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.

Day 6: From Paradise to Paradise

For the second half of the week, we are residing in Negril. Negril is tourist central. Its what you imagine when you think vacation Jamaica. What best way to start out our Negril visit than to go to a souvenir store! (right) The store owner is a good friend of Kay's so we all got a huge deal on merchandise. It was the perfect time to stock up on gifts for fam and family.
I guess I had an I'm-an-naive-American target on my head because as soon as I left the store I was approached by a local Jamaican. Internally, I was squirming because I know not to talk to strangers. I tried ignoring him but that did not work at all. So I figured "Fine, I'll politely get myself out of this situation."
Looking up, this guy had a beer and leaf thing in his hand. Already sketch. I forget exactly what he was saying to me but it was something along the lines of do you know what this is and smell it. OH. OKAY. No thank you. Officially sketch. By this point he had put whatever it was in my hand and wrapped his arm around me to face the bus. As I turned, I posed for a picture, creeped out of my mind, as Jane and Melanie were taking photos through the window. Luckily, he let me walk away by making me promise to ask my friends if they wanted any. Say no to drugs, kids. 
Anyway, that happens a lot on the beach too. Lots of tourist roll through, easy prey, and get hounded by local Jamaicans trying to sell things. They see white Americans and venture over to try to sell whatever they got. The property we are staying at (Whistling Bird) is fine fortunately because if you just say "No, I'm all right" they leave. Even if they don't, our security can come to handle it.
The Whistling Bird is like living in a cottage in the jungle. There are tree frogs everywhere making so much noise. The cottages are amongst the trees and leaves you would totally imagine in the jungle. A path that connects to each cottage leads to an open space where the sand, bar, and dining table is. Just beyond this is the beach with generally calm bath-like water. Compared to Taino Cove, the Whistling Bird is much more "natural" in the literal sense of the word. Taino Cove felt like a house. But both are incredibly gorgeous properties and I am so grateful to be able to have experienced staying in both areas of Jamaica.  
~Monica Williams

One Island, Many Worlds

As this trip is, unfortunately, quickly coming to an end, I've been reflecting upon how all of the work that we've done has been incredibly rewarding and, surprisingly for manual labor, a lot of fun. It's been absolutely fantastic working alongside my fellow students and even with the day workers, and we've worked tirelessly to accomplish in days what most would struggle to accomplish given weeks. I'm incredibly grateful for the time that we've been able to spend in Jamaica, and I can't put into words how much I wish we could make even more of an impact with the time we have left here.
One of the most key distinctions that the group has made since moving from Treasure Beach to Negril is the significant differences found on the work sites themselves. The first site we worked on, Pedro Plains Primary School, was shady and relatively cool, something that I honestly took for granted as I painted and my peers worked with cement and cinder blocks in order to finish up the school's new netball court. Nothing could have prepared me for the humid heat found at Church Hill Primary, and it clearly had an impact on everyone as soon as we started preparing for the day's work. Water was in high demand as our projects got started, as many people found immediately that the demanding tasks they took on required a lot more breaks and pauses to catch breath than we could have ever anticipated. I spent the day moving between painting assignments and being on digging duty, and it seemed as if the weather would never break or let up. 
What could be one of my favorite moments of the entire trip occurred towards the end of our time working today. After a long, difficult day for everyone, refreshing rain showers began just as we finished each of our tasks, and I looked back at the newly-painted facade of the school and the significantly progressed gazebo out front, and realized something deceivingly important: we came here, and we did that. Despite terribly hot and humid conditions adding another layer of adversity to an already complex project, we put out the same, if not even more work than we had in the days before, and it was inspiring to me to see that despite it all we still had energy and were willing to serve and do more for this very deserving school. Beyond the immense personal development I had attained from conversing and learning from the great group of students on this trip, together, we had developed and accomplished something tangible, and something worth celebrating, at two drastically different work sites. I've never been a part of such a thoughtful, open-minded, and dedicated group until now, and I'm thankful to have been invited to be a part of this trip and to be welcomed so warmly by everyone in the group and in Jamaica itself.
Upon even further consideration, I think it's drastically important for trips like this to travel to multiple work sites and participate in many different projects, if they can. Seeing both Pedro Plains and Church Hill, and both Treasure Beach and Negril, has helped me cultivate a greater appreciation for all that Jamaica has to offer, from wide swaths of rural and agricultural space, to bustling cities and busy streets full of motorbikes and taxis. Having both of these impressions of Jamaica, but seeing the consistently happy dispositions and smiling faces of the schoolchildren and residents in both locations, has taught me that this is truly a special place, and I'm honored to serve those in need on such a lovely and beautiful island.
- Ryan Donatacci

