Thursday, March 17, 2011
It is absolutely mind-boggling how many components go into the planning and execution of a successful community service trip. Keeping a pocket-sized spiral notebook helps with tracking current details and recording helpful tips for future ventures. And, come to think of it, the very routine of writing regularly in the notebook helps maintain balance.
Spring Break 2011 was my second trip to Jamaica with college students engaged in community service. In March 2010, I worked with eleven students from Ursinus College and their professor, Dr. Christian Rice. This year the numbers from Ursinus doubled and we added six students from Moravian College, along with Dr. Joyce Hinnefeld (English Department) and her family. Moravian College, through the Center for Leadership and Service and the Chaplain's Office, is committed to increasing opportunities for community service for students locally and internationally. Such balance ensures a more solid foundation for their future.
Nothing builds community faster than gathering at an airport at 3:00 a.m. for a six o'clock flight followed by a swim in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean Sea within an hour after arrival in Montego Bay. That afternoon, a 2-hour drive along a narrow, curvy but scenic road over the mountain brought us to our home away from home on the south coast of Jamaica. We ended Day One with a creative game of People Bingo — striving for balance between decompression and rest on the one hand, and exploring new surroundings and meeting new people on the other.
Just in case playing together did not accomplish the goal of group unity, a solid day of hard work on Day Two removed all doubt. Five projects kept the 34 of us busy painting, hammering, and mixing cement as an orphanage, three homes, and an elementary school. We were learning and teaching, sweating and sharing. We strove for balance between work and play, between service and socialization. Witnessing the movement from theory to practice, brought balance to the hearts of some very committed college students. Our efforts built a platform to create change — in ourselves and in the lives of the people we were touching each day.
Special thanks to our project coordinator, Phyllis Smith-Seymour, our cooks, Nellie and Polly, our second driver, Junior, our special guests, Anna, Jim and Anne, our Bethlehem to Philadelphia driver Mike Rampulla, and a host of others who contributed to the success of Spring Break Jamaica 2011.
Over the course of seven days, we worked hard and played hard. Wonderful balance! We started most days with breakfast at 7:00 a.m., left for work around 8:00 a.m., spent the late afternoon/early evening swimming in the sea, river, or pool, and ended most days with table games and a conversation circle. Elizabeth Cannon, Assistant Director of the Ursinus Bonner Program, facilitated these intense sessions of reflection on country and culture, people and poverty.
As we approached the end of our trip, I experienced an intense feeling of gratitude for the privilege of working with such a wonderful group of intelligent and dedicated young people. They all displayed good balance in their lives and in their care for our world! Well done Bernadette, Kelsy-Ann, Jenn, Andrew, Katie and Macaire.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Monday, March 14, 2011
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Our trip wound down peacefully last weekend, with Friday's drive to Montego Bay, where we left our bags at the friendly and comfortable Verney House hotel before setting off for the glorious Dunn's River Falls near Ocho Rios. We climbed the falls (several of our group actually made the climb several times), then relaxed on the beach. After a quick stop for pizza in Ocho Rios, we drove back to Montego Bay for that evening's marvelous seafood buffet dinner at a restaurant on the beach. Saturday morning we had time for some souvenir and gift shopping at a store and then a group of market stalls in Montego Bay, then a bit of pool time and a delicious lunch back at Verney House before it was time to head to the airport.
The food and service on Air Jamaica were delightful! (Remember the old days of flying, when you were served a nice snack?) Our flight departed promptly and was problem-free, there were next to no lines at Philadelphia Airport, and before we knew it, Jim, Anna, and I were hugging our new Ursinus friends and making our new Moravian friends promise that we'd see them again soon. The week went by way too quickly, and now that we're back in Bethlehem, we're missing those fresh, open faces and all the laughter on that bus.
The adjectives ("beautiful," "breathtaking," "kind," "open-hearted") grow tiresome, even for me, and so I find that I don't even want to try to put our Jamaica experience into words. Chaplain Clennon provided all of us with a full, meaningful, and also tremendously fun experience on this trip. (The photo accompanying this post is of Salem Moravian Church in Beeston Spring, one of several churches in rural Westmoreland Parish that Hopeton Clennon served as a young minister, fresh from seminary.)
