Monday, June 6, 2016

My Experiences In Jamaica!

I have been fortunate enough to visit other countries around the world that have many similarities to Jamaica, but I have not had any experiences that have even come close to what I've seen here. When first arriving to the country 5 days ago, my immediate connection that I made was that Jamaica's country side was very similar to what I have seen from being in Dominican Republic so many times; just that everything here is in English and that they drive on the opposite side of the road. Jamaica is such a beautiful country, there are so many colors on the buildings and colors of the plants that are around the roads that it just makes me stair with awe. I've probably given myself so many headaches from constantly looking all around me on different sides of the bus just because I want to be able to see the uniqueness of the country. 
Throughout this trip, we have been blessed with a number of surprises that have made this different for everyone who is with us. Of course we have taken the time to explore the Jamaican culture and have some fun experiences while being here, but one shock that really hit me was when we went to Sunday mass. From attending the mass, it is evident to see that religion is a big part in the Jamaican culture, and it is a way in which defines the Jamaican people in my opinion. We were extremely welcomed and embraced by all those who were in the church, and it provided me with a sense of welcomeness . From that day on, every place we have traveled to, there has been a uniform sensation of hospitality and acceptance from all those we have encountered. Whether it was with the day laborers and students at Pedro Planes, or the principal of St. Mary's, or even Miss Winnie and her staff at Tiano Cove, everyone we meet has been so warm with their embrace and it is just a difference from what we generally experience back at home. 
Another experience that is truly an honor is being able to work side by side with day laborers as equals. As a group we have had multiple discussions about the difference between helping, fixing, and serving. The definition of service that we have all come to the consensus of agreeing upon was that "service is a relationship between equals." That was the exact experience that I was able to have being out on the first worksite. One of my goals for the trip was to do cement work and when I say that it would be a possibility I went right to it. The day laborers were very welcoming and they did not treat me any different because I was a girl. They let me get my hands dirty and they let me do my own thing to get the work completed which was just a really gratifying experience. With the cement work, I helped build a wall off bricks and also put cement inside cracks along side the net ball court. 
Finally the last experience I want to talk about ties into something that we as a group spoke about in group discussion tonight, and that is about privilege. Thanks to everyone who supported me and believed in me, I have received the privilege to even be in Jamaica to provide services to these schools who need them. Secondly, the privileges I have in life have given me the knowledge and ability to pass along information and assistance to those who are less fortunate then I in order to ignite  passion into them. For example, the group took a drive up to St. Mary's Primary School where we met with the principle to help brainstorm some ideas for ways to improve the schools current condition. As engineers, the privileges we have received from our education has allowed us to collaboratively formulate ideas to improve the schools condition in order to provide the students who attend the school with the opportunity to receive a better education for their future. Not only from this example, but the projects that we have been working on also provide that same opportunity for these children to excel in their education.
It is crazy that we only have two more days of working left. We will be working at a project at Church Hill next, and I'm sure there will be a number of new and exciting experiences that will continue to make this trip a blessing. 
-Melanie Caba

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Finished? Not Quite Yet…

I woke up this morning feeling…strange. There was no sunlight shining into my room to wake me up at the early hour of 7 am. There was no project waiting for my group. Most of all, my group wasn't there to welcome me to the breakfast table. I was in my own bed, curled up in my covers because New Jersey is now freezing to me. I felt empty knowing our trip was over, and I wouldn't be spending the day with my newfound family.

But that doesn't mean our mission, our purpose, is complete. No: it is just the beginning. Jamaica has opened up a whole new vision to me, a vision of a world with promise and equal social opportunity for everyone in their own methods. Americans are so egocentric in their work and think their way is the only way. Jamaica has shown me there are multiple ways to get the same thing done and to use the resources at your disposal. Everyday of work, we came across new challenges as to how to get things done. Together, we used the tools and our group to complete all of our projects. But it wasn't work for us. We connected with the locals by learning about their culture, sitting in on their classes, and played with the kids when they came outside. We have served the Jamaican communities and they have served us as we learn to better ourselves and the world around us. The very fact that while I was working I didn't feel the heat from the sun or the enormous amount of sweat dripping off my body, that we had to be pulled away from projects because we forgot to eat or drink speaks numbers of how it has impacted everyone in the group.

