Nicola Webster - General Care Projects in Jamaica
Since my first plane journey when I was 17 years old, I knew I wanted to travel more. While my friends and family were all caught up in university or work, I decided to be brave enough to travel alone at the age of 19 and this was when I found Projects Abroad. Straight away I knew I wanted to pick Jamaica as I had always wanted to visit the Caribbean and I loved the island culture.
I had many connecting flights and after my first flight was delayed I missed my next, which caused a domino effect. Both Projects Abroad and the airline were very helpful in making sure I was safe and had accommodation for the night and new flights for the next day. I finally landed in Sangster Airport, Montego Bay!
My driver, Roy was waiting for me outside the airport exit and after putting my luggage into the car and giving me my Projects Abroad welcome pack we set off. On the way to my accommodation Roy kindly acted as a tour guide pointing out all the places I should make sure to visit during my stay. After a short drive we arrived at the gate of my new home for six weeks and I was met by my host mum, the very cheerful, Miss Jean.
First Impressions of Jamaica
Miss Jean gave me a warm welcome and insisted on carrying my bags for me, so I said thank you to Roy and followed her into the house. I then met another Projects Abroad volunteer, Geke, who was also staying with Miss Jean. Geke was from Holland, but I was amazed at how good her English was! Geke was staying for nine weeks in the bedroom across the hall from my own. My bedroom was lovely and very clean. I had plenty of storage space and a lock on my door. Geke and I also shared a bathroom and Miss Jean had her own en-suite in her bedroom.
Miss Jean was a wonderful cook and made all of our meals! I am a very fussy person with food, but I tried and enjoyed almost everything. Ackee, saltfish, dumpling and yam were my favourite! I had arrived on the Sunday so after all my flights I had an early night. On the Monday morning Pettia, my project supervisor picked me up for my induction where I learnt everything I needed to know about volunteering in Jamaica.
Volunteering at Blossom Garden
The next day was my first day volunteering at Blossom Garden, a place of safety for children up to the age of nine. After a short tour by Mrs Brown, who worked at Blossom Garden, I began my first day in the toddlers group. There were 14 toddlers with only one member of Blossom Garden staff and myself to supervise.
I quickly adapted to the ways of Blossom Garden, which compared to childcare in the UK is a little different. Sometimes it felt as if you were working at an assembly line. As a child would come out the bath, you would put a diaper on, powder and lotion, pass him or her along, someone else would put clothes on, pass along and someone else would do shoes and this was the pattern for all 14 toddlers! However, with so many children and so little staff and time you quickly realised that this was the best way to get things done.
Geke was also placed at Blossom Garden so each day we rotated our schedule, one day I’d be with the toddlers and she would be with the babies and then the next day we’d swap. The babies were just as adorable. The youngest baby was only two weeks old.
Each day when I entered the children's home I would say ‘Morning!’ and after a couple of weeks some of the older toddlers would start shouting ‘Morning, morning, morning!’, as soon as they saw me walking towards the door. A lot of the babies and toddlers were not as well developed for their age as they could be, due to difficult backgrounds, so as well as feeding and bathing the children I spent a lot of time playing games and teaching them songs and the alphabet. It is a great feeling when you see a child making progress because of your help!
My volunteering day was from 9am to 2pm, so at 2pm Geke and I would get a taxi together and go into the Bay.
Free Time in Jamaica
One of the best things about choosing Jamaica as my destination was what was on offer during my time off. As we only volunteered five hours a day, Monday to Friday, we had a lot of free time to do whatever we wished. After work we often spent our days on the beach, walking round the local shops or craft markets or getting ice cream from Devon’s, which became mine and Geke’s favourite thing to do. We would always make sure to be back for about 5pm for dinner.
Over the six weeks that I was in Jamaica, many other volunteers came and went. Geke and I loved having extra company and others to share our experiences with.
Over the weekend we often travelled as a group out of Montego Bay and visited other towns, such as Negril and Ocho Rios. The travel costs were so incredibly low that it didn’t dent our pockets to do it every week. In Negril we walked the famous 7-mile beach, sunbathed on the sand and swam in the sea! We ate at Ricks Café and watched the cliff diver’s jump of the rocks. We visited Dunns River Falls in Ocho Rios and climbed the waterfall.
We often came back to Mobay in the evening and had dinner on the hip strip's huge range of restaurants. If we weren't too tired from our day trip, we would check with our host families if it was okay to go out that night and we’d get ready to hit one of Mobay’s best clubs such as Pier 1 or Margarittaville.
Before I left for Jamaica, a lot of my friends and family were concerned about the safety of the country. I think there is good and bad everywhere, but overall in Jamaica I never felt unsafe, but this is because I never put myself in any danger.
The people of Jamaica are the friendliest people I have ever met! As I have blue eyes and blond hair, little girls wanted to take pictures with me and touch my hair. It was attention I was not used to, but I was always just as friendly in return.
My time in Jamaica absolutely flew by and before I knew it my six weeks were over! Saying goodbye to the children at Blossom Garden was one of the hardest parts and I almost cried. My goodbyes with Miss Jean and Geke on the morning of my flights were just as hard.
After I returned home and even now I miss the culture of Jamaica so much! I even went to the ‘foreign food isle’ in the huge supermarket where I live and purchased tinned ackee, saltfish and callaloo, but my cooking didn’t turn out as good as Miss Jeans! Volunteering in Jamaica with Projects Abroad was one of the best experiences of my life and I couldn’t recommend it any more to anyone considering it!
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.