Emma Caldwell - Child Rights Initiative in Jamaica
On the plane on my way to Montego Bay, the nerves finally hit me. It was my first time travelling alone and I was going further away from home than I had ever gone before. But as soon as I set eyes on Jamaica from the plane window, I knew I had made the right decision, and I couldn’t wait for my adventure to start.
My arrival in Jamaica
I was met by my driver at the airport, and he instantly made me feel right at home. He was a tremendous ambassador for Projects Abroad, and he filled our long three-hour drive to Mandeville by telling me information about the Jamaican culture, introducing me to Jamaican music and even teaching me a little bit of Patois! By the time I arrived at my host family’s house my nerves had completely disappeared.
My host family
My host family – the Morgans – were amazing and immediately welcomed me into their home with open arms. Initially it felt a little awkward staying in a stranger’s house, and I found it difficult to ask basic questions: for example it took me a day to ask about the wifi, which in hindsight gave both me and my host mother a good laugh! Luckily I arrived on a Saturday, which gave me a good day to settle in and spend time with my host family, and this really helped me to feel comfortable in the family home.
My host family lived in a house which was surrounded and filled by extended family as well as my three host sisters, many cousins and friends who would come to visit on a daily basis. This gave the house a wonderful lively feel. The children were quick to involve me in games such as hide and seek and colouring in which was great fun, and later on in my trip I was even invited to one of their birthday parties! The party was fantastic - all of the kids were hyper from the balloons, cake and crazy multi-coloured ice cream (which tasted amazing). It was really wonderful to see what a Jamaican birthday party was like in comparison to back home in Scotland, and I was very grateful they had been so kind to invite me, and include me in their family celebration.
My host mother was also an amazing cook! It took a few days for me to get used to the difference between Scottish and Jamaican food, but once I did I just couldn’t get enough; my family would always laugh about how excited I got for dinner time. I developed a real passion for Jamaican food and it is definitely one of the things I miss most since returning home. Scotland just can’t do Jerk Chicken like Jamaica can!
My placement was in the Child Development Agency (or more commonly known as the CDA) which worked to provide protection and support to children within the community. In my role, I had the privilege to shadow social workers and children’s officers in their day to day working life, as well as assisting with tasks such as writing case summaries, updating court records and writing financial request forms. The experience was a real eye opener to the demanding work the CDA employees routinely face, and I couldn’t believe how hard the ladies in my office worked to maintain the safety of the children. In addition, I would sometimes be invited to assist in more practical aspects of the job, such as counselling sessions and field work.
One significant memory for me was when I assisted in relocating three babies into places of safety, and got to experience how the social worker managed the situation, and handled the challenges which arose. Although it initially sounds like a straightforward task, it was surprising how many complications appeared with each step of the process. I was very impressed by the way the social worker I was shadowing took control of the situation, and used the resources available to her in order to help the process along.
Overall, this experience has been helpful to me on my return home. Having recently started a Master’s Degree in Social Work, I feel that my experience really helps to give me a new perspective to what I am learning, and the contrast between Child Protection in two very different cultures is invaluable.
Travelling around Jamaica
Weekends in Jamaica for me were all about the travelling, and I loved getting to see different parts of the island with the other volunteers. Jamaica has so many things to offer, and I got the opportunity to do things I never ever thought I would – like snorkelling in the ocean and hiking up a mountain at 2am! Travelling was also a fantastic way to meet the Jamaican people. Jamaica is a very friendly country, and there were many occasions when people would just come up and start conversations with you. It was a great way to learn about the Jamaican culture and hear many interesting stories about life in Jamaica.
Furthermore travelling on the weekends was a great way to get to know the other volunteers. I met so many wonderful people out in Jamaica and everyone became friends quickly – hard not to when you are sharing a little room in a hostel! I got to experience so many amazing things which were made so much better by the people I shared them with, and we all became like a little family. I will never forget stargazing on the beach with my Jamaican sisters!
I could never pick a favourite place that I visited when I was out there, however there are a few moments that stick out for me. One in particular was getting to visit the Usain Bolt Restaurant - Tracks and Records – on the night that the Jamaican men’s team won gold in the 4x100m relay, and the women won silver at the 2016 Olympics. The atmosphere was unlike anything I have ever experienced, and it was a moment I’ll never be able to forget.
My overall experience
Volunteering in Jamaica was an incredible experience for me, and I really could not have asked for more. Leaving my host family and the friends I had made was very difficult, and although I was excited to be heading home to my family, I was so sad to be leaving. I cannot wait to go back to Jamaica, as there is just so much I still want to do there. It was one of the most beautiful and unique places I have ever had the pleasure of visiting, and I am so glad I decided to go.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.