Diane Flowers - General Care Projects in Jamaica
My name is Diane Flowers, I graduated from high school in June 2009, and instead of jumping right into college, I decided that I wanted to take a gap year from school. There was a lot that I wanted to do with my gap year, and volunteering abroad was one of them.
I found Projects Abroad online and after reading many volunteers stories and seeing what Projects Abroad had to offer, I decided that I would apply. I chose Jamaica, because I had travelled to Negril once before and loved the culture, music and people. I knew that my help there would be appreciated and that I would learn many new things different from my lifestyle back home.
First off, coming from Vermont, the climate change was wonderful! I took my winter jacket off immediately and felt my face warm up. I was homesick for the first couple of days, but thanks to my host family I had some great support when adapting to my new surroundings. I am also a vegetarian and have been for more than five years, my host mom catered to my diet with no problems, and if there was ever a dish I didn’t enjoy she always wanted me to tell her, though I loved every Jamaican meal she made me.
Every working day I would wake up early, about 6:30am, and eat breakfast with my host siblings and my roommates. Once ready for work I would walk to the end of my road to catch a taxi, which at first I was nervous to do on my own, but I soon realised that, especially during the day, walking alone was safe and that if the taxi driver was not driving in the direction I was looking for, most drivers would help me find a taxi that was.
I worked at the Windsor Lodge Children’s Home, which is a Salvation Army run orphanage. At first I was worried that I might have a difficult time connecting with the children, but as soon as I walked through the gates, many children would run over to greet me with a big hug and take my hand to show me the lizard they caught or the school work they needed to do for the day.
Some days I would just play with the children, but mostly during the week they had school and I would help give them work in class or help them with work that had been given to them. I really felt like I was making a difference when I would show them a new method for reading or mathematics, and then a couple days later they would be using it on their own. They always wanted to share their break or lunch with me or their fellow classmates. Sometime I would also bring in some sweeties or biscuits to reward them for good work; we would always try to enforce positive rewards rather than negative punishment.
I would stay at the Lodge until the afternoon and then head into Mandeville where I would meet up with fellow volunteers. Most of the time we would eat our lunch together or shop in town, some nights we would maybe go out to a local bar or to the movie theatre. Whenever we went into town we were usually called “whitey” or often we would get “pppst, pppst” this was just the locals trying to say “Hi” and after awhile it no longer phased us. I found the people in Jamaica to be very friendly and kind. Almost every weekend I went on trips with other volunteers to discover different parts of the country, by travelling around I made many friends and was able to learn even more about the culture in Jamaica.
I think that the only thing I would change is the amount of time I stayed; one month just wasn’t enough time. The hardest thing I had to do was say goodbye to all the children at Windsor Lodge and to all my new friends, volunteers and locals. I have already made plans to come back to Jamaica within the year.
There is something so special and different about the lifestyle in Jamaica, I just know that I will be coming back periodically throughout my lifetime. I think volunteering is also the best way to discover Jamaica, you receive such a better understanding of it culture rather than seeing it as a tourist. This experience is something I will never forget.