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

Working Towards Answers-Kelly

Before coming to Jamaica, "What are you doing on your service trip?" was a very hard question for me to answer. I knew I signed up for a service trip to Jamaica and would be working on various projects in primary schools, but I didn't know what work I'd actually be doing or what schools I'd be working at. It was very hard to explain the trip when someone asked because I had no personal connection to the work yet. I had heard stories of the pervious trip but hadn't done the work my self. My typical answer to this question was "I'm going down to work on different schools and I'll be working on projects that previous groups started and couldn't complete." I often got a lot of questions to this answer and about the trip, but I didn't have many great answers. It was very hard to explain to someone exactly why I was going and what I was doing, but I knew it was something that would be life changing. 

Waking up this morning, knowing that I would finally have some answers to this question, was a great feeling. I was really excited to get out of bed and get ready to go to my first day on the work site! I knew from listening to pervious GSIers that I was in store for an inspiring day, and they were right! We drove through the gates of Pedro Plains Primary School, and I saw our project for the day--we were in charge of finishing the net ball court. Being told that we were finishing a project that was started by many other groups a few months ago put the pressure on our group, but it also gave us a lot of motivation. We had a clear end goal in mind and knew within the two days we had at this school we had to finish the project. If we didn't finish it, it wouldn't be completed until the next group came down in a few months. As a group, we did not want to leave this project unfinished; we were determined to complete it. 

Luckily, we had a very successful first day of work on the site, and it was clear the last bits of the project were coming together nicely. As a group, we finished painting the floor of the court and the bleachers, we started finishing the sides of the court with cement, and we built a wall by the bleachers. I had the opportunity to be in the group that painted the floor of the court. I moved about the court with a bucket of green paint and paint brush in hand while attempting to not get cornered in or corner anyone else into the wet paint. Off to the sides of the court were my fellow GSIers shouting encouraging words while working on their part of the project and the day laborers giving us tips on painting and what to do next. The team work that I saw at the work site today was simply inspiring. I couldn't have made it though the day through all of the sweat and dirt without those working alongside me. One of the best moments of today was celebrating the last strokes of the paint brushes to finish off the floor. It took a lot of paint and even an extra trip to the hardware store to get all of the paint we needed, but we finished it and knew that we were one step closer to our goal of finishing this court. 

The day wasn't complete without recess time and running around with the school children. All around me, I saw the children who were so excited to see our group, to get endless piggy back rides, to catch the bubbles flying around, and to braid some of our hair. Seeing their energy and excitement helped push me past any sleepiness I felt and got me ready to work again. 

Now when I get back and I'm asked why I went on this trip or what I did, I will have many answers. It may be difficult to formulate my feelings into words, but I will hopefully be able to answers the questions I couldn't answer before. I came on this trip to learn how to be a global citizen, be immersed in the Jamaican culture while doing service abroad. It's only the beginning of my trip and I have learned so much already. This has already been an amazing experience, and I'm really excited to keep learning and serving. 


