Allan Boak - Music in Jamaica
I would like to start off my story by saying how much of an amazing time I had during my month teaching Music in Jamaica and how stunning the country is.
I was very nervous about going away for a month - away from home, my friends and outside my comfort zone, but as soon as I stepped outside the airport the buzz and vibrancy of the country greeted me instantly and my nerves turned into excitement.
Friendly host family
I had never lived with a host family before so I did not really know what to expect when I arrived but after meeting my family I knew that my stay in Jamaica would be comfortable, friendly and safe. This was definitely the case for my whole stay; I could not have been allocated a nicer family to stay with. My host parents Donna and Errol Morgan were very friendly and very open to dietary requirements and any other of my needs as well as just being very kind and caring people.
Their two sons KJ and Romario were also very welcoming of a stranger in their home and made my time in the house fun and active. I went to church with the family as well as meeting their grandmother and helping out at her little county shop. I cannot sing enough praises for my host family; they were a big part of my trip and really made me feel like I was home.
The first 2 weeks at the placement
For the first two weeks of my placement I was based in a Community Centre in a troubled area of the city working with children who had very bad backgrounds and lacking basics such as food and shoes. At the start of the time there were about 5 boys coming to the sessions but by the end of the two weeks there were around 20 students with ages ranging from 8 years old up to 18. I am so glad I got to work with these amazing children and although sometimes it was tough I really felt that the music brought them all together and gave them a focus.
The lessons needed to be very creative to keep the pupils interested and make the most of the time that we had together. The wonderful Collette at Projects Abroad acquired a keyboard for me to use with the kids as well as two trumpets that I had brought from Scotland to teach. We did lots of different games and music activities including using a basketball and bottles to create music and learn about rhythms. By the end of the sessions kids that had never even touched a keyboard or seen a trumpet were playing little songs independently for themselves with a huge smile across their faces.
The second 2 weeks at the placement
For the last two weeks of my month in Jamaica I went to work in a Music Camp run by an extremely enthusiastic man named Leyton and his wife. There were around 50 children at the camp and about 6 teachers with subjects such as: Maths, English, Creative Arts, Keyboard skills, Guitar, Drums and Basic Music Theory. I was able to not only shadow teachers but also teach classes of my own with up to 20 students.
The camp was in a nice big building with little paddling pools set up for the kids as well as all of the music equipment brought in to let them learn. The small company that run the camp is very much a growing project and I really do see great things happening due to their focus, drive and determination. However due to no funding and lack of resources the project needs help from volunteers that share the same passion for music and education to help the growing process and get more children involved.
We stayed in the Parish of Manchester in a place called Mandeville with was the coldest part of Jamaica. I say it was the coldest but I still had my hand held fan with me the whole time. There were markets on certain days of the week that sold fresh fruit and fish which was just fun to walk around to see all the different types of food that had been just picked. I now know what ‘fresh’ fruit is actually supposed to taste like......fantastic! As all new places it was a bit confusing to start with trying to get around but after about 2 or 3 days it was easy. It is extremely easy to get around and I always felt safe whilst travelling either to placement or out with my new friends.
‘Friends’ is definitely the word to use. Friends that I am still in contact with and will be for some time. I met some of the nicest and most interesting people during my time in Jamaica and it really made the trip even more special. You have to remember that all of the volunteers are there for the same reason that you are and everyone I met I would quite happily go travelling with them again.
Most people are doing different projects but you still make time to meet up either for a drink or just to chat about your day at your placement as well as going away at the weekend with them which was always a blast. Projects Abroad also organise small classes which gets all the volunteers together like the Reggae Dance Class that we had with Sanikia which was hilarious! I must say, there were a few clubs where we tried out some of the moves we learned.
I have visited a lot of countries on holidays as well as with teaching but Jamaica is by far the most chilled out, vibrant and fun place I have ever been lucky enough to have been. The country itself is absolutely beautiful, oozing with culture and places to see. It really is a paradise! Most weekends the volunteers visit different parts of the country as well as the trips that Projects Abroad organise.
Whilst I was there I got to see: Ocho Rios, Negril, Duns River Falls, YS Falls, Green Grotto Caves, Ricks Cafe, Kingston, Bob Marley’s House and the stunning Blue Mountains. Each place we went to was different from each other with different things to visit as well as slightly different ways of living. Parts were more touristy than others and we tried to stay away from that as you will find out when you go to Jamaica that while you are there, you are a Jamaican.
A few things that stick out in my mind that I really enjoyed or was just hilarious are: playing dominoes with some Jamaicans slamming the pieces on the table and getting really into the game, singing Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ with all of the kids with their strong and proud Jamaican accents shining through. Visiting Duns River and Ricks Cafe were definitely also highlights for me, including jumping off a cliff and climbing up a waterfall.
When I got back home to Scotland not only was it freezing cold but it felt strange to be home. I went out for dinner with my mum and my partner but when we finished it felt like I was going to get into a taxi and go home to my host family. I was only in Jamaica for 1 month and yet I have never been anywhere where I felt so at home, especially since it is almost in the other side of the world to me.
It has been a pleasure to write this story about one of the most amazing months of my life and I would recommend to anyone....Go to Jamaica!