DAY SIX - Toy Story Aliens

After finishing our first day at Church Hill Primary School, it was extremely easy to pick out what was my favorite part. Monica and I happened to be taking a water break in the shade at the exact moment that Kaye brought black paint back to the site. She asked for two people to assist her with something and Monica and I, being in close proximity, immediately volunteered to help.  Kaye guided us accross the site, over the net ball court and into the third grade classroom.  She pointed out the dry eraase board that the teacher was using and the two black boards on either end.  The black boards were not in the best shape and hadn't been used as chalk boards for quite some time.  They had since had posters glued to them, stickers stuck on, and staples and nails inserted.  They needed to be scraped completely clean and repainted with the black paint. Monica took the chalk board to the left of the board and I took the right.  Kaye spoke her classic, "Make it work!" and left us to our new task. To the students, it must've been strange having us in their classroom as they worked. We started slowly and carefully removing the posters hanging from the board, while the woman teaching the third grade class began explaining why Monica and I were there an what were doing. The kids stood up and in unison said "Thaaank youu" and then the teacher started the lesson for the day. It began with a song, complete with hand motions. As I started scraping the board with a paint chipper and prying off countless staples and nails, I was able to catch a verse that was about the pricelessness of education and how it's a treasure worth more than silver and gold.  I turned back to face the 8 and 9 year old students standing behind me and couldn't help but smile. Wide eyed and in matching uniforms, they were too cute. As I swivelled to face the board again, the posters that I had removed caught my eye.  In my haste to tackle the board, I hadn't really looked at the content being displayed in the classroom. The handmade posters had titles such as "WANTS & NEEDS" and "MORAL VALUES". The "WANTS & NEEDS" poster described the difference between the two, and behind it were three more posters.  One was a small poster that defined WANTS as items that make us more comfortable, but are not as important as needs.  The other two posters went into details and examples that define NEEDS. I thought to myself that I had never seen posters such as these in an American classroom. It made me think of how wasteful our society can be and how skewed our line is between wants and needs. Once I'd finished cleaning the board, I started applying the jet black paint over the old, worn out wood. After the first two stroaks of the paint brush, the entire third grade class Ooooooohed like the tiny aliens in the vending machine from Toy Story the movie. It was incredibly gratifying that just this little deed could spark so much excitement and thankfulness. Soon enough, Monica and I had both boards finished and looking rejuvenated.  I'm certain we wouldn't have been able to finish the work as quickly without having the students laughter and singing to listen to. Another amazing day in the books with some stellar human beings. Very tired and  ready for bed! Over n' out, Johanna P.S. Love you Maum and Alleia.................JK LOVE YOU SO MUCH TOO DAD! Hope all is well with you all and that you had an amazing time with Amy and Matt.  Please give Trixie a hug for me......I'm talking to you seester.