But most of all, Jamaica has served me by giving me somewhere to look when I need to remember what I can do, what we can do, if we open up our minds and hearts to the ideas and affection of others. I can make a difference, I can lead a movement, I can change the world for the better. Yes, it takes hard work, sweat and grit and strength, but the end product is the most rewarding part of the whole project. To see people happy about and positively affected by what we have done speaks numbers to my heart. Now I want to continue to serve for the rest of my life, whether in my local community or across the ocean, the connections and gratitude are all I need to feel complete with my life.

I think I was also so lucky to have my first experience of serving globally to be with such an amazing group of people. Within them, I have found another family, people I can be myself with, where no one is left behind and everyone is accepted and contributes to the group. I don't think this type of group comes around very often, only once in a lifetime, but I'm glad I served with them, to find commradery in a shared passion to make the world a better place. My experience would not have been the same without them. My desire to continue might not have been found, and all I can say is how grateful I am for the experience as a whole.

- Caroline Culp

Life Changes - Julia

This past week in Jamaica was better and more rewarding than I could have imagined. It being my second service trip there, I was able to open myself up further and gain even greater insights than I did the first time. I didn't think it was possible and that is why I am honestly so in awe of what I have experienced and learned. This trip was life changing for me.

I'm back home now, drinking Blue Mountain coffee and reflecting upon the important take-home messages that I will remember for the rest of my life. Often, I am told that I am an optimist and see life through a "peachy" lens. I want everybody to be happy all the time and conflict truly gets to me emotionally. This is a part of my personality so I am thankful for the person I am and am not going to say that these traits are necessarily bad. However, I think it is important to notice that this may be a form of "oppression Novocain". Through this trip, I have learned that it is important to feel the pain of others and become aware that this pain exists. I can't continue to have a view that solely concentrates on what I personally see and experience every day. There are bigger issues in the world, from a community level to a global level, that need attention. This is where doing service, versus helping, becomes important. When you help others, you are doing a task for them just for the sake of doing it or even to make you feel better. However, when you serve others, you understand and care about their pain, ask questions about why they may be in pain, and reflect upon the work you are doing for them in order to get something out of it for yourself and expand your knowledge of the state of the world around you. In other words, you are decreasing the amount of "oppression Novocain" you experience and are facing reality. I plan to work towards this more from now and ask the question why? more often during service.

I don't believe I've been one to make quick judgments about people but when I think about it that may be because the majority of the people I am surrounded by on a daily basis are a lot like me. We may not all come from the same backgrounds but we are currently all on a college campus in New Jersey working on our education. The differences among us in this setting aren't that significant compared to the cultural differences I observed in Jamaica. There were a few times that I had to step back and take a moment to consciously remind myself that the culture there is significantly different and I can't be too quick to judge someone for what they do or how they act. There are probably reasons for them doing so that I am not even aware of. I was there for one week and observed actions that occurred with a lifetime of prior experiences that I have no idea about. How could I possibly judge that person? Moving forward, I am going to be more conscious of this and have a more open mind towards people that I don't know anything about because although we all come from different backgrounds and have different views of the world, we are all humans just doing the best that we can.

My goals from this point forward are to commit more of my time to service in my local community and work towards understanding more about the issues that exist. I would eventually like to choose a cause or two that I am interested in serving throughout the rest of my life so I can become highly educated in that specific issue. I have already planned to attend an informational meeting about human trafficking at a local church in a few weeks and I hope to learn more about the reality of the situation and see what I can do about it. I would like to become a conscientious citizen and live a life with concern for others and the world I live in, on a community and global level, every day. Thank you Jamaica for giving me these things that I will take with me throughout my entire life!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The First Week of the Rest of My Life

There are several landmarks in my life map that have proven to be significant turning points in my personal development. This week has been, thus far, the most important of those landmarks. It is so difficult to put into words the exact impact that this experience has had on me because it is a feeling that has no words, but rather strikes a chord deep within my very heart and soul. Therefore, I have pinpointed a few key moments from the trip that, I believe, begin to sort of piece together my sentiments.

