Where do I begin to tell you of my life changing experience volunteering in Jamaica?
Retiring from teaching and nursing in April 2009 was to be my opportunity to slow down and have ME time. How wrong I was. It had always been an ambition of mine to give something back through volunteering abroad and the time was now.
I chose Projects Abroad because their information, presentation and friendly attitude were exceptional, they guided me through every stage of my application, travel arrangements, placements and throughout my time in Jamaica. Thanks to all concerned!
The two months I spent in Jamaica were packed with unforgettable experiences; no two days were ever the same. My host family treated me like one of the family; they really looked after me well. I learnt about typical Jamaican food, keeping pigs, goats, chickens, growing fruit and vegetables. Any ideas I had of loosing weight disappeared when I was presented with fried fish, curried goat, jerk chicken and pork. I soon learnt where the bakery, cake shops, ice cream and patty shops were!
Using taxis was a new experience, in England I had a taxi all to myself, in Mandeville the more passengers you can squeeze in the better. This makes it easy to get to know a lot of people quickly! My taxi drivers soon got to recognise me they would call to me, even run across the road and guide me to their taxi, just like boy scouts taking old ladies across the road even if they don’t want to cross! They were all thoughtful, caring, cheerful chaps. Jamaican roads are full of pot holes so any taxi journey is twice as long due to the twists and turns needed to avoid them, thank goodness there are set fares for each journey.
The centre of town was always alive with traffic, shoppers, vibrant colours, market stalls, roadside vendors, a cacophony of sounds and reggae music. It was good to sit in the park people watching, talking to other shade seeking locals or watching games of dominoes.
June was spent at Bethabara Primary and Junior High School teaching phonics and supporting students in class. I was made to feel most welcome, and I felt that I was making a worthwhile contribution. My young students were “lively” and enthusiastic. July found me teaching teenagers and young adults at Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning in Mandeville. I worked with Ilonka, a fellow volunteer from Holland, teaching basic English, Maths and General studies. I felt that both the students and I gained enormously from our time together.
Being a volunteer was not all hard work there was also time for having fun. Each week all the volunteers met at the Projects office for teaching sessions, advice, problem solving and support. There were evenings out for meals, silly games, Patois classes, and Reggae dancing. We all had fun and had a chance to exchange experiences.
Each week we made plans for weekend adventures together, being older was no problem, my young colleagues made me feel twenty one again! We journeyed forth each weekend to experience blue skies, blue sea, white sandy beaches, hot sun and perfect sunsets together. Some were more adventurous, diving, banana boating, horse riding, swimming with dolphins, climbing waterfalls or going to Reggae festivals.
Volunteering in Jamaica opened up a new chapter in my life. I am now back to nursing in order to fund a return visit. I gained enormously from my experience learning about Jamaica, its people and culture and made many new friends.