Experiential Service

I've always had aspirations of visiting Jamaica. The birthplace of reggae, jerk chicken, and patois has always held my attention. To be honest, under any other circumstance I probably would've been deprived of mostly all of the afore mentioned qualities that make up this little island's culture. I would have just been another tourist making their way on down to the pretty beaches of a third world country for my own pleasure and going back to the place where I once came. So, I guess you can say I got lucky. Lucky in that my experience thus far has been one of the most enriching opportunities I've ever had. 
Portraying interest in a service trip has been an intention of mine for quite some time now. The ability to create change in a positive manner globally has been something that I've known I wanted to do. So it was a natural next step for me, as a strong advocate of giving back. Let me preface this by saying that I expected everyday in Jamaica to be one of some form of volunteer work. A week of grunt work was a small price to pay for the durability of an elementary school for the next couple of years. Boy was I wrong. First, it is incredibly taxing to work non-stop for a whole week in the unforgiving  Jamaican sun. And two, how could I expect myself to provide services to individuals who I couldn't connect with on a deeper basis. And so this is why the thoughtful coordination of the trip was planned the way it was. 
We started off by leaving the airport in Montego Bay and traveling nearly two hours to a beautiful family owned villa named Taino Cove. Taino Cove was a facility run by Miss Whinney and her husband Dr.Hilton. With a Jamaican run business, came the first manifestation of Jamaican cuisine and its regularity. Portion sizes were much smaller than what a typical American is accustomed to and most of the meals were made with locally grown/bred ingredients. Staying at Taino Cove really allowed me to embrace the simplicity of what life had to offer and understand the jubilant personalities of natives who were present during our time there. Making those connections was pivotal to applying personal passion to our day's work. In turn, service became a renewing entity. There was self fulfillment within the work provided and so my motivation was always kept intact. On the work site, I bonded with the day laborers; taught them English while they taught me Patois and  sometimes showed me how to "bust a sweat" on the dance floor. There were genuine interactions happening between individuals from two very distinct backgrounds and it was really great to experience first hand. 
Leaving Taino Cove to go to a location that wasn't the work site was also another aspect of the trip that provided me with memories that left deep impacts. For instance, the first morning in Jamaica, the cohort attended mass at a local church and the experience was very different from what I had expected it to be. We entered the church and everyone in that room was on their feet singing and dancing "in the name of the lord". I had never witnessed such a lively, dare I say, "fun" mass. I could've stayed there for hours had it not been time to leave for lunch. Even more fitting was that the church was celebrating children's month and so most of the messages they communicated pertained to the education of the young and their success in life which resonated with our group's mission. All of these factors further amplified the question of why we were doing what we were doing. 
Most of the nights while at Taino, we had the privilege of eating at local Jamaican eateries. Although, trips to restaurants don't sound like they applied to the greater picture, they did. At most of these locations, I'd like to say that we were exposed to Jamaican artistry. In my opinion, this came in two forms. The style of music played at each venue and the handmade products of many vendors that passed by. The music, if listened to closely, represented a stylistic representation of hope through struggle, a love of life and all around feel good vibes. The jewelry, paintings and sculptures each had their own meaning depicting a culture of storytelling. These traditional characteristics have allowed me to have a deep sense of gratitude for the Jamaican culture and its history. 
Without the opportunity to explore the different faucets of Jamaica this trip would be much different. And it has been through my vulnerability and open mindedness that I have been able to put into perspective the positivity that arises through service for this community.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

I Am Privileged

I am privileged. Today's Curriculum discussion made me realize how privileged I am and how I can use the recognition that I have for these privileges as a means of serving others.

Today, we said goodbye to Taino Cove and began our journey for the second half of the week at Negril. Since our trip does take the whole day, today is considered our "break" day. For this reason, we took a pit stop at YS Falls, a tourist attraction that featured beautiful forests and powerful waterfalls. First, we got ourselves suited up for ziplining. Being that this was my first time ever ziplining, I was a bit terrified to do it, but it was very exhilarating! Being able to see all of the green forests and rushing waterfalls as we ziplined through the forest was incredible. The most terrifying part of it honestly was probably when we somehow had to manage to fit all 16 of us plus some staff members onto one of the very small platforms, not the ziplining itself. Afterward, I was talked into going cliff jumping into a super fast river. I'm happy to say I did it five times and it was the most intense yet exciting thing I've ever done! Although that split second where you're underwater and have no idea where you are is scary.

After reaching our new destination at the Whistling Bird, getting settled, going to the beach, and having dinner, our group had a discussion about being global citizens and about what it means to be privileged. To initiate conversation about privilege, Thea organized an exercise for all of us where we all lined up in a line and held hands to start. Then, Thea would read off a privilege and an action (step forward or step back). Through this activity, multiple steps were taken forward and backward, hands were let go due to being too far ahead, and we all noticed how far back we were or how far forward we were, hence how privileged or not privileged we are.

From this, we broke into smaller groups to talk about "where we stood" during the process and then brought the conversation back into our whole group. The biggest take away that I got from this exercise is this: we may come from different backgrounds and have some privileges others lack and lack some privileges that others have, but we all made it to Stevens and we all made it to Jamaica. We are all here to reach a hand out to others and support them and go through any struggles we have, whether we are the privileged or not privileged, united and together. We're here to work together and serve the communities of Jamaica, as some of the privileges that we all have may not be the same that they have.