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Reflection of the Culture

After traveling nearly the whole day yesterday, today was our first full day to experience the culture of Jamaica! As I was falling asleep last night after arriving at Taino Cove,  I felt a mix of being anxious and excited, as while I was ecstatic about the week of service ahead, I was nervous about being in an area that I did not know. Being anxious however provided me with the curiosity to think deeply about the world around me as our group traveled throughout Jamaica and gather impressions about it and its culture.  After waking up, we ate breakfast at Taino Cove, got changed, and drove over to Treasure Beach Pentecostal Church of God to take part in their worship with them. Being that I have been on four service trips through my high school youth ministry, going to church during a service trip was something that I was used to, but this worship was a little different than the experiences I have had in the past. The outside of the church gave me the first impression that the church was relatively small, but the amount of passion and excitement the attendees had for God and their faith was HUGE! Every voice in that church was heard, whether if it were them singing, praying, or preaching. Everyone danced to the songs that were sung and shouted "Praise God" or "Hallelujah" whenever they felt called to. The worship gave me the first impression that everyone was welcome and that everyone was passionate about sharing their faith with everyone. One speaker during the worship preached some very powerful, moving words to everyone.  She continually shouted the phrase, "Train the Children" throughout the sermon, in which she meant that the children need to find the light of God and generally have a strong moral compass in order to lead meaningful lives in the future. She mentioned multiple times that the children were the future of the country and that by sending them on the right path from the beginning, they can have bright futures. There were times where she gave me chills with how powerful her words were and other times I just wanted to shout "YES!" to show how much I appreciate what she was saying. All in all, this woman showed her appreciation for children and empowered them and their families to continue to take part in church activities so that they may have bright futures. The power in her voice was a clear indication of how much she cared for her faith, children, and community, which I found very captivating and inspiring. She stated that a strong moral compass and support from others allow all things hoped for to happen. It was clear that the community was there to support her in return, because the attendees responded with phrases like "Praise God" and "Amen" and "Hallelujah" when she was speaking.  Later on in the day, our group had a very meaningful and impactful discussion about service. We spoke about the differences between serving and helping or fixing, which helped put in perspective about the experiences that we were going to have throughout the week and how we can react to the experiences. Among these differences is that equality is found in service, in which the groups involved are seen as equals instead of one being superior or inferior to the other. One other difference is that service is a never-ending process for a person and could be used as a means to be spread to others so that they can be inspired to serve as well. I found that these two concepts diretly related to our experience at church today. All were welcome into church and all were free to say, sing, or dance as freely as they wanted. The support the woman had for her community was equally matched by the support the community had for her. The "Train the Children" sermon related to the notion of acting on something in the present so that it  can inspire others to initiate change in the future. Other first impressions that I had of Jamaica reminded me of the discussion that we had about service, but these stood out to me the most. By thinking deeply about the different experiences that have occurred and will occur this week, I can see that there are a countless amount of connections between the impressions of Jamaica, its culture, and the service experiences going on this week. I will continue to be curious about my surroundings this week I will make more realizations similar to these two.  Tomorrow is our first day of service, and I am very ecstatic! In closing, I will quote an article we read today by Rachel Naomi Remen called "In the Service of Life": "Our service serves us as well as others. That which uses us strengthens us. Over time, fixing and helping are draining, depleting. Over time we burn out. Service is renewing. While we serve, our work itself will sustain us."    - Zach George   

Culture Shock

My travel day began as I ran out my apartment door before I could check my suitcase for the hundredth time. I probably looked like an idiot dragging a suitcase across Hoboken. But I didn't care (okay I still cared a little bit) because it was the day I had anticipated for months: the start of the weeklong Jamaica service trip.   That adrenaline lasted me only up to that dreaded 8th street hill. That's when the wall hit, I was sweating buckets, at my lowest point thinking: I should have gotten an Uber... Thank goodenss Campus Police rolled up with Kelly in the passenger seat and offered me a ride to Howe. Hopefully, that is the first and last time I ride in the back of a police car (I know you are reading Mom and Dad).   Of course, with all of the rumored Memorial Day travel crazienss and long lines at the aiport, the meet up time was moved up an hour. This was all for nought, however, because we zoomed to JFK and for the first time ever there miraculously were not any lines for security. The longest we had to wait was for Zach to rearrange his suitcase that was 18 pounds over regular checked baggage weight.    Even after all of that, we were three hours early for our flight. This was the perfect amount of time for lunch, a last minute social media binge, and snacking on "M&M's with obstacles" (#ryancolealwaysonpoint). So far, it felt like any familiar vacation trip.  ~ Landing at Montego Bay Airport is terrifying because the runway leads right up to the water. One minute you're flying over the water and that turns right into wheels touching down. Also, contrary to popular belief, Jamaica is one hour behind of Eastern Central Time (#theayoudungoofed).    So Jamaica.    Leading up to this trip, I think I was stuck in this mindset that Jamaica is a place people go for vacation so all I envisioned to expect was the shoreline and beaches lined with resorts. And that was most of what I had to base my expectations of what I would experience in Jamaica besides the fact that myself and 14 other students were there to do service. Of course I understand the concept of underpriveleged areas and groups of people as I traveled to Nicaragua for a mission trip in the past. But for me Jamaica is this foreign land that I have yet to explore the culture of and I would understand the picture day one at the worksite.    Before Jamaica, I had little idea about where the average Jamaican citizen lives, what types of food Jamaicans eat, and how the climate/environment of Jamaica is. After a day of driving around on the bus and meeting part of the Jamaican community in Treasure Beach, some answers for my previous speciulations are appearing. It's not the American air conditioned "safe" day to day life I am accustomed to but that's okay. We are here and we are here to do work and soak up the culture. I am truly extatic to see how several students from a school in New Jersey can make such a difference miles away from home.       Xoxo, Monica Williams     