The first of these moments was the very first time that I was able to interact with the kids at Pedro Plains Primary School on Monday of the trip, our first day on the site. I began walking over to the group of basic school children, and about four of them immediately sprinted over to me and ran into my arms. These children had absolutely no idea who I was and here they were, running at me with their arms and hearts wide open. If pure happiness has a definite form, I'm pretty sure this would be it. I can't even explain how warm I felt (and not just temperature-wise) as so many of these beautiful children leaped into my arms and held on tight, begging me not to put them down. These children were shrieking with laughter and had the absolute biggest smiles on their faces with nothing more than a tree to hang around on, some bubbles that we brought, and their new American friends. It was absolutely so refreshing to see this mentality, as far too often I see children in America who are bored even with hundreds of gadgets and games. I am still trying to wrap my head around this concept: that the people of Jamaica live in a third world country that's in economic turmoil, yet are still the happiest, kindest, and most loving people I have ever seen.

Another turning point also came during our time at Pedro Plains, towards the end of Tuesday. I had on my favorite pair of purple and yellow sunglasses that were super reflective and cool. The kids who were there were simply fascinated by them, so I let some of them wear them for a few minutes, then I eventually took them back. Towards the end of the day, as we were beginning to leave, a small girl came up to me and shyly asked if she could have them. My very first instinct was to immediately say no, but instead I recognized that giving her these glasses would probably make her entire month. This was a key turning point in my own personal development on this trip, as one-week-ago me probably wouldn't have given them up. I realized that I have the privilege and convenience of hopping in my car, driving to the store, and buying a new pair of sunglasses anytime I want. The small girl graciously accepted the glasses and ran off, showing off her new shades to everyone and marveling at their shininess. This is just another example of how these kids are so happy and amused by what we consider to be the most simple of things.

A third special moment came during my time at Church Hill Primary School during the second half of the week. As we were finishing up lunch, Kaye asked for two volunteers to work on a new project, and Melanie and I volunteered immediately, having no idea what we were about to get into. Kaye led us over to what was a snack bar in progress and asked us to paint the entire inside bright yellow. Not only was the paint oil based (aka very smelly and practically impossible to clean), but the tiny shed was extremely dirty, hot, and swarming with mosquitoes and countless other insects (including a centipede). However, none of these factors really even phased me (except for the centipede) because I was with Mel. We worked together seamlessly to warn each other of especially large insects, dripping paint, and spots missed. Mel was one of my peer mentees this year, and being able to spend one-on-one time with her under such unique conditions was truly special. Even though she acted like a real adult more than me for the majority of the time (i.e. was infinitely more calm about the centipede incident), I got to share some of my insight with her during our chit chat, which was very special for me. On top of being able to connect with one of my peer mentees, the work we were doing also proved to be meaningful. During the lulls in our conversation, I found myself envisioning the excitement of the children who would soon be storming this snack bar during recess. I could picture the bell ringing and a horde of children sprinting over, jostling to see what snacks were up for grabs, running off with their new treasure. Knowing that I was the person doing the literal dirty work to complete something that would serve hundreds of children for years to come made up for the fact that I wasn't able to see this pan out in real life.

A final moment that I want to share isn't one that I can particularly pinpoint, but was rather a realization that came to me gradually during our final day at Church Hill while I was helping to paint the exterior of the school. Throughout the whole week, I was always trying to think about why my contributions specifically were meaningful and important. While painting the school, I was finding it a bit difficult to find an answer; I suppose it was harder to grasp at first since I wasn't working on anything that wasn't already there. However, I realized that this fresh coat of paint was one of my most meaningful contributions yet, because it is not only important that the school has facilities, but it is also highly important that these facilities are visually appealing so that school is a place kids want to keep coming back to. With new bright colors, I could see these kids running up to school every day awed and excited. I firmly believe that education is one of the most important things in life, and it is especially a major key to these children who have such limited opportunity. This train of thought put into perspective the core reason of why all of the work we accomplished this week was so, so, so important.