The concept of privilege also relates to our trip to YS Falls today. YS Falls is a tourist attraction of Jamaica, and even if we are on a trip that related to service, I think this experience was also a great way of putting the rest of the week in perspective as we continue to deepen our understandings of global citizenship, service, privilege. Other areas of Jamaica that we had done work in, will do work in the rest of the week, or have driven through on the way to a destination shows a prominent amount of poverty. Those types of scenes and pictures are things that are not seen in ads for going on vacation in this country. And the same goes for any other country, including our own. For example, Manhattan is full of tourist attractions that people love to go to (I'm guilty of it myself), yet there's also homeless people on the streets asking for money or food. This relates to privilege in that those that are able to go those tourist attractions have the privilege to be able to afford it. Those that have these privileges though shouldn't feel guilty for having it at all when seeing those in poverty nearby these attractions. The privilege is simply a part of who you are. However, what can be done is to be appreciative of the privileges that you do have and also support those that do not through service. A similar relation goes for those that do not have privilege: do not feel defeated for the privileges that you lack, but rather be a voice of leadership and passion for those that also don't have that privilege. This is also related to privilege in that it is also a privilege to have the education to know that there is poverty outside of the tourist attractions. It could take support from family or friends, or even books or news articles, to have this privilege of having this education.

So, how am I privileged? I am privileged because I live with my loving family in New Jersey that has taught me what it means to be privileged, how to be a hard worker, and how to give back to the local community and beyond. I am privileged because I attend the Stevens Institute of Technology, am pursuing a degree in biomedical engineering and am involved in various activities on campus. I am privileged that I have been involved in my high school youth ministry that has given me the opportunities to travel on four service trips, where all have taught me various life lessons, including being welcoming of all people, being appreciative and optimistic, and always giving your whole self when you serve. But, at this moment, I feel most privileged because I'm here in Jamaica, thanks to the support of friends and family, having this life-changing and memorable experience with my peers. This experience has opened my eyes to a lot of things and has ignited a huge passion inside of me for becoming an active global citizen. I am extremely grateful, blessed, and privileged to be here and am looking forward to doing service at our next location tomorrow!

-Zach George

Jamaica: Second Time Around

Who would have thought that I would be privileged enough to come back to Jamaica a second time around. Just about a year ago, I embarked on an experience of a lifetime accompanying 10 passionate and motivated students on Stevens first annual global service initiative. I had no idea what to expect, but what I gained in knowledge and experience was like no other. My mind and eyes were awakened with a new sense of perspective on life. Now I am on the second annual GSI trip with 15 other equally passionate and motivated students. I thought the only thing that would be different was the increase in participation, but I thought wrong. There are many aspects that are making this experience different. 

The first stop on our journey to our first destination was at this restaurant called Border Jerk. I would like to use the term, restaurant, loosely because it is way different than it is in America. There was no hostess to seat you, no waiter or menu distributed, and also no air conditioning. There were just three sections to this restaurant: the kitchen, the bar, and the outdoor eating area with picnic tables. When we arrived, we were hit with the intense aromas of spices from the jerk chicken being cooked and also the warm and friendly welcome from the people cooking and also people just hanging outside. We didn't know who they were and they didn't know who we were, but their friendliness towards strangers, especially foreigners, was quite refreshing. The taste of the food definitely lived up to the delicious smell from the kitchen. The chicken was so fresh, seasoned really well, and felt like it was cooked with love. 

The friendliness of the people didn't stop at our first pit stop; it continued for the rest of the week. We went to Pedro Plains Primary School to finish constructing the net ball court and add a fresh coat of paint to a few classrooms. Right as we got out of the car, we were greeted by school girls saying, "Hello, Miss." or "Hello, Sir." I was taken about how polite the students were with respecting their elders, and even people they did not know. We even visited another school called St. Mary's and when we entered a classroom with the principal the students stood up from their seats and said in unison, "Good afternoon Mr. James and company." I am glad they are teaching the children respect. 

It was also quite mind boggling to grasp how happy all the Jamaicans are. Right out of the airport you can immediately see resorts on resorts on resorts but then just a few minutes away there are shacks at the side of the road where people live. The juxtaposition of these resorts to the homes across the road is quite an interesting site. But what challenges my brain is how happy they are. They are always smiling and waving to everyone and anyone that passes by. Is it because they are making the most of what they have? Is it because they have not experienced excess or a lot of possessions like we are used to in America? Why is it that Americans are so unhappy with all the opportunities and possessions they have while Jamaicans are happy with what we consider to be nothing? Our group is here for a purpose. It is to learn about the Jamaican culture and their way of life and help serve in anyway we can to provide a better life for them. We must be knowledgable to serve and we are doing that through immersing ourselves into this country. 

Jamaica is a magical place. I am so glad I have been given this second opportunity to participate in global service initiative. We do a lot of serving at the worksites by providing better school facilities for the students so they can learn in a great environment. Education, whether in America, Jamaica, or wherever, is an important foundation to build upon a better life. We are taking the privileges we have to help provide for them an advantage for learning. We are able to experience Jamaica away from the touristy resorts and attractions. We have the opportunities to interact with the school children on the sites we work on. We are also able to talk to the Jamaican day laborers and learn the tricks of the trade of constructing anything using the resources available. We get to see and meet firsthand the people we get to serve and these experiences really allow us to really know Jamaica.  

