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Elin Thomas - Public Health in Jamaica

Last summer was going to be the longest, stress-free summer I would ever probably have and therefore I wanted to make the most of the time I had by doing something I had never done before. I was always intrigued by the idea of going to Jamaica and exploring the vibrant country and all it had to offer.

In 2014 I had an idea of combining my interest in visiting the country with doing work experience or voluntary work in the medical field. Following this I researched and found the Projects Abroad website which made me think about the possibilities of going abroad even more. After much discussion with my parents and pondering about whether or not to go for it I decided to make an application. A few days later I had an e-mail confirming that I had been accepted and so preparations began and I already had plans for what was going to be a busy summer!

Arriving in Jamaica

Volunteering in Jamaica

I have travelled abroad many times, however this was the first time that I was to travel on my own and the first time for me to travel across the Atlantic. As I had booked the trip so far in advance none of what I was about to do really sunk in until I was completely on my own in Heathrow customs after saying goodbye to my mum and dad and sat in the departure lounge, even though I was in a room full of hundreds of people it was surprising how alone I felt, it was pretty daunting. Nevertheless, I managed to get on the plane to the next stop which was Charlotte, USA.

Thankfully, the connection was a smooth one and I was soon on the plane to Montego Bay even though it felt as if I’d been travelling for days already! I was greeted by my taxi driver who gave me a hug and welcomed me with his warm Jamaican accent, coincidentally there was also another volunteer on the same flight from London and so we both travelled from the airport to our host family’s house. The last leg of the journey lasted three hours along narrow, winding roads filled with potholes and hints of reggae music which we heard deliriously in between sleeping as we travelled through several districts along our journey.

By the time we arrived at our new home for the next two weeks it was about 11 o’ clock at night and so once their son helped cart our bags to our room and we were briefly welcomed to the home we were both very grateful to get to bed after having travelled for what seemed like forever.

My placement

I was staying with three other girls who were also on the same programme as me and there was also another boy, we were on the Public Health placement for two weeks so we were mainly based in the community. Before commencing community work we completed workshops where we were educated on topics such as diabetes, hypertension, nutrition, exercise as well as dental health. Once we had gone through the information we then had to demonstrate that we could perform blood sugar checks and take blood pressure as well as record and measure height, weight, temperature and pulse. We were also trained by the Jamaican Red Cross in First Aid Training which is extremely valuable.

My placement

Altogether there were five days where we did clinics in various communities in Manchester, Mandeville which were advertised so that members of the public could come and get their basic checks done, these clinics run by volunteers are very valuable for residents of the communities especially in the rural areas as healthcare provided by the government generally isn’t as good of a standard and there a long waiting lists in comparison with private healthcare which many people can’t afford in the country. Many of our clinics were run in the same location and on the same day as when the doctor was coming to perform medicals on the primary and secondary school pupils who had to have medicals before they could go back to schools so we had to fill in a lot of the paperwork for the doctor.

Running the clinics was very rewarding as members of the public were very grateful of the service we were providing and were especially relieved after hearing that all their results were normal. All the skills I learnt are extremely useful and applicable for my future career in Radiography for which I am currently studying at degree level in university!

In the evenings we all participated in various activities such as cooking class where we got to sample porridge Jamaican style called Hominy, which I loved, there was also ‘blue drawers’ and fish fritters. We also had a fruit tasting evening which included mango, lots and lots of coconut, papaya, pineapple, watermelon, sugar cane, and my new favourite fruit Guinep- which I bought two bunches of in the market one afternoon and it was possibly my best buy!

Lastly we had a quiz evening, games evening and reggae dance class as well as free time which gave us a chance to buy souvenirs for friends and family at home. Once the day had come to a close the taxi would pick us up and drop us off home where tea would be ready within minutes. We were given such a variety of food including, curried goat, mixed bean curry, plantain and not to forget rice and peas which I ended up loving!

The weekend trips

Volunteering abroad

The weekend was very busy with a trip on Saturday and Sunday both of which were absolutely amazing! On the Saturday we went to Ocho Rios beach were most of the day was spent relaxing in the sea or sunbathing in the sweltering heat, it made Mandeville feel so cool. After our fair share of sunbathing we went for some dinner and then went to the craft market which is like nothing I’ve ever been to before, there was so much to offer and evidently I couldn’t resist buying some unique Jamaican gifts.

On the Sunday we went to YS Falls, it has to be said this was my favourite trip out of the two, following the tractor ride up we were greeted by this green, lush paradise, with pools, sun loungers and wooden huts for us to leave belongings and relax in the shade. We then walked up to the falls which due to heavy rain the day before was filled with brown water but nevertheless it was remarkable. We walked along the fall and had pictures taken and jumped off the edge which was amazing! To top it off we walked further up and jumped off a swing rope after one of the staff shouted ‘Let goooo!’ It was unreal and my legs turned to jelly afterwards due to the shock of it all, but it didn’t put me off doing it for the second time.

I can safely say I would recommend volunteering abroad (especially in Jamaica) with Projects Abroad as I am very grateful and appreciative of the experience I had, I made some good friends and amazing memories that will stay with me for a lifetime! My host family were lovely and were ever so welcoming and really brightened up my visit! Additionally I developed my communication and group working skills and experienced a whole new culture and lifestyle. I hope to return to Jamaica one day to do some more exploring! Thank you again!

Read more about Public Health High School Special in Jamaica

Elin Thomas

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