Jacqueline Stevens - General Teaching Projects in Jamaica
Where do I begin to tell you of my life changing experience volunteering in Jamaica? Every time someone asks me about my stay in Jamaica, the biggest smile spreads across my face, my heart goes warm and a million memories whizz through my head! Even now as I write this, I’m smiling and cannot wait for the day that I can go back!
I first started thinking about volunteering because I was on a gap year after completing my degree and planning to go onto teacher training. I had an itch to get away from England to recharge my batteries and because no-one else was free to go travelling, volunteering seemed the best option. I was anxious about signing up and going somewhere alone, but I knew that everyone else would be in the same boat so surely it couldn’t be that bad…!
I came across Projects Abroad by just searching ‘volunteer teaching abroad’ and saw Jamaica was a destination to teach in. Teaching was what I wanted to do so that I was more prepared and experienced for the upcoming September. After giving Projects Abroad a ring and having a really good chat and receiving e-mails from someone that had already gone, my mind was made up. As soon as I got confirmation on my PGCE course, I booked my flight!
It’s hard to know where to start when I describe my 2 months in Jamaica. All I know is that I never once felt unsafe; I felt loved, happy, and secure and knew I was having the adventure of my life. As soon as I was greeted by my host family, I knew I was blessed. I was immediately accepted as one of the family and my first night’s sleep was amazing…not one feeling of apprehension, I knew I was in safe hands! It was great to have 2 brothers (as I have 4 sisters at home) and a loving set of ‘parents’ to look after and guide me. It was great to meet the whole extended family and I spent a lot of time with them. My host family run a Shell garage and I’d often chill out there after a day at school with other volunteer friends.
During the week, I woke up super early (5.15am), go to the gym with my host Dad (essential as it gets far too hot to work out any later than sunrise!), get back, get ready and then walk to work for 8am. My view was unforgettable and a morning walk to work was a great opportunity each day to take in my surroundings. It seems all very early but the sunset is at about 6pm so it’s best to make the most of the early mornings!
I was placed at Kendall All Age School which is about a 15/20 minute taxi ride from the town centre. The school is amazing - I’ve never come across such energy – happy kids, massive smiles, always someone running up offering to carry my bags or asking to listen to my music. It was an absolute joy to work with Miss Bailey in her Grade 4 class. It’s quite overwhelming at first; the sheer volume of the class as three classes in one building are separated by just blackboards!
However, I soon got used to it and noticed they could hear me even when using a slight voice. I think about the children all the time and miss them the most. They have such beautiful personalities; always full of jokes and such fun to work with. If you choose to do teaching, I’d say get as stuck in as you can, especially if you want to go into teaching, it’s an invaluable experience – standing in front of 30 children will never faze you again.
Sometimes I would teach the whole class, other times I’d take small groups but most of the time I supported the children, marked their work and helped as much as I could. By being there and being able to give that little bit extra of contact time, the children appreciate it so much and always aim to please you. Simply by being from another country, they learn so much from you and vice versa. As a volunteer, it is so satisfying to know you’re making a difference.
The children haven’t got our opportunities in terms of resources and teaching assistants so volunteering is a great way to be a resource. If I was to recommend taking things with you, it would be stickers as positive rewards, pencils and sharpeners – they were gratefully received and meant everyone could get on with working. I’m still in touch with Miss Bailey and I aim to get back to Jamaica as soon as possible to visit her and her students!
General life in Jamaica was great. From being squashed with about 6 kids in a five-seater taxi to sharing a minibus with other volunteers on your weekend breaks with dance hall and reggae blaring out of the speakers, transport was just one exciting aspect! Being in the mountains, Mandeville is a pleasant break from intense heat you get in other parts of the country…but don’t be fooled, it is still very hot! Mandeville has all the things you could ask for - pharmacies, supermarkets, a cinema, nail salons, places to eat, clothes shops etc. Be sure to pay Juicy Patties a visit and get a mega patty and a massive strawberry cheesecake ice cream cone!
Meeting other volunteers is a lovely experience. Everyone was quick to welcome me and find out all about me. As soon as you arrive, you’ll be sure to get an immediate invite to the upcoming weekend’s travel plans. Make sure you stay in Jamaica for more than just a couple of weeks - it’s a small country with so much to offer so it’s essential you use your weekends to the full to make the most of it.
Even staying there for eight weeks didn’t give me enough time to do all the things I had planned! I would recommend taking up to £80/90 per weekend to make the most of the destinations, eating, travel etc. We get discounts on accommodation and certain things by being volunteers but Jamaica is no cheap place to travel, so be prepared…every penny however is worth it!
The Projects Abroad team were fantastic. They often got us all together to do various activities which were always such fun. One ‘fun day’ entailed a Jeep covered in speakers, a feast of the finest Jamaican cooking, games, dancing competitions and more. We were even joined by local Jamaican school children. I loved sitting there watching them effortlessly dance away.
When they say Jamaicans are born singing and dancing, they’re not wrong! Rhoseen, the Teaching Co-ordinator was always there to offer advice and be a friend. I could talk to her about pretty much anything which is so important when you’re away from everything you’re used to.
I miss the vibe of Jamaica, the music, the smiles, the dancing, the pace and, of course, the people. I can’t wait to get myself back to the country which houses the people I now regard as family. If you’re not sure about going, just go! Believe me, it’ll be the most worthwhile thing you do!