What to Expect the Second Time Around - Julia

My first time travelling to Jamaica and participating in the global service experience was so rewarding that I decided to come back again. The main reason was because the trip opened my eyes to the poor living conditions here, the economic causes for this, and the appreciative attitude of the Jamaican people despite it. I wasn't educated about these things prior to my first trip and learning more about it and how priveledged I truly am, I recognized my responsibility to serve other people. Serve, not help. We stress the difference between these two terms throughout this trip because serving is done among equals. I do not feel better, higher, more rightcheous, etc. than the people here. The term help infers that I am better than the person I would be helping and that there is something broken to fix. On the contrary, we are all human beings and we all have strengths to exchange with each other. I am here to interact with these people, connect with them, give to them what I have to offer, and take from them what I may need. Service is a give and take process among equals.  One of the things I am really looking forward to this time around is focusing more on the connections that I can make with people while I am here. The first time I was here I took every little thing in, from what the buildings looked like to the beautiful views. This time, I notice that I am a bit more comfortable with the surroundings and what we see when we're driving through the towns because I already knew what to expect. My hope is that this will allow me to shift my focus more onto what is new: the people I will meet, the tasks I will learn to complete, and the issues I can make a dent in solving. Additionally, since I've been through a week of absorbing the culture and service process already, I am hoping to shift my focus to learning more about what I can do when I get back home. True service is never ending. It becomes a part of you that constantly takes effort to keep alive. I want to pay special attention this week to how I can better implement service back in my own community, and how it may also have a global impact.  You would think that being on the same trip twice would produce basically the same results and experiences. I can already tell this time around will be different, though. Think about when you see a movie for the second time. You notice things that you didn't the first time you watched it, I'm sure. You remember the story line better, or certain quotes that made you laugh again. In a sense, you get to know the movie better and take more away from it then you did the first time. I am so excited to have that experience with my service in Jamaica this time. Some of it is familiar, and some is still unknown, but I am keeping myself open to the hard work and personal growth opportunities that lie ahead this week. I am also excited to learn what strengths I will give to the people here and what they will give back to me.     Julia Stika

First Impressions From Corinne

When most people in the U.S. think of Jamaica, they probably think of hot beaches, cold drinks, and lots of fun in the sun. Yes, obviously a native community exists beyond the resort walls, but that community doesn't affect me and is probably doing just fine. Despite attempts to keep an open mind, this preconceived notion lingered in my thoughts and tainted my general first impression of Jamaica, especially at the first sight of palm trees as we stepped out of the airport. Therefore, as we began to embark on our 2.5 hour journey from the airport to our first place of stay, crammed together into a bus that would soon come to feel like home (and is definitely the most air conditioned environment I've experienced here so far), I was very surprised. Don't get me wrong-- Jamaica is a beautiful country, but as the series of misshapen, tiny, brightly colored huts began to form into a blur as our bus increased speed, I couldn't believe the degree of poverty that was evident, and, moreover, how thousands of people vacation here without a second thought as to what exists beyond the resort walls. 

This is not to say I felt sympathetic or pitiful-- rather, I found myself wondering about what it takes to make a human being happy. Are humans happier with less or more? Do people living in Jamaica dream of trips to NYC, just as so many people in NYC dream of getaways to Jamaica? Will people always want what they can't have? What exactly is it that makes all of us so human, despite living in completely different ways? 

I never understood why it was so important to travel until now. Usually when I'm at home, I'm a pretty picky eater, avoiding most foods that are unfamiliar. Here, I want to eat everything, trying new foods and even foods I usually don't eat at home (scrambled eggs & shrimp. I still ate around the tomatoes in my salad, though). This morning I leaped out of bed at 6:15am, wide awake and ready to explore. Anyone reading this from home may be wondering who hijacked my phone and wrote this post for me, as I am notorious for never wanting to leave my bed, especially not in the morning. I have never felt such a desire to want to physically absorb as much of the culture here as humanly possible. I am already deeply moved by this country and its people and we have not even set foot onto the worksite yet. 

