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Marianna Debelian - Disaster Management in Jamaica

Volunteer in Jamaica

It has been almost five months since I left Jamaica, but Jamaica did not leave me. There is not a day that goes by without me playing dancehall tunes or some old school Bob Marley at full blast, and you will not see me eating a meal without any hot pepper sauce anymore! I cannot wait to save up and catch the first flight back to the island.

Why I chose Jamaica

My name is Marianna, I am 23 years old and I am from Norway and Brazil (and partly Jamaica now!) I will soon be graduating from the University of East Anglia, with a BA in International Development (majoring in Social Anthropology and Politics). My degree has a very important module called "Development Work Experience", which allows the student to choose a country and project in which to carry out their research. The goal of the module is also to gain experience in the humanitarian sector.

I chose to do the Disaster Management Project in Jamaica for three months, firstly because the program is completely out of my comfort zone and I wanted to challenge myself, secondly because Jamaica is a country I did not know a lot about and thirdly because I love reggae music.

My Disaster Management placement

Sunset in Negril

My placement was mainly in the Projects Abroad office and out visiting communities in Manchester. The first week was mostly in the office, doing research around basic knowledge around disaster management, as well as learning about the ODPEM and how disaster management is understood in Jamaica.

View in Ocho Rios

The next several weeks, I would visit summer schools with children from a wide range of ages, where I would teach them about earthquakes, hurricanes and fire, and how to prevent events like fires and protect themselves. I did this through songs, games and short presentations. I would also visit communities to talk one-by-one with community members. We discussed different forms of disasters and how to prevent as much damage as possible. I also answered any questions they would have.

My biggest projects were to host two workshops in two different communities, as well as doing shelter inspections and creating separate evacuation-plans for both communities. This was quite a job, and took a lot of time, because I wanted to do my very best. It was a great experience and I absolutely loved working on my project. I especially enjoyed working so closely with two local communities, in which I met so many amazing and lovely people. Lastly, I had such a wonderful supervisor who facilitated and made it easier for me to reach these communities and guide me through the whole project.

My Jamaican host family

Ital breakfast in the Blue Mountains in Jamaica

My host family was amazing. They have such a lovely house and a beautiful garden with avocado trees and coconut trees as far as the eye could see. My host brother was very kind to me the minute I arrived; he showed me around and taught me a few things in Patois, the local language. We got along well, and although I am older than he is, he is much taller than I am, so he would tell me I was his little sister and he would protect me.

My host dad is such a great man, he always had a great story to tell, and we would watch a lot of cricket together on the TV, so I learned a thing or two about the sport. My host mom is the most amazing cook! I mean, I loved everything she cooked, from stewed pork and oxtail with dumplings, to ackee and saltfish, fried breadfruit and plantain. Her homemade fresh mango juice was fantastic as well!

She took me to the market in Mandeville a few times, and she would teach me how to choose the right fruit and vegetables and haggle for the right price. Oh, and I cannot forget to mention her amazing rum cake, which she actually made for me to bring back home, so I had a whole rum cake in my hand luggage when I left Jamaica.

Weekends in Jamaica

Bamboo rafting in Port Antonio in Jamaica

Although there is a lot of work during the week, you get the weekends off to explore the beautiful island. As I spent three months in Jamaica, I got to see and do a lot during that time: surfing in Boston Bay, exploring waterfalls in Port Antonio, chilling on the beach in Negril, dancing at street parties in Kingston, experiencing reggae at its very best at Sumfest in MoBay and climbing the Blue Mountain Peak.

There are so many things to do and see and eat and smell and hear, but the very best of travelling around Jamaica are all the amazing people you meet. The second best part about travelling around Jamaica is the most amazing food experience; everything from beef patties and jerk chicken to ital and ground foods, it is all amazing!

Reflecting on my experience

Visiting a Jamaican beach

I am going to admit it was hard the first week in Jamaica. Living in a strange house and not knowing what is happening around you, you can feel like losing control. However, I can guarantee that losing yourself and finding yourself is a big part of the Jamaican experience (this is not just coming from me, many volunteers agree on this statement). You will definitely learn a lot about yourself, and how you deal with different people in different situations. You will also learn some Patois - even if you weren’t trying! Somehow, Patois will sneak into your vocabulary and soon enough, you will find yourself walking around saying "wah gwaan".

Jamaica has been the most wonderful experience in my life. If you are in doubt, just do it (like good old Nike would say), because you will be doing yourself a big favour. Seriously, you will not regret it.

Marianna Debelian

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