These moments do a sufficient job at summarizing what impacted me during my time on the work sites, but I also must take time to talk about my incredible peers with whom I was fortunate enough to share this experience. I have never been a part of such a group that immediately and seamlessly just fit together. It was as if we were all pieces of a puzzle that had been strewn across various social scenes on campus, and when we were all put on that bus together, we just fit. I don't think I have ever laughed so hard in my whole life as I did during this week. I thought I was going to drown more than a few times because I was laughing so hard while in the ocean and forgot how to tread water. Every person in the group brought something so unique and special to the table. Most of all, everyone was beyond willing to get their hands dirty and help in any way possible. I don't think I heard a single complaint during the entire week, despite buckets of sweat, hundreds of mosquito bites, and tons of strenuous work. I've never been so motivated to do physical labor for hours on end, and I owe it all to these AMAZING people. The memories we shared during the down time will last a life time, between the countless bus ride sing-a-longs, hundreds of memes, endless rounds of Spot It, conversations about gross bodily functions, sand fights, heart-to-hearts, asking Merit to open the window (NO!), shouting "PASTA SWEAT!" "MUD!" and "BEEP BEEP!" at each other, making conga lines in the pool, jumping into waterfalls, and so so so many others. Thank you to all of you, from the bottom of my heart, for making this experience as wholesome and fun and incredible as humanly possible. I think my heart grew about 20 sizes bigger this week just to make enough room for all of you. I couldn't stop thinking about my favorite song from Wicked as we were saying our final goodbyes: "It well may be that we will never meet again in this lifetime, so let me say before we part: so much of me is made of what I learned from you. You'll be with me like a handprint on my heart... and now whatever way our stories end, I know you have rewritten mine by being my friend. // I do believe I have been changed for the better... but, because I knew you, I have been changed for good."

So... what now? I have spent the past few years of my life investing in myself: my mental health, happiness, independence, and growth. I absolutely needed to take this time to gain an understanding of myself in order to gain as much knowledge as I did on this trip. Now it is time to spend the next few years taking the time to invest in the world. Through my position in my sorority as Vice President of Membership Development, I have been striving to teach all of my sisters to make self-reflection and self-improvement a habit. When I return to campus in the fall, I am going to shift that focus to encompass everything that I learned in Jamaica about service: how it is the work of the soul and probably the ultimate thing that you can be doing to better your own life as well as those of so many others. I want to make all of our community service events meaningful. These are my first concrete plans to start spreading my newfound passion for service like wildfire. After that... who can say for certain?


