2 Week Specials, Care & Community in Jamaica by Kayla Ramos
I have always wanted to volunteer abroad and for days I searched for the perfect organisation. Projects Abroad’s High School Special project really caught my attention. I love working with kids, so when I read the description about all the activities I became very excited. I chose Jamaica because of its culture and beautiful scenery. The Projects Abroad staff members were very helpful and answered all my pre-departure questions, making sure I packed everything I needed and making sure I knew who would pick me up from the airport.
My Jamaican host family
From the moment I arrived at my host family's house, when Mr Stewart said "welcome home" as he grabbed my suitcase, I felt welcomed and very much at home. Although Jamaica was in a drought, Mrs Stewart made sure we had plenty of water to drink and bath in.
We always had dinner together, but we could have breakfast at any time after 7am without having to wait on each other to be ready for the day. Mrs Stewart always made any kind of sandwich we wanted for lunch and there was a large variety of fruit to eat with our breakfast. She cooked us great Jamaican dishes for dinner such as saltfish and ackee, jerk chicken, red beans and rice, as well as pasta, barbecue chicken and hamburgers. At the end of our dinners, she would always place cake, sliced muffins, or other desserts on the table.
There were also three nights when they had some of their other family members over and had dinner with us. I enjoyed all the conversations we had as a family with the Stewarts... whether it was about our interesting days, Jamaica, or random stories about ourselves.
Projects Abroad staff
From day one, the Projects Abroad Jamaica staff made sure we felt comfortable in our host families, had enough to eat and drink and had enough supplies and materials at our placements. Whenever any of us needed anything from the supermarket, such as more snacks or water, the staff was always willing to take us. They often asked us how we liked Jamaica, our volunteer work and our social events.
Since we were High School Specials, all the staff were very protective and made sure the different project groups were together. We were always with at least one staff member, our host family, or our taxi driver at all times, which made us feel very safe in a country without our parents.
The two staff members at our placement did a great job coming up with creative, fun, and interesting activities for us to do with the children at our placement. The girls and I enjoyed our taxi driver, "Herbie". He taught us things about Jamaica, himself, and made our daily trips to and from our home and volunteer placement much more fun and interesting.
Volunteering in Jamaica
Our placement was a summer camp for children and the staff at our placement let us know the struggles of being a teacher for disadvantaged children; some of them don't have meals to eat at home sometimes, some don't get much love and support from their parents and most of them do not have access to technology or school supplies.
At the beginning of our first day at the placement, the children were shy for the most part, but it definitely did not take long until they were fighting to sit next to me. We did various arts and crafts projects throughout the two weeks for the children, had scavenger and treasure hunts, and played all sorts of games out on the field such as atoms, freeze tag, and dodge ball. In addition, we also taught the children classes on sign language, a wide range of etiquette and body hygiene.
We planted a vegetable garden at the front of the school and another day we had a sports day outside filled with sack races and relay races. On the last day we had a talent show and the children showcased a variety of performances before we gave out certificates and other awards.
It was very hard to say goodbye to all the children, staff and other volunteers. It felt like the girls and I had been friends for years. If I could do it all over just to re-experience everything, I definitely would. Although we taught the children all sorts of things during the two weeks, I think I may have benefitted more from them. It was so heart-warming and fascinating just to see their big smiles and hear them laugh for just the simplest things. This trip allowed me to not only be exposed and learn so much about Jamaica's beautiful culture: the food, language, music, people and way of life, but also to volunteers from all over the world. It was the perfect balance between helping disadvantaged children, socialising with the staff and other volunteers and seeing and learning about the country. It was such a great learning experience that I will cherish in my heart forever.