So, all in all, I would say my experience in Jamaica continues to open my eyes to be more aware and appreciate of what privileges I have. And now it is up to me, and along with the other students here, to use our privileges to help serve other people. 

- Jane

Day Four?! WHAT? HOW?

SERVICE DAY TWO DONE! We spent the majority of our second service day back at Pedro Plaines finishing up the work we had started with the day laborers on Monday.  Collectively, we completed painting three rooms, rendering the racketball court and the wall in between the court and the bleachers.  We also installed fencing on the top of the new wall, and painted much of the inner and outer sides of the walls of the court. After lunch and cleaning up, we packed everything back into the van and rental car and made the drive up the mountian to St. Mary's school.  Because of St. Mary's location, it doesnt receive quite as much attention from service groups as Pedro Plaines and other schools. St. Mary's teaches students grades 1 through 6 and also has an infant center. All of the students have class in a one roomed buiilding that is split up into areas for each grade by partitions. The same structure also houses the school kitchen and the Prinicipal's office. Aside from this building there is a water tank, a court and not much else.  This is not nearly enough space and they would really like to expand the school and create a new building or wing. Kaye brought us to St. Mary's to donate all of the group's collected school supplies and to use our engineering backrounds to help the school brainstorm with future construction ideas. We were introduced to Mr. James who gave us a brief introduction to the history of the school as well as improvements they'd like to make.  After taking us on a tour of the school, it was clear that the school was running low on space. Kaye and the principal and some students discussed potential ideas and means of funding and labor.  Her goal is to start a major project at the school starting in a year.  She is currently making arrangements with a major U.S. coroporation to fund the work. As we walked through the school, I was reminded by how welcoming the people we have encoutnered in Jamaica are.  The students, without knowing us or why were there, were all smiles and waves as we interupted their classroom sessions. Even Mr. Jams, the principal of St. Mary's school, originally introduced himself as a mere "school staff memeber", too humble to introduce himself as the head and principal of the school. Time and time again, the people in Jamaica have been incredibly kind and personable towards each and every one of us.  They are an incredibly humble community who really get every ounce they can out of what they have. They continue to remind us to love what we have, do all we can, ask questions, listen and so much more. It's been a true honor and gratifying experience getting to interact and serve such a complex and thoughtful community, especially with such a down to earth and genuine group of people from Stevens. I feel eternally lucky to have crossed paths with each and every person I've interacted with in these past couple of days. I could go on for blogs and blogs but I'm experiencing some serious FOMO ("fear of missing out").  With the other Stevens students so close by having fun as I write this blog, I think this is enough for now. I love these crazy cats. So glad to be here and grow with them. Gah! So sappy!!  GOOD NIGHT! LOVE AND MISS YOU MOM, DAD AND ALLEIA! love, johanna

The Land of Alright

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Day Four?! WHAT? HOW?

SERVICE DAY TWO DONE! We spent the majority of our second service day back at Pedro Plaines finishing up the work we had started with the day laborers on Monday.  Collectively, we completed painting three rooms, rendering the racketball court and the wall in between the court and the bleachers.  We also installed fencing on the top of the new wall, and painted much of the inner and outer sides of the walls of the court. After lunch and cleaning up, we packed everything back into the van and rental car and made the drive up the mountian to St. Mary's school.  Because of St. Mary's location, it doesnt receive quite as much attention from service groups as Pedro Plaines and other schools. St. Mary's teaches students grades 1 through 6 and also has an infant center. All of the students have class in a one roomed buiilding that is split up into areas for each grade by partitions. The same structure also houses the school kitchen and the Prinicipal's office. Aside from this building there is a water tank, a court and not much else.  This is not nearly enough space and they would really like to expand the school and create a new building or wing. Kaye brought us to St. Mary's to donate all of the group's collected school supplies and to use our engineering backrounds to help the school brainstorm with future construction ideas. We were introduced to Mr. James who gave us a brief introduction to the history of the school as well as improvements they'd like to make.  After taking us on a tour of the school, it was clear that the school was running low on space. Kaye and the principal and some students discussed potential ideas and means of funding and labor.  Her goal is to start a major project at the school starting in a year.  She is currently making arrangements with a major U.S. coroporation to fund the work. As we walked through the school, I was reminded by how welcoming the people we have encoutnered in Jamaica are.  The students, without knowing us or why were there, were all smiles and waves as we interupted their classroom sessions. Even Mr. Jams, the principal of St. Mary's school, originally introduced himself as a mere "school staff memeber", too humble to introduce himself as the head and principal of the school. Time and time again, the people in Jamaica have been incredibly kind and personable towards each and every one of us.  They are an incredibly humble community who really get every ounce they can out of what they have. They continue to remind us to love what we have, do all we can, ask questions, listen and so much more. It's been a true honor and gratifying experience getting to interact and serve such a complex and thoughtful community, especially with such a down to earth and genuine group of people from Stevens. I feel eternally lucky to have crossed paths with each and every person I've interacted with in these past couple of days. I could go on for blogs and blogs but I'm experiencing some serious FOMO ("fear of missing out").  With the other Stevens students so close by having fun as I write this blog, I think this is enough for now. I love these crazy cats. So glad to be here and grow with them. Gah! So sappy!!  GOOD NIGHT! LOVE AND MISS YOU MOM, DAD AND ALLEIA! love, johanna