Friday, June 3, 2016


June 3, 2016 - 9:28 PM - Day 7 Complete   The feeling is surreal. My emotions are running wild as a mixture of happiness, joy, sorrow, love, and peace. This group has come so far and has been able to acocmplish so much with what we were given. Yesterday and today, we went to Churchill Primary School in Negril, with the primary tasks being to help construct the roof of a lunch gazebo outside and to paint the school walls. This may seem like tasks that may be fairly straightforward, but the resources in Jamaica are unbelievably limited. Kaye (our program instructor) took at least one trip to a local hardware store every day at work. We often run out of paint, need a blade for a saw, then the saw stops working so we needed a new saw, and so on and so forth. While constructing the gazebo, the roof frame was built using wood , but these large blocks of wood were not pre-cut. They were raised to one of the laborers on the roof (I worked with Shevon, a total baller), who would mark the wood, throw it down, and Ryan Cole and I would cut it. This was done with a classic handsaw, slightly rusted, very flimsy. It was a great workout! But this is just a small example of the limited resources. The structure was covered with pleated sheets of zinc for roofing. With no electric saw the first day, the worker Paul tried to use these huge shears that simply were ineffective. The solution that was settled upon was to take a machete and hammer it with a block of wood through this thick metal sheet, not able to cut the perfect lines we can do with electric tools. This problem was avoided the second day (today) after Kaye kindly purchased a new electric saw, but even that resulted in fragmented sheet metal being sprayed at the legs of the workers cutting them. Towards the end of the work day, we left clothes and shoes for the workers, and I personally gave my work sneakers to Shevon. They were pretty beat up and dirty after the week, but this is like gold for him, and he was very thankful for them. We gave him a bucket hat as well to protect his face from the sweltering sun, and one could just see his happiness from having had us there. Additionally, he played with all the kids and ran and jumped during lunch break with us, showing how he truly enjoys life and whatever comes his way. He is not an exception, but a great example of Jamaican happiness and positivity. The children also are very resourceful, using a soccer ball for soccer, American football, basketball (on a hoop without a backboard mind you), and using whatever space to play as they can. They have little to begin with, and have been amazed with simple things like balloons and inflatable balls, objects they do not regularly get the chance to play with. They love us being there and really are so thankful. The smiles that are brought to their faces say it all, and God I wish I can do more work like this. As for our group, I mentioned in my previous post that they were all stars. But they are more than that, they are superstars. Every single one has something special about them, and together everyone is truly inspirational. They all ignite the fire and passion within me and each other. They are the reasons we have done great work, the reason I have been able to push forward. We have had many laughs, smiles, and I have never been around a more supportive group of people. At the end of the day, we ignited a flame and lit lanterns to send a wish to the sky. I sent mine up with Andrew, our group leader, my good friend from freshman year, and most of all, the dad of our group! He pushed us, did dirty work on this trip, and was an inspiration for all. The night ended with an ignition of a bonfire and we celebrated our last night in Jamaica. Many tears were shed, and we all truly are a family. This group has been the greatest to work in, and when we go back home, our work are not done. we have to take our experiences and use them to ignite a flame in our peers back home to do similar work! -Angelo Popper

I served you just as you served me

It's Friday! 
It is hard to believe that almost one week has passed since our entire group joined together for the first time in front of Howe. I'm currently sitting at the dinner table of the Whistling Bird, listening to new friends chat about nothing important in particular, watching the remnants of our bonfire blaze into the evening, and smiling to myself because I know I could not have asked for a better week.
As a blogger scheduled to write towards the latter end of  the week, I guess it might be expected of me to share my "watershed" moment, or that particular instance during the week that summarized my entire experience. Although I like to get to the point, I don't think I can pinpoint one moment that can truly sum up my experience. This week was filled with laughter, with sweat (A LOT OF IT), with thought-provoking discussion, and with warmth. It was characterized by the zinc that lined the roof of the dining pavilion at Church Hill primary school and the green paint that now lies atop the newly finished netball court at Pedro Plains. With a week packed to the very top with memories, it is impossible for me to remain terse when talking about a pinnacle moment.
So instead of remaining to the point, I want to challenge myself to be vocal, loud, and excited about my experiences when I get back to the United States and Stevens campus. As a first-time GSI-er last year, I talked about the trip to my close friends, to my family, and to co-workers who wondered where the hell I got so much sunburn from. This time is different. It is my responsibility to go home and to encourage others to come to Jamaica with this program. Or, if not Jamaica, read about the Carribean. Read about the history of racism, read about Chiquita, read about WHY it is so hard to find more than 5 gallons of a particular paint at any hardware store in a particular part of Jamaica. I was (and am) privileged enough to travel to Jamaica with this outstanding group of individuals, and now it is time for me to share my knowledge with the world, however small my "world" may be. 
If there is something to talk about more in depth, it would definitely be about the incredible group of people I served with over the week. It is funny how I don't even recall seeing some of my fellow GSI-ers on campus over the past two years, and now, I think I've gained several new friends! To Andrew (Dad), Popper, Monica, J-Pluymers, Cristian, Caroline, Allie, Jane (Keeper of the Keys), Ryan Cole & Tocci, Kelly, Zach, Julia, Corinne, Melanie, Thea, and Momma Kaye, you are what makes this trip what it is. Not only have we slathered countless ounces of suntan lotion on each other and ensured that we were all staying hydrated in the hot Jamaican sun, but we have also shared our privileges, repainted a beautiful school in Negril, and released our hopes for the future into the sky on small paper lanterns with each other. It has been an honor and a privilege getting to know you more on a personal level. We put in an enormous amount of work between the two school sites this past week, and it is due solely to all of our eagerness, excitement, and enthusiasm (how bout THAT alliteration).
I would be remiss if I did not make a small shout out to Thea and Momma Kaye. Thea, thank you for picking a wonderful cohort this year. You have such a knack for these kinds of things, and there is no other individual I'd rather have as a leader than you. Momma Kaye--your willingness and readiness to serve your friends in Jamaica is inspiring. I hope I find my passion just as you have found yours here in Jamaica. 
Last but not least, thank you to Jamaica. You are a beautiful country filled with hospitality and an unwavering spirit. You have had your fair share of struggles over the years, but you continue to remain. I will be back to serve you just as you have served me.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Two Different Worlds- Kelly

