Lisa Bertin - Child Rights Initiative in Jamaica
Getting closer to the day I was to leave, my nerves started to get the best of me. Yes I had visited Jamaica previously, but I hadn’t stayed for longer than 2 weeks. I was welcomed to at the airport by friendly drivers who drove me 2.5 hours from Montego Bay, St. James to Mandeville, Manchester where my host family lived, who welcomed me excitedly even in the late evening.
My host family had a beautiful home that was accompanied by a homely atmosphere. They included me in family time after dinner and we would have meaningful discussions about our lives; we quickly came to realize that although we are from different places, we had a lot in common. I was able to adjust to being so far from home and feeling comfortable in new surroundings, which I would be in for the next 3 months. Oh, and did I mention the fruit? I was lucky to have fruit trees in our back yard, and let me tell you… breakfast, lunch and dinner always included super fresh fruit; delicious!
On my first full day in Jamaica, a Projects Abroad rep took me on a tour in town highlighting the taxi stand, market, where my placement would be and other important landmarks I might need to know. Although it took me a couple days to get a hang of where things were, the tour was really helpful because I could stop and ask how to get to certain landmarks, which the locals were very kind in helping me get to.
I was a 5 minute taxi ride and 10 minute walk from my placement, which was a lovely traveling experience to and from work in the sun! Projects Abroad staff was around if I had a question or needed some direction and the weekly events that were held allowed all the volunteers to get to know each other and Jamaican culture in fun and relevant ways. There was a lot I did not know, like about Jamaica’s National Heroes that we learned about in one of the Projects Abroad meetings, which helped me a couple weeks later when I had to do a presentation at a children’s home on Jamaica’s National Heroes!
Once a month we would have community days, where all the volunteers would go into the community and participate in a variety of activities that supported and assisted the community. The first one was a soccer match; we played a young boys team. They didn’t know ahead of time, that I play soccer at home, and were shocked to see that a girl can play! This was such a great experience, and I have been able to keep in touch with the coach over the past years and have gone back to visit and assist with some training!
Another community day involved visiting the Mandeville Infirmary (a home for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities). Wow, this day brought such cheer to my heart. We engaged in simple things with the residents, like combing and plaiting their hair (they were also surprised to see I could braid hair!). I think the best part of this day was just sitting with the residents, laughing and enjoying the day.
Care Project: Child’s Rights Initiative
Volunteers are only asked to work a minimum of 4-5 hours per day, however partly because of my schooling (and as the weeks went on because I loved the work so much) I worked full 8 hours days, 5 days a week.
The staff at my placement was wonderful in teaching me about the culture and practices of Jamaica, and allowing me to grow professionally and personally over the 3 months I was there. Along with my supervisor who is a Children’s Officer, I participated in case management and report writing, as well as facilitating individual/group counselling, and investigative field work.
Although there were some heart-breaking situations, there were also victory stories and exciting progress of children and families we were able to visit in the community. Being there for 3 months allowed me to start to see some change in the lives of the people I was working with. The relationships I built with the staff are long term and we still connect on a regular basis. It has been just over 2 years since I returned from this project, and I can honestly say it was a life-changing experience. Being able to fully immerse yourself in the culture, the work, the knowledge, and with the people, has helped me to grow and become a better person all around.
If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would. And then do it again and again. You will learn so much about the culture, the people, and about yourself.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.