Stefanie Harris - General Care Projects in Jamaica
My name is Stefanie Harris and I spent a month in Mandeville, Jamaica. I did a lot of research to decide where I should go for the summer. I knew I wanted to play with kids but I struggled finding an organisation that wanted someone to do that. One day, I was on facebook and there was a side advertisement that said, ‘Want to volunteer abroad?’ I clicked on it out of complete desperation and came across Projects Abroad. I looked through their programmes and decided on Jamaica because I had been there on a cruise so I was familiar with the island.
I was told by people that Jamaica was dangerous and the people are untrustworthy and that I should always watch my back and to never be alone. I found the opposite to be true. Like everywhere, I did come across people who were rude, but almost everyone I met was so nice and helpful and wanted to do anything they could to insure that I had the best time possible.
Every day I would wake up bright and early. It seemed that no one on the island got up later than 6:30am. I would eat some fruit and cereal and head up the road to catch a taxi. Being from Oklahoma, I had never used a taxi, but it only took me a few days before I was completely comfortable doing so and walking all around town by myself. Once in town I would walk to the post office, where the woman who started the children’s home that I worked at picked up all her workers for the day.
When I got to the children’s home, I would feel like a rock star every morning. They all stood on the porch screaming, ‘Auntie Stefanie, Auntie Stefanie.’ They were so excited to see me. There was never one day where I felt unneeded there. I would play with the younger children outside while the older children had school. All the kids at this particular home were under the age of seven. The older children would join us an hour or so later. We would play on the swings, in the sandbox and with the toy trucks.
By lunchtime, I would be completely worn down. I would try to take a nap on the porch while the children ate and had a bath but that rarely happened because the young boys liked to escape from the lunch table to come and wake me up. After lunch the kids would go down for a nap, but the four oldest boys would stay awake and play with me. We got to do more crafts during this time because it was less chaotic, but we still spent most of the afternoon outside. These older boys loved to hear stories and learn how to spell. The afternoons were special because I got to spend more one on one time with them.
One day when I had first arrived in the morning, I reached down to pick up one of the young boys. He smelled terrible! I put him back down so I could check his diaper. When I did so, I realised his diaper had broken, was only around one of his legs, and I had poop all over the side of my shirt! It wasn’t the best way to start my day but it sure was funny. There is one thing for sure, I never left the home without having a stretched out shirt that smelled of something horrible. Oh, the joys of children!
I spent most of my day at the children’s home. When I left, I would sometimes walk back to town and enjoy the incredible view or I would catch a ride with the taxi driver that I had become good friends with. There was a group of men who played dominos in the park every day and they invited me to play with them early on in my trip. After that, six days a week, I would play dominos. I never knew dominos could be such a fun and competitive game.
I loved spending time in town exploring the shops and trying new foods. The people were incredibly friendly and helpful. Everyone I ever met remembered me, so I felt like a local by the end of the month. There was a bakery that I fell in love with that I went to at least once a day. Next to the kids, that is the place I miss most about Jamaica.
In the evenings, I would spend time with my family who loved to watch CSI Miami every night. I did not like the show until I watched it with them. They made it so much fun! My family was fantastic. They made me feel completely at home. After my ice-cold shower (there was no hot water), I would often go to bed early because I was always so exhausted from the incredible days I would have.
On the weekends most volunteers would travel around the island but I only chose to do that once. I wanted to spend my time in town with all the wonderful Jamaicans I had met. I spent my weekends shopping, visiting churches, eating food, and hanging out in the market with my new friends.
Spending time in Jamaica was a great experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. The friends that I made there will help give me opportunities to further assist the children of Jamaica when I graduate from university.
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.