This evening we had a very productive discussion that really helped put me into a very good mindset before we enter the worksite tomorrow. At the root of it, it was about coming to the understanding that doing this service is going beyond doing it for gratification. It's about being in it for the long haul and finding your inner strength through the connections made through serving. It's about using the fire that has been lit within you to ignite a passion in others, causing a chain reaction and making a difference in the world one person at a time. Most of all, it's about putting everything on the line and immersing yourself in what it truly means to serve. I can't wait to report back next week. I will end this post with a quote that resounded with me: "service is the work of the soul." 

-Corinne Casey

Saturday, May 28, 2016


As I type this, I currently sit at a rounded glass table at the destination of our first night in Jamaica. A tucked away paradise coined "Taino Cove". Decked out with a pool, balconies, sun roof, bar, kitchen, patio  and beach front view where I currently hear waves splashing along the coast. On its own, it already sounds impressive, but after the day I've gone through, it's that much more of a treasure.  Let me start off by saying that I'd like to think of myself as a well travelled individual. Don't get me wrong, I haven't been around the world but I sure feel comfortable with the general concept of travel. Which is probably why I always think it's reasonable to leave everything to last minute packing (not); nonetheless, I've gotten used to the constant challenge. Anywho, my tenacity in packing early on accompanied with the anticipation of international travel the next day would result in my sleep deprivation for the day. However, waking up with only 3 hours of sleep would only be the first of my worries for the day ahead of me.   With my breakfast in hand and suticases all packed up, I made my journey up Wittipenn walk to the Howe Center (with the help of some friends) where the shuttle transporting our group to JFK International Airport would be waiting. Thea, our group's coordinator greeted us with the warmest of smiles and unwavering punctuality. Right on schedule, the bus departed at the desired time of 9am to JFK for a flight scheduled to take off at 2:30 pm. It was safe to say we were on track to successfully making it to the airport on time. An hour or so later, we arrived to JFK, got our bags checked, went through airport security and made it to our terminal with 3 hours to kill. By the second hour or so of sitting at the terminal, my stomach began to signal to me that it was time to eat. By this time it was already 1:15 pm or so. Plenty of time to eat I thought. I made my way over to a pasta station at the airport, ordered and paid for the food and made it back to the termiinal within 15 minutes. During my lunch, I heard some friends speaking of grabbing snacks before the plane departed so I told them to give me a couple of minutes and that I'd join them. I finished the remains of my spaghetti carbonara, set my phone to charge and headed out to grab some pre-flight snacks. Little did I know, this would prove to be a terrible mistake. We made it to the store that sold the snacks and purchased our desired chips and candy...well, sort of. During a spark of spontaneity, I begin to scout out a tasteful swiss chocolate named " Toblerone" that a friend gave me a taste of a couple months earlier. Why I was craving Toblerone was besides me ,but I was on a mission and the store  I was in didn't selll the chocolate , so I had to find it elsewhere. I seperated myself from the two friends I walked into the store with and told them I'd catch up. With no phone and no idea where to find this chocolate bar, I set off like a chicken with its head cut off.  Time passed, and I didn't seem to notice. Just when I was about to give up, I caught a glimpse of the triangular shaped container I was looking for and was on my way back to the gate feeling fulfilled. Without any reference of time, I quickened my pace to assure that I make it back to the gate in the promised "soon" I had told my group. As I approached, the seats at the gate were empty and everyone I knew was out of sight. My heart dropped and I was at a loss for words when a I heard a faint, angelic voice say, "Cristian? Are you in there". I turned immediately to see Thea calling into the men's bathroom with hopes that I was in there (considering I didn't have my phone and she had no idea where I was). I turned and responded with relief as she explained that everyone had boarded the plane and that it was ready to depart at any minute. I grabbed my things and ran to the gate without question. I made it onto the plane, found my seat and plopped down feeling sweaty, regretful and embarrased. The silever lining being that damned bar of Toblerone chocolate and the memories that lay ahead. 

