Thursday, June 2, 2016

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.

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