Vanessa McFarlane - Alternative Spring Break, Building in Jamaica
I wanted to do something exciting, yet useful for my last spring break in college. I had a couple of friends who volunteered with Projects Abroad. I asked them about their experience and applied. I luckily was able to receive funding from my school to attend this program and I am glad I got the opportunity!
Arriving in Jamaica
Fortunately, Jamaica was a good distance from where I was coming from (Boston, Massachusetts). It was a treacherous winter, so escaping to an island of paradise was ideal. Upon arrival in Kingston, I was picked up by a program coordinator and taken to my placement in Mandeville, which was about two hours from Kingston.
I arrived at my host family’s home and introduced to amazing people. My host mother was a well-acclaimed school principal and her husband was a retired horticulturist, who still managed his own garden in their backyard. Their nephew was living with and working for them. They were all very lovely people. I was the second volunteer to arrive that afternoon. Later in the evening, the other volunteers came and we all introduced ourselves and had a lovely Jamaican dinner. The food was probably the best part about staying with my host family.
My Building placement
The following day, all the volunteers were taken to the Projects Abroad office for orientation. There, I met other volunteers who were also on my project. It was great to meet people from different colleges and different parts of the world. They were all so nice and welcoming and open to meeting new people and trying new things. Our orientation was a tour of downtown Mandeville (where to go, how to get a taxi, where the banks were etc.) and a trip to the school we were going to be working at.
We started our project the day after orientation. We arrived at Old England Primary School in rural Mandeville. Our mission was to help build a sanitary bathroom with running water. The bathroom that the children were currently using had no running water and was infectious, so the children were getting sick because of how unsafe and unsanitary the bathrooms were.
Our first day of work was laying out a few of the foundations and mixing cement. Mixing the cement and pouring it into the stalls was most of what we did during our time at the school. We would use barrels to carry rocks and sand so we could dump cement and water and mix it all up. We did a lot of mixing and carrying loads. It was like doing a hard workout in the sun for five or six hours. I loved it!
It was the work that I needed to get a good night’s rest and to keep going and staying motivated. It wasn’t easy, but everyone was working really hard and putting in the effort. We were able to fill up most of the stalls to the top by the end of our project (we were on this site for only two days). The workers were incredibly nice and helpful and some of them made all of us lunch, both days! The food was amazing!
On the third day of working, we did an outreach project. We remodeled a man’s house, and by house I mean a single bedroom with no electricity or running water. We spent all day trying to get things refurbished, replace the roof and the floors, and paint the walls. Covering the roof was the hardest part since we all had to help each other out in order for it to stay up. At one point when we were covering up the roof, part of the bed cracked a part of the floor and went right through it. So we had to redo the floors and cover them up in order to assure safety.
While most of the volunteers stayed to paint and refurbish, I went with the head coordinator to buy a new mattress for the man and his daughter. All of the volunteers pitched in to buy the mattress and water. When we got back the room was practically new. The man was so happy to have a new bed too! That was the most rewarding day of the trip.
Volunteering in Jamaica
Our program coordinator was fantastic! She was so helpful in guiding us through Mandeville and telling us where to go on our downtime. She would also come to the school to check up on us and get us back to town safely and with enough time to do other things. She was also at the house when we remodeled it, and got right in and helped the rest of the volunteers! The rest of the staff members were also friendly and super helpful! They gave us great advice for sight-seeing places and the best Jamaican cuisine. We even got a patois and dance lesson from one of the staff members after our second day of work.
The staff was also really good about getting us back to the airport and planning our return home. They organized the rides so accordingly that I was never worried about getting where I needed to get on time. I think that overall, they were very well-organized and planned all of our accommodations precisely. I have no complaints whatsoever. They were some of the most organized staff I have ever encountered!
We did have downtime, so we took advantage of it and went to many different places (mostly beaches). With the help from staff and our host family, we were able to plan everything well and go to the places we wanted to go to. We also got a day off to go to the Appleton Rum Factory and YS Falls, where some of us went zip lining. It was a wonderful time that I got to spend with the other volunteers.
This was by far the best spring break I have ever had and one of the best trips I have ever had! I met new people, became really close with all of them, and had a unique experience of my own. I am beyond ecstatic that I chose this program and I decided, almost on a whim, to come to Jamaica for my last spring break. I would love to do it again!
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