Trystin St. Denis - Care & Community in Jamaica
My name is Trystin St. Denis, I’m 16 years old and I’m from San Jose, California. I’ve always had a strong urge to be active in the community and give back to others in any way I could. My best friend participated in a Projects Abroad program in the summer of 2016, and when I decided I wanted to do something for the summer of 2017, I asked her if Projects Abroad was a good program to go through. She told me that they were incredible to her, so I immediately went online and started searching for programs that fit the criteria I was looking for.
I wanted a country that spoke English, I knew I wanted to do the Care & Community program, and I knew I didn’t want the plane ride to be more than 12 hours. Then I found Jamaica and although I didn’t know it yet, that was the best choice I could have made. The staff at Projects Abroad were incredibly helpful with planning my travels and keeping me constantly updated if there were any changes.
My host family
Once I got to Jamaica, I knew I was in a completely different world from the one I was accustomed to and yet everything there made me feel more at home than ever. I’ll start with my accommodation, as my roommates and host family truly were the highlight of my trip. I had four roommates, all similar in age to me, host parents, and a five-year-old “little sister.”
My roommates were the most incredible, giving, generous people I had ever met. We would play card games, watch Maury, try to compete on Family Feud, go on walks, and go to the store together. We did everything together and we enjoyed doing it. On top of my incredibly helpful roommates, I had the most wonderful host family. Mr. and Mrs. Stewart were so kind; they would take us into town for ice cream almost every night, they’d take us to sightsee, they showed us how to cook traditional Jamaican food, and they showed us reggae music.
They made sure we had a home cooked meal every night, and they cleaned our rooms, made our beds, cleaned our bathrooms, and went above and beyond to ensure that we had everything we needed during our time there. I could not be luckier having them as my family. In addition to that, their five-year-old grandniece, Kyara, who lived with them, was the best part of some of my days there. She’s so energetic, intelligent, and a ray of sunshine to come home to.
My Care & Community placement
My placement was at Anna Miller Basic School in Mandeville. There were anywhere from 20 to 45 kids on any given day, with their ages ranging from three to five, and only one teacher. On most days, we would help with mealtimes, prayers, outside play, playing games to keep the kids active, and also teaching them whatever they were currently learning in school (such as the alphabet and how to spell). Many of the kids have a lot of energy, so it’s hard for just one teacher to watch over all of them. That is where we come into play.
Our main purpose was to help the teacher during the school day, because she has so much to manage beyond just the children. After the kids finished school, the other volunteers, our supervisor, and I would stay behind with the teacher and repaint the outside of the school, clean up the classrooms, create more organized systems for the schoolwork and books, and help prepare for the next day at the school.
Working with the kids was truly eye opening, as they come from such different backgrounds to me, but I would do it all over again if I could. Those children are such bright, happy souls and they have such a happy outlook on life.
The staff at Projects Abroad were incredible! I went through a lot while I was there and they supported me through the entire ordeal. For instance, while I was there, my childhood dog back at home passed away. The staff went out of their way to make sure I was feeling okay; they constantly asked if I needed anything and they were just generally uplifting. My wallet also got lost on the first day I was in Jamaica, and they went out of their way to help me find it by calling the taxi where I lost it and helping me hunt the wallet down. I also got incredibly sick due to motion sickness, which I get rather easily, and a member of the staff took me to the doctor’s office, paid for my medicine and my trip to the office because I didn’t have my money on me at the time, and stayed with me the entire time.
My overall experience
Overall, Jamaica was truly a one of a kind experience that, even three months later, I still miss as if it was yesterday. I cried on the plane coming home! The impact the staff, the children, and the people as a whole had on me was profound, and I am forever thankful that I got the opportunity to work with such incredible, driven, openhearted people. There are truly no people in the world like the Jamaican people and the only way you’ll know I’m not lying is to go yourself! I’m proud to say I spent time there and I can’t wait to go back and visit one day.
Trystin St. Denis
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.