Carolyn Grandy - General Building Projects in Jamaica
When I was 17 years old I decided I wanted to go on an international volunteering experience. I became interested in volunteering abroad as a more meaningful way of travelling and while I was looking for opportunities to volunteer, I found the Projects Abroad website. I chose to go to Jamaica with Projects Abroad because I had been there before on vacation so I knew how beautiful the island was and that I would enjoy it. I also wanted to learn more about Jamaica’s culture, language, food and get to know some of the local people. I wanted to work with children and in construction so Projects Abroad set up two placements for me to work at in Mandeville, Jamaica for one month. For the first two weeks of my trip, I worked at the New Hope Children’s Home where I assisted the staff with their daily care routines with about 20-25 babies and young children. In the last two weeks, I worked on a construction project building an extension on a building with the Adventist Development Relief Agency.
First impressions of Jamaica
I had spoken with Projects Abroad months before my trip and they had walked me through my arrival process so I was not nervous about travelling there alone. When I got to the airport it was the late afternoon and a driver with Projects Abroad picked me up with one other volunteer who had already landed. We were both driven to the same property just outside the town of Mandeville where there were three houses belonging to a family that hosted volunteers. We both went to different homes and were introduced to the host family of the property. My host family was very warm and welcoming and the children in the family were so fun and nice to play with. I unpacked my clothing and watched TV with the host family until it was time for bed. Although I was in a completely new environment, I had no trouble sleeping that night as my bed was comfy and I felt at home. In the morning, one of the in-country Projects Abroad officers picked me up to give me a tour of the town and show me where the Projects Abroad office was and where I would be working.
My Care placement
The next day I started my shift at the New Hope Children’s Home and later that week other volunteers came to stay with me in my host family’s home. We became great friends and worked together at the New Hope Children’s Home. My two weeks there passed by so fast because I really enjoyed working there. My tasks usually consisted of playing with the children, helping to feed them, and helping with their laundry. The staff were really nice, the children were so playful and fun and it was rewarding to learn more about caring for children. When our shifts were done, the volunteers would meet to eat our lunch at the center of Mandeville that our host families packed for us or there were restaurants to eat out at too. During my time working at New Hope Children’s Home, I was able to attend an educational meeting held by the Projects Abroad staff on childhood development in Jamaica. At this meeting, the Projects Abroad staff taught us about types of obstacles disadvantaged children in Jamaica face in their childhood development.
My Building placement
In the last two weeks of my trip, I worked for two weeks on extending a room for a building nearby with other construction volunteers and local builders. I also really enjoyed this placement because the people I worked with were so friendly and kind; often they shared snacks or meals with me and other volunteers on our breaks. My tasks at this placement consisted of painting inside the rooms and the outside walls, mixing cement and laying bricks. It was hard work but it was really rewarding to see the progress on the building and it gave me an appreciation of the hard physical work that local builders do every day.
Living with a local host family
My host family was so great throughout the whole trip. When I didn’t have work I would sometimes play with the children of the family or watch TV with the family. In the mornings, the volunteers and I would wake up at the same time and share the bathroom, get ready and go to work together. Our breakfast usually was eggs, toast and fried dumplings and juice or coffee. For lunch we were often packed a sandwich and a snack; my favourite was when we got Jamaican spice bread as it was delicious! For dinner we came home and ate together; we had a variety of traditional Jamaican food and I loved every dish. The food was always delicious and our host mother always explained to us what we were eating.
Travelling around Jamaica
When we weren’t working or in town, the two volunteer girls who lived with me also would go for walks with me in the neighborhood as it was a really nice location. Sometimes when we got off work at noon, we would go to the beach called Treasure beach which was about an hour taxi ride away. It was my favourite beach in all of Jamaica because it was so beautiful and close. We got work off on the weekends and the other volunteers I had met through the Projects Abroad office or in town eating lunch would organize weekends away to see the rest of Jamaica such as Montego Bay or the Blue Mountain. In order to ensure our safety, we always notified the Projects Abroad office about where we would be and when and how we would be going.
Overall, my experience in Jamaica with Projects Abroad was really positive. I always felt safe and I always enjoyed my time. I made good friendships with other volunteers and had a great time at both of my work placements. I learned a lot of important lessons about volunteering and travelling abroad as well as about the Jamaican culture. I will always remember this trip as a very special one!