Wednesday, June 1, 2016

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

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