Teaching in Jamaica by Joseph Dominguez
After hearing stories of a friend spending time in South America doing volunteer work, I decided that this was something I wanted to pursue. Having spent a lot of time abroad in numerous countries as a student, it was time to rediscover that wanderlust as a working professional. There was no better way to escape from the daily grind than to pack my bag and head to the sunny shores of the Caribbean!
After attending an online webinar and an information session in person, I knew that Projects Abroad was the right organisation to volunteer through. With great support both prior to and during the volunteer experience, it was the right decision. In assessing possible destination options, I chose Jamaica.
I have always been fascinated by the culture and climate of the Caribbean nations. I tossed up between doing a Building or Teaching project, eventually opting for Teaching. Jamaica's official language is English, and I thought being a native English speaker would put me in a good position to assist students struggling with English.
Arriving in Jamaica
On first arriving in Kingston, I was greeted by a friendly member of staff who took me to my host family's house. On my first day I was treated to an introductory tour of the city of Mandeville, only a short cab ride from where I was based. It was there I met other volunteers and was shown where the bank, supermarket and taxi ranks were located.
My Teaching Placement
For the month long duration of my placement, I had the opportunity to teach three different students. I was based at a church (naturally - Jamaica has the greatest number of churches per square mile than any other country!) for my teaching placement. Being school holidays, I had the chance to tutor students one-on-one in their areas of need.
My first student was a 20-year-old man who struggled with his English reading skills. I would use the resources available to me - in this instance, a poetry book seemed to work well as it focused on pronunciation of words as well as introducing new words into his vocabulary. My second student was an 11-year-old boy who also struggled with basic English. I would assist him in the basics such as months of the year, days of the week, spelling and even basic numeracy skills such as addition and subtraction.
My final student was a 30-year-old woman who had dropped out of high school and lacked the basic literacy and numeracy skills to gain better employment. I saw this as an opportunity to teach and guide her, hopefully opening her up to better employment opportunities in the future. After my initial assessment and determining that her level of English was at a good standard, I was surprised (and delighted) that she had expressed interest in learning mathematics.
This was perfect for me, as I work professionally as an engineer and was able to teach and introduce her to basic concepts in mathematics such as surface area/volume of basic shapes and even an introduction to algebra.
Support from Projects Abroad
During my time in Jamaica I was offered fantastic support from the Projects Abroad local staff. Whether I needed additional resources for my Teaching placement, or needed a recommendation on where to stay/how to get to a location for a weekend away, the staff were always willing to help.
Travelling in Jamaica
My time in Jamaica was not all work! There was definitely an element of fun. During my time, I had the pleasure of meeting fellow volunteers hailing from all corners of the globe. I was the only Australian volunteer during my stay, which I thought worked in my favour. I have forged friendships and connections that I know will last for many years to come.
During weekends, I had the pleasure of exploring Jamaica's beautiful beaches with the other volunteers. Even during these trips away, I managed to run into previous volunteers visiting Jamaica again on vacation! My favourite weekend experiences included soaking up the sun on the beaches of Negril and climbing the Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios.
Projects Abroad organised several social activities to encourage volunteer interaction with the local community and introduce volunteers to Jamaican culture. This included a ‘dirty day’, whereby we were taken to a village outside of Mandeville to help out a local family by helping build a section of their house. We were also introduced to Jamaican dance and were given a fun reggae dance lesson by a professional instructor!
My experience with Projects Abroad is one that I look back on with great joy. I already look forward to planning my next volunteer experience in an exotic location. The great, like-minded people I met in my travels, the experiences I shared and cultural learning exchanged will never be forgotten. I felt that I had made a successful contribution to the community through my volunteering effort.