On day one of this trip, I remember being told that we would need to be flexible; it was almost inevitable that plans would change in some way, shape or form throughout our time in Jamaica.  Very soon into being in Jamaica, we showed our ability to be flexible and embrace change as Thea and Kaye excitedly told us they were planning a surprise for us. They loved doing this and we were alway excited to see what they had in store for us!  Their surprises were only the beginning of how we showed our willingness to fully embrace this trip--changes and all.  As a group, we adapted to different work sites, different projects, and different locations.
One change was going from Pedro Plains Primary School to Churchill Primary School.  Our projects at Pedro Plains Primary School, our first location, included finishing up a major project, the net ball court, and a lot of painting.  Our projects at the second location, Churchill Primary School, were to continue building a gazebo as well as some painting.  These projects alone were a lot different from each other and needed a different kind of focus from the group.  At Pedro Plains, we were given the task of finishing up a huge project.  This needed a lot of focus on getting to the end goal and making sure the finishing touches were completed.  At Churchill, our project was much different as we weren't faced with finishing a large project.  Instead, we were given the task of continuing work on a project and picking up where the last group left off.  Both of these projects required different skills from us.  I know I was able to learn different things from the day laborers at each site.  Because of changing projects, we got to see projects supported by various GSI programs at different phases.  For my self, it was an amazing experience to finish up a project that was on going for so many months.  At the same time, it was also very rewarding to contribute to a project that would be completed by groups just like the one I was with.  Both of these projects gave our group different challenges and required different focus, but both projects provided amazing experiences.
Another major change was moving from Taino Cove, Treasure Beach to The Whistling Bird, Negril.  In this move, I saw the differences and similarities in the two cities.  Treasure Beach was very remote and the houses were generally spread out from one another.  In Negril, I saw many more tourist and resorts.  Immediately driving into Negril, I could tell that this city was larger and more of an attraction.  I also noticed that a lot of focus was placed on agriculture and living off the land in Treasure Beach where as this was not the main focus in Negril.  As we drove to and from the work site in each city I noticed that the main mode of transportation was also different.  In Treasure Beach, it seemed that walking was one of the main modes of transportation.  Differently, in Negril, it appeared that motorcycles were the more popular mode of transportation.  The weather was also very different in the two cities.  At Treasure Beach, we were very excited to have a nice breeze through our bedroom windows and on the work site.  In Negril, the humidity was more noticeable.  Among these differences, there were also so many similarities.  My favorite was the people.  In both cities, the Jamaicans and schools were so welcoming to us.  I always felt so welcome by everyone whether it be the people at the hotel or the children and staff at the schools.
Experiencing both Treasure Beach and Negril has allowed me to get a better taste of the Jamaican culture.  I have seen a more remote area of the country and the more traveled part of the country.  As we sat around the table tonight reflecting on our work today and previous days, I couldn't stop thinking about how we my experiences in both cities has shaped my trip.  Being on the work site for both of these projects has been so much fun and I am truly excited but sad for my last day of work tomorrow.