Making a life by what we give

My older sister recently graduated from college and while sitting in the audience of Radio City Music Hall, waiting for the commencement speaker to hurry things up and finish, she ended her remarks with the following Winston Churchill quotation: "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."   His words have resonated with me over the past few weeks as I began to prepare for my second trip to Jamaica (let's be honest, preparation isn't really the best word... I just finished packing at 8:30a.m. this morning, 30 minutes before we were supposed to arrive on campus to leave). Making a life by what we give... what do I, a 20 year old college student, have to give to this world? Hopefully, by the end of  this blog post, I'll have a clearer understanding of what I have to offer while on this adventure.    I arrived to campus this morning with my roommate and fellow GSI-er to a group of 14 pleasant, excited and warm individuals. I recognized my fellow returners--Andrew, Allie, Jane, and Julia-- and was happy to see the newest additions to the GSI clan. I knew Thea took time to carefully choose students who would work well together, and I was not disappointed. Add this to an easy ride to JFK, a short wait at the security line, and a somewhat overpriced, but delicious sandwich at the JFK airport, i was content as could be.    Arriving at Montego Bay transported me back to last year. I had been on service trips before the inaugural Stevens GSI in Jamaica, but I could not help but notice how comfortable I was. It was no doubt a change of scenery, however that initial shock was not as pronounced. Merit, our driving guru and go-to man, wrapped his arms around me in a genuine and welcoming embrace. All worries, cares, and concerns melted away.   We embarked upon the first leg of our journey: the 2.5 hour drive to Taino Cove in Treasure Beach. We stopped for chicken jerky along the way (if you are unaware of the jerk, you really must hop on board... think BBQ sauce with extra kick and 1000 times better). As I slathered my chicken in jerk sauce and ate my meal, I could not help but listen to the laughter and conversation by my fellow GSI members. The conversations at dinner ranged from the locations at which we'd be serving, to difficult biomedical engineering courses, to our predictions of how many mosquito bites we'd each receive, to our excitement for the upcoming week. It is here where I found my answer to the question I first posed at the beginning of this post.   The GSI team is unique in the sense that each of us has a different background. We come from different places, we have different interests, and we have different comfort levels. Despite what many people think about our "generation," I am consistenly impressed with our desire to learn and to experience things entirely. This group does not know what it means to do a slipshod job. Each person that I am here with gives 100% of themselves to the task at hand.    So, what do we, a group of college students, have to give to this world? The answer is simple: we emit our positivity, we ignore the odds against us, and we give all of ourselves until there is nothing left.    Jamaica, how I have missed you so.    -Olivia S.

The Trip of a Lifetime...For a Second Time? A Greater Meaning

Ever since returning home on June 6th, 2015 from the inaugural Stevens Global Service Initiative trip, I yearned to return to the place that gave me so much, exposed me to a different culture and frankly allowed me to begin on a path to becoming a true Global Citizen. I yearned to know when I would get a second chance to have the ability to serve the amazing people of Jamaica, to experience the Watershed moments that opened my mind to the wonders and power of faith and forever changed me both mentally and spiritually. Now, as I sit here and write this very blog, I am only a few hours away from returning to the trip that has forever changed my life, and I cannot be more excited to be back in Jamaica. However, there is another factor of this trip in specific that I’m even more thrilled about—serving as Student Facilitator for this 2016 trip.

            As the Student Facilitator for the trip this year, I am responsible for not only serving as a resource of information and advice for the students who are experiencing their first trip, but also in charge of teaching two lessons during the course of the week. Words cannot describe how enthralled I am to be able to guide the first-time students through their first trip, whether it’s helping them get acclimated to the Jamaican culture, or assisting them in discovering their true Watershed moments throughout our stay. While on my first voyage last year, I was exposed to feelings and emotions that I still cannot put into words; and I only hope that these amazing individuals with me can say the same thing after they too complete their inaugural GSI trip. I am honored to be able to say that I will be by their side the entire time to guide and mentor them through the process, and will ensure that they experience and absorb as much as they possibly can along the way. And, by being given the opportunity to facilitate discussions on topics such as privilege and helping vs. servicing, I will be able to allow the other students’ minds to initiate deeper and deeper thoughts pertaining to these topics and even more. In a blog I wrote last year, I preached about this trip lighting a torch in me, and longing to be capable of helping others discover that torch and light theirs as well; and I think that through this role I will be able to truly show my other travel mates the true power of this journey and spread my flame to others.

            With this combination of being able to not only return to the GSI trip but being able to lead my fellow students through the journey as well, I believe that this trip may be as remarkable, if not more than the 2015 trip; and I cannot wait to land in Jamaica and help to uncover the torches inside all of those around me, in the hopes that they too will long to spread the same flame to other just as I did to them.


On the bus heading to the airport

Friday, May 27, 2016

All Packed and Ready To Go!

I cant believe that it is finally here! I've been waiting for this trip since November, 2015 and time passed so quickly. I am so excited for this trip because I've never been on an experience like this; to go to a different country and provide a helping hand to those who need it.

