Abby Groulx - General Care Projects in Jamaica
Hi there! My name is Abby. I currently live in Ontario, Canada and recently graduated from the University of Guelph where I received a degree in Applied Human Nutrition. This fall I will be beginning my dietetic internship and will go on to become a Registered Dietician. My volunteer experience in Jamaica has definitely helped me discover parts of myself that I hadn’t yet discovered and ultimately has helped lead me to the position that I am in today. Every time I think about that month last summer, I am flooded with memories and a huge feeling of happiness.
I am a person who loves to help people and I always knew that I wanted to do volunteer work abroad. I chose Jamaica because I had been there in previous years for family vacations and immediately took to the friendly and unique atmosphere that surrounded me. However, I knew there was more to Jamaica than what I was experiencing at the resort and I wanted an opportunity to delve into the real, genuine culture of the island. I wanted to broaden my horizons and be able to offer my passion for helping people, to a proud, colourful and deserving nation that now holds a special place in my heart.
Since this was my first time travelling alone, you can imagine my nerves. However, in preparing for my trip I became much more reassured as Projects Abroad was extremely thorough in contacting me with updates and outlining exactly how the arrival process was going to go. I even got a full description and a picture of the person who was coming to pick me up at the airport. The Projects Abroad Jamaica staff was there every step of the way from my arrival. It was evident that making sure the volunteers were safe, comfortable and on track was their main goal each day. If there was anything at all that you needed, they made sure you had it.
I think most volunteers probably arrive with the reservation that, “What if I don’t meet other people and I’m alone”. Trust me, you will never be alone, someone is alwats there, whether it be staff, volunteers, or your host family. You will even get a list of the current volunteer’s phone numbers once you arrive so that you are able to be in contact with everyone. When I was there the volunteers had a special hang out spot at the food court in Mandeville where they would all meet after their placements and socialise. So if you’re worried, don’t be, because I guarantee you will meet new friends the second you arrive and be surrounded by them for the duration of your stay.
My Care Placement
My Care placement was at Bethabara School, where I worked with the school’s guidance counsellor. During my placement I did class presentations on topics such as career choices and studying for tests (it was nearing the end of the school year and exams were coming up). I got to counsel groups of kids who may have been in conflict with each other and I would also counsel individual students who seemed to have been struggling in school, whether it be with school work, socialising, being absent from class or family issues. Sometimes I even did home visits with my supervisor to investigate certain issues that may have been originating in the home and affecting the child at school.
Another part of my placement was an extra project that was given to me by my Project’s Abroad supervisor, Patrina. She was able to draw upon my nutrition background and use my skills to help start up a “Nutrition Programme” at Bethabara. This project mainly focused on organising and initiating a breakfast programme at the school so that every child had some fuel in their body and brain to help them learn. I realised that many children came to school without eating breakfast and with no money for lunch, which made it hard to learn and do your best in school with an empty tummy. During my placement we launched one successful day of the breakfast programme and my hope is that future volunteers obtain more resources and continue as well as develop this further.
All in all, my days at Bethabara were so valuable to me. Your supervisor is not going to tell you what or how to do everything, they are just there for guidance and the rest is up to you, take initiative! This is a very important skill to learn. But mostly, the children I got to work with were just incredible! No matter what their situation was, how positive or negative, they were always smiling, energetic and curious. Even just the simple moments where a child would play with my hair, ask me an innocent question about myself, or when they would shyly peak their heads around the office door because they wanted to come visit me while I ate my lunch. Those are moments that held the most value to me because I knew they were especially valuable to the children.
My host family
My accommodations during my time in Jamaica were great! My host family was incredible and I would not have wanted to stay with anyone else. They welcomed me and my roommate (two of us came in on the same day and stayed with the same family) with such open arms that I immediately felt at home. We both arrived on a Friday and our orientation wasn’t until Monday, so our family took us out with them during the weekend to YS Falls with some of their family and friends (YS Falls is beautiful, I recommend you see it). It was a really great first weekend in Jamaica and I felt as though I was just as much a member of the family as everyone else there.
Travelling in Jamaica
On weekends most of the volunteers got together in groups and did some travelling around the island. Cheap and comfortable accommodations are pretty easy to find especially if you just talk to other volunteers about where they had previously stayed. It’s pretty cool because when we went travelling to Negril and Ocho Rios (to state a couple) we stayed at places that past volunteers had usually stayed. The staff at these places came to know who the Projects Abroad volunteers were and gave us good prices. It really is just one big, giant community on the island and that feeling is amazing!
Overall, my experience with Project’s Abroad Jamaica was truly incredible! I did not want to leave and I actually ended up extending my trip an extra week. A month went by so quickly, it would have been easy to stay for another. I learnt amazing things about myself, about cultural diversity and about humanity in general thanks to this trip.
I was lucky to have met so many friendly, unique and selfless people during my time in Mandeville and each and every one of them is now a dear friend, with whom I am still in contact with, as well as the staff and my host family. I actually went on a one week trip back to Jamaica this past April and visited everyone. The one amazing thing that I learnt about Jamaicans is; once you develop a friendship with them they will always be your friend and welcome you with open arms, no matter how near or far you are from them. To me, that is a beautiful quality.
I hope you enjoyed my story and I hope it inspires you to embark on your own unique adventure with Projects Abroad Jamaica. Once you visit this beautiful country you will truly understand the meaning behind their motto, “Out of many, one people!”