Care, Care & Community in Jamaica by Amy Stanton
I had always wanted to commit to volunteer work overseas, I just wasn’t sure which destination or project to choose. It was a hard decision choosing which destination to pick, but I eventually decided on Jamaica. I was drawn in from the other volunteer stories, it sounded so much fun! Then after doing my own research, Jamaica seemed like the perfect place to volunteer, the music, people, beaches seemed amazing!
First Impressions of Jamaica
When I first arrived into Mandeville, my immediate impression was that it looked so beautiful, the view was magnificent, you could see for miles. Our host family were so welcoming and kind, we got to spend some time settling into their home at first, our host mother made us comfortable. I was staying with six other teenage girls, who seemed like quite a handful, but we all got on quite well, it was fun getting to know them all.
My Placement – the first week
On the first day of our placement, we were introduced to the children and staff at a local Primary and Junior High school. I can remember walking through the doors to a hall full of children who just couldn’t stop smiling. Neither could I. It was a great moment of the trip and was the beginning of an exciting time in Jamaica.
It wasn’t long after our introduction that children were asking us questions and wanting to play with our hair. They took a great interest in our possessions such as cameras, it was nice to look through my picture library to see what images they had captured and I was surprised as they were nice to look at.
The children were split into groups depending on their ages (7-10 and the older ones 11-16). Volunteers were split up too and took on a small group of children and then took them to the classrooms. For the first week, I was assigned the 7-10 aged children. Throughout the first week of placement, both volunteers and children participated in a range of activities such as; decorating pencil holders, making ‘My Life’ scrap books and taking part in outdoor games such as Duck Duck Goose which was very popular! It was great to feel like a child myself by getting involved with the activities.
My Placement – the second week
When the second week of placement came round, we swapped from the younger children to the older children aged 11 to 16. At first I thought it would be slightly more difficult to get across to the older children but it wasn’t, they were just as much fun and great to be with. We did activities such as a poster in celebration of the big ‘Jamaica 50’ which looked amazing as we all worked as a team. We also got involved in arts and crafts and tie dying t-shirts, sadly mine didn’t come out too well!
The second week of being in the school brought a lot of fun games, in celebration of the Olympics, we organised a mini sports day for the children. They were able to participate in a range of activities from running to netball. We then had an awards ceremony to give the winners medals and praise them for their efforts. It was so spectacular to see the whole school come together and take part in one big activity.
During the week, we had put on a final talent show to exhibit all that we had learnt during our time at the placement. There was a drama, dance and sign language group which all gave amazing performances, some children read poems or sang. On our last day at the placement, the volunteers gave out gifts to children which we all brought ourselves. It was overwhelming to see the joy and excitement on their faces; we even got cake and ice-cream as an extra treat which was delicious. As we all gathered in the hall for our last time together, it was emotional for both volunteers and children to say goodbye.
For our weekend trip we travelled to Ocho Rios where we visited the craft markets and the beach. When at the craft markets, it was nice to see what was on offer; I eventually bought quite a lot of things! Even though the weather was not what we had expected we made the most of our time on the beach, so instead of sunbathing we decided to go jet skiing. Honestly, I have never done anything exhilarating in my life as I’m a bit of a ‘scardy-cat’ but going jet-skiing was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was just amazing going up the coast and looking back onto the island. Before heading back to the beach, we made a stop just further up the coast on the ‘White River’. This weekend trip then had me ready for the second week to come as I was so excited for what was prepared.
Travelling and Activities
To get from the host family’s home to our placement we travelled in assigned taxis with a few more volunteers. My taxi driver had a funny personality and made the journey quite memorable. For example one time, he was blasting out Whitney Houston ‘I Will Always Love You’. Many of my memories of Jamaica include the fun taxi rides, for example stopping off for ‘street-side snow cones’ which is definitely something I’ve never done before.
When not at our placement, we would take part in organised activities which helped me learn a lot more about Jamaica and its culture. We took part in reggae dancing and karaoke, patois class, visiting the cinema and food tasting. Our last activity took part back at the Projects Abroad office; it was a mini party where we were able to watch the opening ceremony to the Olympics. To say that I watched the opening ceremony to the London Olympics in Jamaica sounds unbelievable.
The hardest thing to do during my placement was getting used to the foods, simply because I can be quite fussy when it comes to food. However, it was delicious once I got used to it, our host mother would spoil us with different dishes for dinner and breakfast. Breakfast included a range of foods; it was like a three course meal, from toast to cereal and oatmeal, which I especially loved. Also, we had the opportunity to taste the famous Jamaican Patty and Jerk Chicken which every Jamaican loves - I did too!
With the final days of our placement being very emotional, it was hard to imagine we were even going home in a matter of days. On the day before our departure, our host family were kind enough to take us to their church; it was great to see how passionate the community felt about their religion. It was also a magnificent way to get involved with the Jamaican people and culture. The build up from the activities at both our placement and the Projects Abroad office truly made the idea of returning home quite hard.
I would definitely say that if you’re considering travelling to Jamaica with Projects Abroad, do come! It’s an experience you will never forget, honestly! Personally I can say that my experience in Jamaica has been a once in a lifetime opportunity, the memories and souvenirs will never be forgotten. Thank you Projects Abroad for making my time in Jamaica amazing! As the famous Bob Marley once sang, ‘One Love!’