May 31, 2016 - Day 4, Second Work Day   I truly love waking up to open the door with the sun shining, the breeze blowing and the waves crashing in the background. We were provided with a fantastic meal again here at Tiano Cove, and the fact that they take care of us is truly something special. We headed back to Pedro Plains Primary School for our second day of work there. It was mostly empty as the students went on a field trip to Montego Bay. There were a few children there however, but not in uniform or anything. Those children were our friends for the day! Since we finished painting the netball court yesterday and putting up the wall aside the bleachers, today we were tasked with painting the ledge of the court, rendering the outer wall of the court, painting the principal's office and a few classrooms, and painting the outer wall as well. I began helping the cement team mix cement mix using water, which really is a strenuous and back-breaking process. But with a great group of students and workers, we were able to get it done with smiles. The cement (better known as MUD-AH) was being used for the rendering, which was filling up the cracks made by cinderblocks and to be smoothed into a flat wall. I won't speak too much about the specific work, because painting realistically is painting, no major art there. This work the past couple days has shown and taught me a tremendous amount. First, the children at the school are so thankful for anything and everything we brought to them. I gave a small child a red bandana when we first arrived, and shortly after I saw him wearing it as a cape and he kept it there all day. Just seeing something like that puts a smile on my face and is proof as to how simple life can be osmetimes. Yesterday, the children went crazy for bubbles, balloons, jumpropes, and to play with hair. I once received this awesome magnetic block set for Christmas from a family friend and was appalled, returning it the next day. Looing back, I realize how shitty of a person I can be for stupif stuff like that. And I know that is not just me. Many in our country are never satisfied with what they have, and always need more material possessions. Being here makes me disappointed at how much I rely on my computer, phone, and other material goods. Not having a phone during the day is a liberating feeling, and we should try it more at home. But as I was saying, the children are so happy just to see us and get to play with us. With this happiness, they are still very respectful. Every single school child (even today when they were not in school) addresses me as "Sir" everytime they speak to me. In my mind I was like "I'm a kid still!," but ultimately I was astounded. Kids at home are cursing and being outwardly loud and disrespectful to others without a care. They feel as id they have things coming to them and that they are better than others. NO ONE in Jamaica feels that way, especially the children. I am blessed to have been able to give high fives to, play with, carry, give piggy backs to these children and bring a smile to their face, bringing a smile to my face. The day workers have also been fantastic. They work hard and get shit done, but they are always smiling and laughing, shouting for "MUD" or for us to "BUST A SWEAT MON". They have tried to teach many of us their dialect and how to speak it, they have conversations with us about the history of Jamaica, how they feel blessed and love God, they sing and rap, and they teach all of us students how to properly do the work they do. The attitude is always positive and caring. Almost any work in the US is done by many with regret and misery. People dread working and just want to be on the couch watching TV and eating food without moving very far. The work we have done with the laborers in Jamaica is hard, physical labor in the sweltering Jamaican heat with a bunch of children around. But the laborers really push us and provide a happy environment, which brings our group together even closer. From the worksite we drove up to Saint Mary's Primary School which was a nice long drive up the mountain. Here we delivered all the school supplies for the students, and took a tour to be able to think about and offer advice as to how to separate the younger children and make classes easier to focus in (disclaimer: schools are one level with grades til 6th grade. Doors are open and the classrooms are connected with partitions in the middle to separate. These partitions do not go all the way up, and noise is transmitted between classes, over and through walls). They are looking to add a separate building, but are unsure how to do so. We were not there very long, but it was crazy to see the difference compared to our schools at home. We came back and swam in the cove, throwing sand at each other like little children. You are never too old to be a child! We regrouped and went to dinner at a place with Smurf in the name, and had another outlandishly delicious meal. The pork was phenomenol, the cocunut veggies and cabbage dishes were mouthwatering. The food is top notch here, and I would recommend to anyone. Upon returning to Tiano Cove for our last night, I took some free time to lay on the lounge chair and stare at the sky full with stars (soething I have never seen in New York or New Jersey). The sky full of stars is one of the omst beautiful sights one can ever see. I lay down and stared up for 20 minutes at hundreds of stars. Normally space stuff freaks me out and I am an existensial person, but tonight, after the past four days, I felt so at peace, so relaxed, so genuinely happy. Part is because we did great physical work at Pedro Plains, but it is mostly because of the way I have been made to feel here. As mentioned, you cannot feel negative when being around the Jamaican natives as they are so welcoming and happy. But my fellow partners and service members are equally responsible for how I feel. I could not have asked for a better, more welcoming group. I knew some prior to the trip, but through just a few days I feel like these people have been my best friends for years. These people are outstanding socially, and the work they have been able to do makes them stars. At that moment, laying on the chair staring at the sky, I was amongst the stars in the sky and the stars here on this service trip. I feel this indescribable feeling, something I have never felt before. I have the utomst gratitude for this opportunity and being placed among all the STARS.   Angelo Popper

