Sophie Thomas - High School Specials, Care & Community in Jamaica
I first stumbled across the Projects Abroad website when I was 16 years old and had just finished my GCSE's. I immediately fell in love with the idea of traveling to interesting and beautiful countries but being only 16 years old, I found it very difficult to find a company willing to take me on. After getting in touch with the very helpful Projects Abroad staff online, I was recommended to do the 2 Week Specials program that allowed 16 to 18-year-olds to travel abroad on a supervised program.
I applied to spend two weeks on a project in Mandeville, Jamaica and was accepted very quickly! I spent hours flicking through the Jamaica photo albums and read through many of the volunteer stories. The island seemed so welcoming, vibrant and brimming with culture. I left for Jamaica just after turning 17 and I was definitely not disappointed.
After a nine hour flight from London, I arrived in Montego Bay airport and met the Projects Abroad driver, Patrick, who was waiting outside the airport in a minibus (which, thankfully, was fully air conditioned!). I very easily made friends with the other volunteers - teenagers like me from England, Scotland, France, Holland, America and India!
We took our seats in the minibus and ten minutes into the journey I realized I'd left my passport at the airport! Patrick and the other volunteers were very patient as we turned around and managed to get it back.
We were all immediately taken aback by how proud the Jamaicans were - yellow, black and green flags were painted on almost every other building, Usain Bolt's picture hung on billboards all around the airport, reggae music poured very loudly out of cars and taxis and Jamaicans we passed in the road welcomed us very loudly in Patois!
After driving for nearly three hours through winding green hills and banana plantations, we arrived at our host family. Our host mother made jerk chicken and chocolate cake despite the late hour. We dubbed her "Aunty Clara", paired up with roommates and headed off to bed, ready for our first day of school in the morning.
The Care & Community placement
The taxis picked us up from the host family at 8.00am the next day and we were taken to Mile Gully High School, which was about ten minutes away. The children introduced themselves and welcomed us with Jamaican prayers and music, which we would later learn the words to after hearing them every morning.
The next day, the children ran to the taxis to greet us, hoping to play games or get a use of our cameras before the school day! The hours we spent in the school flew by and we were kept on our feet by the children who loved the arts and crafts, language lessons, sports days and picture taking on our iPhones.
By the end of the two weeks, the children had given us drawings, paintings, poetry and embroidery that they'd made during the camp. In addition to this they had, of course, taught us Patois, dancing and even sign language to reggae songs!
After school every day, we were taken to the Projects Abroad offices with the volunteers from the Medical program to take part in various Jamaican activities, from culture classes, to reggae dance classes, Jamaican food tasting and Bob Marley karaoke (I think the staff found us just as entertaining as we found the classes!).
On the weekends, all volunteers travelled to Ocho Rios, YS Falls and the craft market with the Projects Abroad staff. At Ocho Rios, we travelled on a glass bottom boat and went snorkeling along the reef. We then returned to the beach to have our hair plaited with Rasta beads. A well-deserved break from the demands of Jamaican school children!
After a final meal of jerk chicken, ackee and breadfruit, we said goodbye to Aunty Clara and met Patrick to set off for the airport again. We bought Jamaican gifts in the airport for our friends and family, exchanged telephone numbers with all the volunteers and promised to keep in touch with each other. We've been home for a month and we all miss Jamaica terribly - we can't wait to return one day!
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