I first just want to say thank you to all the people how have helped me and supported me in order to go on this trip of a lifetime. I am so humbled by all their efforts, and knowing I have support from people who are truly proud of me for going on this trip is really awesome.

A lot of planning went into this trip, which made getting packed pretty easy, but made fitting everything into one suitcase a bit of a struggle. Aside from packing work clothes and swimsuits, the group thought it would be a great idea if we also donated a few items to the children in the schools. I am bringing along some school supplies and toys to donate to the two schools we will be doing work on.

I am so ready to get my hands dirty and work on our two projects! We were advised to bring clothes that we don't really care about, so I am expecting that we are really going to be working our butts off. I've done a few projects around the house involving construction and rebuilding, but that will be minimal compared to what we will be experiencing in Jamaica and I am really looking forward from the learning experience we will get to have from the hands on work.

Another aspect that I am really looking forward to is interacting with the children who attend the schools we will be working on. I love getting to work with kids and interact with them, and I'm sure that they will be excited to have us there to play with them and be a friendly face. They probably will also teach us a great deal about Jamaican culture or about what they do at school, and that will be really interesting to learn about.

In a few hours, I will be on a beautiful island with my fellow peers getting ready to really make a difference in someones life, while also making memories that will last a lifetime!

-Melanie Caba

Privileged Understanding

As I wrote this post, I'm currently on my bed looking at my two suitcases and my backpack and how I probably should rearrange how I'm packed and reconsider what is in each bag and how I can't wait for my dinner to be delivered to my apartment. But that thought also makes me think about how lucky I am: how lucky I am to be going on this trip in the first place; how lucky I am to be going somewhere new; how lucky I am that I have enough stuff to even fill those bags; how lucky I am that I'm even getting food and not making it myself; how lucky I am that one of my only worries right now is whether I have everything I need and whether the lines for the TSA tomorrow will be as long as the news claims them to be.

In Jamaica, the people we are helping don't have nearly as much as us: school supplies are scarce; clean clothes are an occasional amenity; and food needs to be worked for at all times and doesn't just show up in the hand of another when he rings your doorbell. When the stresses of school are really getting to me, I sometimes forget how privileged I am. I don't need to worry about having clothes for the next day, a pen to take notes in class, or if I will go to bed hungry. I admit that I take it all for granted, on occasion, when life seems to be spiraling out of control around me with classes, extracurriculars, and family and friends. But now I get to take a step back from my life and care about the lives of others. During this trip, I won't have a care in the world until I get back, and I will only have a few stressful thoughts about how hot and humid it is and to remember to put on sunscreen so I don't look like a lobster, but also hoping that we get as much done as we can in our work.

Throughout our time, I will take note of how different things are where we work, eat, rest, and travel, as I do with most of my travels. While I don't usually announce my observations, I reflect on them later with my travel companions, as I intend to do during this trip as well. Life is different for every culture, and even within every culture, social classes determine the daily lives of those within the community. Where you live, what you eat, where you go to school, where you work: it's all determined by culture and class, and when different ones overlap, you either have conflict or understanding.

My time in Jamaica will be devoted to understanding the culture while improving the way of life of the communities we are helping. I want the kids to be able to go to a school with abundant supplies but I also want to learn about how they live and enjoy themselves while bringing them knowledge and improving their conditions of education. While working in the sun, I will soak up understanding of how these people live their daily lives so I know why it is so important to help them out but also know that they have a culture of their own they intend on keeping alive, as they very well should. Our method of helping them out is allowing them to keep this culture while improving the conditions of learning and living. Some might say how lucky these people are to be helped by such a caring group of students, but in reality, we should feel so lucky to see a culture not many get to see up close and bring this awareness back with ourselves to continue to improve the lives of those not just abroad, but at home as well. I will bring back the cultural understanding and the motivation to improve the lives of those around me, whether they are down the street or across the world.

-Caroline Culp

Monday, May 23, 2016

Welcome Participants

We welcome the participants of Stevens Global Service Initiative to Jamaica for 2016:

Melanie Caba
Corinne Casey
Cristian Collado
Jane Cruz
Caroline Culp
Ryan Donatacci
Andrew Falcone
Zachary George
Kelly Munyan
Johanna Pluymers
Angelo Popper
Olivia Schreiber
Julia  Stika
Allison Waters
Monica Williams