Monday, May 30, 2016

Day One of Service

I am very grateful and fortunate that this is my second trip to Jamaica on this global service intiative with Stevens. But this year's experience is definitely different from last year, but both are very fulfilling. Yesterday, during the first night of curriculum, we discussed the difference between fix, help, and serve which I had a general idea of the between the three, but the second time around really helps make the picture clearer. Fixing has the general assumption that something is already broken, whereas helping usually involves being onesided and one gains satisfaction. Serving is another story. Serving benefits both parties. When you serve, you see the wholeness of the people you are serving and feel gratitude. Today, I felt gratitude. 

Instead of Merit, our super skilled Jamaican bus driver, driving us to the site, I, along with three other returners, had the opportunity to ride in Kaye's car. She had previously driven us in her car last year and know we are used to her driving down the narrow, winding, and bumpy roads of Jamaica. We drove down the familiar road to Pedro Plains Primary School. Turning right into the school and seeing the sign brought back the great memories I made last year serving at this school. As we pulled up onto the street where the school was, we could see all the hard work we did of painting the wall that surrounds the school. It brought back flashbacks of all of us working together to get the whole wall painted in the blazing heat, with paint brushes in our hands, using buckets as seats, and singing along to whatever song came up next on someone's speakers. Our teamwork and persistence that day was amazing and I immediately became excited to see what this group and today would bring. 

Last night, Kaye gave us the run down of what would be happening today. She told us we would finish painting the principal's office and the rest of the net ball court which included, but was not limited to, painting the ground, building a wall next to the bleachers so the children would not jump off of it, render the surronding wall, and paint it. These tasks altogether seem like a daunting task, but with our super motivated group, we were all ready to take on the tasks at hand. 

I have noticed that our group has really great, inspriational people who want to make a difference in the world and I know our energeries feed off of each other. We were introduced to the Jamaican day laborers that we had the fortune of getting to learn from them. We all jumped at the opportunities they gave us to serve. Surprisingly, none of us fought over which job we wanted to do, we just all fell into our own little niches and got to work. Some were sweeping the net ball court area prepping it for a paint job, others were filling a large vessel of water so we could use it for the cement, another group was gathering cinderblocks for the wall, and the last group was mixing the cement into concrete. 

'I was part of the concrete mixing crew. Kevin was the day laborer who taught us how to mix the perfect concrete. We all worked together to mix gravel/sand, cement, and water with the mixing technique Kevin showed us. This required a lot of strength. There was a ton of physical strength including continuously mixing the concrete with our shovels, which is a lot harder then Kevin made it look, then carrying buckets full of the concrete to the crew who were buidling the wall. This also included a good amount of emotional strength as well. Not going to lie, concrete is heavy. Mixing and carrying those buckets of concrete back and forth was a lot,  but knowing that this court would be completed soon with all our efforts motivated me to keep on going. The faster we brought the concrete, the faster the wall would be built and rendering would be complete. I'd hate to be the chemistry nerd, but I felt we were the rate determining step in this reaction. The crew in charge of building the wall was waiting for us to bring them the concrete so they could get started. It was really funny when the other group would continually yell "MUD!!!!" and that meant they needed more concrete, but we were in the middle of mixing, therefore our step was vital to get the process going. I just thought it was really cool how we all relied on each other to complete the job at hand. 


