people with disabilities, children’s homes, including homes for children for whom there was no place to go, children with disabilities, and those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. Its activities reach across Jamaica – to Montego Bay where similar children homes have been established. He has also helped established similar facilities in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua; and as far as the African Continent. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this work over the last 25 years is the way in which Mustard Seed has been able to foster and engender a sense of worth and pride in those who benefit from the efforts. It has allowed people to change their life circumstances, and believe that they can take responsibility for their lives, and live their lives in dignity. This approach is an inspiration in implementing community programmes; with community persons as full partners in their development.
Fr. Gregory’s work is highly regarded by his peers who laud and actively support his projects, by private sector persons who willingly and generously support many of his programmes, by the myriad of volunteers who work tirelessly on fundraising and other activities, by his staff as well as the international community, where his pioneering work in developing and delivering holistic services for the poor is studied and emulated all over the world. Fr. Gregory’s ability to envision and develop projects in keeping with the needs of the beneficiaries, to foster teams and call people to action, his management skills, and his commitment to excellence, coupled with his deep spirituality, integrity and passion, result in an organization that both the government and private sector are inspired to support, allowing him to garner resources for those underserved in society. Father Gregory’s lives his philosophy that “faith can move mountains” – mountains have moved to benefit the poor and the hopeless, those who, before Mustard Seed, never thought anyone cared, and never thought mountains could move for them.
Gregory Ramkissoon is 53 years old. He was born in 1952 in Trinidad and has lived in Jamaica since the mid-1970. He is a Roman Catholic priest. He is an outstanding exemplar of excellence in Caribbean public and civic affairs.