Ashleigh Hares - Human Rights in Jamaica
Volunteering abroad was something I have always wanted to do, and when I found the Projects Abroad website in my second year of university, I decided that when I had finished my degree I was going to take a gap year to do the Human Rights volunteer project. After having studied the theory and the law around human rights I wanted to put what I had learnt into practice and this volunteer project gave me the chance to do that. I have certainly not regretted it!
Arriving in Jamaica
I arrived in Jamaica late on Sunday night, and was met by a Projects Abroad staff member who immediately made me feel welcome. We then started the three hour journey from Montego Bay to Mandeville. We arrived very late at night, but my host mother had waited up for me and she was very welcoming and kind when she invited me into her home, especially considering how late I had kept her up. I also met my roommate, who I would later spend a lot of my free time with.
My Human Rights placement
My placement started at the Projects Abroad office, where I began my project by researching and creating presentations on child abuse, safety and rights. My supervisor, Katrice, was helpful, supportive and enthusiastic about the work we were doing, which made me feel that the work I was doing would really make a difference to the local children. The presentations I gave were not always to the same age group, so I had to create different materials depending on the age group I was presenting to. I found this an interesting challenge and I found creating materials for the youngest children the most rewarding, as I found it easier to create materials for them to engage with.
Children where not the only group I engaged with – I also gave presentations on domestic abuse to adults. This was a completely different experience than when I spoke to the children, but I found it helped to boost my confidence. After the presentation, we held discussions, which I found very interesting as I heard many different views, and I knew everyone was taking in what I was saying. With regard to my confidence, I found that as I truly enjoyed what I was discussing it was easy to talk to and engage with them. This helped me to have more confidence when presenting.
Researching and presenting on Human Rights was not the only activities I did at my project. In my first week I got to take part in something I had never done before; an International Women’s March, with the agenda of stopping violence against women. The march was an experience I will never forget. I felt a part of something, and it was lovely to see so many people standing up against violence against women. In my last week I also took part in a school peace march, during which I made a speech to the children about conflict resolution. This, I felt, went quite well, considering it was the first time I had ever had to make a formal speech, another first in Jamaica!
My host family
I absolutely loved my host family. They were very considerate, and were always making sure my roommate and I were alright. My biggest worry when I decided to do the project was about food. I am incredibly picky when it comes to food and I cannot do spice or heat, but the meals my host mother prepared were wonderful. I enjoyed almost every meal she placed in front of me. I am not the biggest fan of fish, but the way she prepared it, I would have happily eaten it every night. She also always made sure we were fed. If my roommate and I were going away for the weekend, even if we left at four o’clock, she always cooked us dinner. I could not have felt more welcome in her home.
My free time
While I wished I could have stayed longer in Jamaica, I did try the make the most of my weekends there, so every weekend I tried to go and see different parts of the island. The first weekend I climbed Blue Mountain, which was hard work, as we started at 2am. It rained the whole time and it took us seven hours to complete. But what an achievement it was! I climbed up and down waterfalls, jumped off at Rick’s Café, and sunbathed on the clearest beaches I have even seen. I loved every minute of my trip, and participated in activities I would have never dreamed of doing.
Thank you Projects Abroad for my trip, my only regret is that I did not stay longer!