Reflecting even on this one step of concrete I believe correlates with service. Our team dynamic works so well, it almost mixes just as well as the cement and water we worked with today. With a little effort, such as the work we put in today to complete more of the net ball court, we can go a long way. With time, like concrete, we all solidify together with the one ultimate goal, to serve. It was truly gratifying to see the work that we did today make a difference at this school. Many people in our group brought jump ropes, soccer balls, frisbees, and bubbles for the school children to play with, so knowing how much joy that brings to them, I can only image how happy they will all be once this court is finished. 

- Jane 

Reflection on Service

Today marked the beginning of our time doing service at Pedro Plains Primary School, about 20 minutes from the property we're staying at. Though the actual tasks we were assigned were rewarding in themselves, and I greatly enjoyed meeting and working alongside the day workers and playing with the children, what was most impactful to me when reflecting upon our accomplishments was considering the part of service that I cannot see: how our work will affect and improve young lives in this community, and how our achievements today will (hopefully!) appreciated for years to come. Last night, our group gathered together and discussed the concept of service, how to contribute effectively in a service project like the one we've embarked on, and how social media and other confounding factors has influenced, for better or worse, how people understand service and its impact as a whole. This discussion got me thinking about my own personal understanding of the work we planned to do: though it's cliche, I realized that I hadn't yet asked myself, "What am I doing here?" I thought about all that had led up to this point, from attending the pre-departure meetings, to my own personal preparation and packing nights before we left, and even our flight out to the island. I had just been going along with the motions, following along meagerly and taking a more passive role with regards to getting to know everyone and being a part of the group. When the group started discussing this topic, I realized that that wasn't what I had come on this trip to do. This trip was meant to be challenging, in more ways than through just manual labor or checking items off of a to-do list. We were here to make an impact: I was here to make an impact. Through this discussion, I learned that service demands much more than passivity. It requires dedication both mentally and physically, and hearing similar thoughts from the others on the trip solidified to me that we were truly going to attempt some amazing and impactful things in the week that we're here.
Once we arrived at the main work site, a large netball (think something close to volleyball) court located out front of the schoolhouse itself, it was immediately apparent that a lot of our work was cut out for us. Half-painted and clearly a work in progress, it showed great promise, and the group decided that we could feasibly finish rendering the walls of the court and painting the court itself by the end of the day. As work began and the group split up and separated into different task forces, I found myself without direction, which is a deeper thought that I should likely entertain through a different outlet, but I digress. I felt as if I was standing around, and not being nearly as productive as my peers. I thought back to the conclusion I had made the night before: that I was here to take initiative, and that it was up to me to make an impact of my own. I began walking around and offering to do what I could, whenever I could. I spent time mixing cement, painting the court, the walkway near the bleachers, and the principal's office inside the school. Aside from a brief break to say hi to some of the kids at recess, I found a way to spend my time effectively, and as we finished our work, I was happy that I could look back and actually see the actions that I had completed, clearly on display throughout the schoolyard. I realized, though, that service isn't really about painting a room, looking at it, and calling it a day, congratulating yourself for a job well done. Moreover, service, at its core, is about doing something that matters and that makes an impact on all involved. In my case, I realized (and I realize now that I've been making a lot of realizations since I've been here) that the actions that our group did, even just in our first day, will have a great positive impact on the kids at Pedro Plains: by having this completed netball court, they'll have a place to play that they can not only use, but be proud of. For us, we'll have the physical results of this project to reference, and we can consider this undertaking a great success for years to come. 
In conclusion, to me, service is not found in the actions: in mixing concrete, painting an athletic court, or even in enjoying time playing with the ever-grateful and excited schoolchildren. Service is about the gratefulness and appreciation by both those being served and those serving, weeks, months and years after the work is completed. Though it's only our first day working here in Jamaica, I think if we keep up the great work and maintain the great work ethic we have established from the get go, we can really do some incredible things this week. Truly, we are here for no other reason than to serve, and I think by taking initiative and doing all that we can as both individuals and a group, we can make both those we serve and ourselves very proud.
- Ryan Donatacci