We all hope to return to Jamaica--and I think it's safe to say that we'd most like to return to the same kind of trip: one where we have work to do, one where we actually meet, talk, and work with the people who live in communities in the mountains and along the beautiful southern coast like Culloden (where our home base for most of the week, Camp Hope, is located), Beeston Spring, Left Hall, and Darliston.
"Jamaica--no problem," we all learned to say. Of course there are problems. But there's something to be said for an open heart in the face of those problems. The challenge for all of us, now that we're home, will be holding on to that open heart--without the blue Caribbean, the pure, clear air, and the warming sun of Westmoreland Parish to remind us.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Bernadette Zuniga, Moravian '13, is a Nursing major.
On our last day of service, our five work sites were reduced to three, and one of these involved working with the people on the hill, helping them with the construction of a house. Left Hall, which this mountainous area is referred to, required a perilous and slow drive up a mountain; working there required hard labor but also involved great people at the top and a quick hike down at the end of our workday.
When a group of us set to work, we were shown where to hammer in nails (pencil circles are lining all the floor boards for us still), and how to hammer them in if we were struggling. We hoped to reduce the local builders’ time by allowing them to do more cutting and measuring while we handled some of the grunt work.
After erecting a full wall in the house and finishing the first floor, we had lunch. We shared our sweets with all the children who came to play dominoes with us before beginning our hike down. Not surprisingly, the kids beat us most of the time!
The neighborhood on the hill was so heartwarming that even after an exciting Black River Safari later in the day, it was the smile on the home owner’s face when she told me the house was to be painted pink and white that stays with me now. Even longer than the smiles of the crocodiles we saw on our safari.
When given the opportunity to write for the blog, I found it very difficult to set aside time. This task was not difficult because I did not want to; rather, I was enjoying myself so much that time slipped away from me. The first time I tried to write I began to write the date at the top of the page--until I realized I had no clue as to what the date actually was. At school my life is in strict accordance with dates, schedules, and planning. Here, I am free. Here, in Jamaica, there are "no worries."
I wish I could write everything that has happened during these last few days. However, since that is not possible at this moment (we gather as a group for some reflection time in a few minutes), I will share one particular story that occurred earlier today.
As usual, we left Camp Hope at around 8 AM to disperse to our various work sites. Today, I returned to Clifton Home, an orphanage for boys who cannot or do not live with their families for a variety of reasons. After 45 minutes on the bus, we finally arrived at Clifton. Unlike other children we have met, these children seemed to be a bit more reserved. One boy, Owen, was particularly special to me.
While resting on the porch, a group of the boys and the group of visiting college students were talking and exchanging their dance skills. Owen asked if we had ever been in New York. As a New Yorker, I responded and said yes. He explained that he has family in New York and in Maryland. Tracie, an Ursinus College student and Bonner Foundation participant on this trip, asked Owen why he does not live with either of these families. He looked at us and signaled to give him a minute.
After some time passed, Tracie and I forgot we'd even asked the question. But later, seeing that we were alone and away from the rest of the group, Owen came up to us and began to say, "The reason I do not live in America is because . . . ." I was shocked that Owen remembered our question.
As Owen talked about his family, about his educational hopes, about his connection to Jamaican culture, I cried. I felt that this 17-year-old boy in front of me was the most selfless and humble person I have perhaps ever met. He seemed to me like a walking Christ. I feel that I was destined to meet and hear the story of Owen. Owen brought reality to me. He opened my eyes and made me truly realize what is most important in life. I promise to myself that I will never forget Owen.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
On Ash Wednesday, after two intense days of hard work, the group was treated to a time of horseback riding and sun bathing. As small groups of students chose to gallop their horses across the beach, others took turns jumping into the beautiful, clear water of the nearby river.
Leave it to Jamaica to make river swimming a little more interesting; there were a pair of green-blue needle-nosed fish that kept the group thoroughly entertained, as well as a jutting rock that made a great diving board.
Just as intriguing as those fish was the game of ladderball, a game played in the U.S. but one that most of the students present had never heard of. Soon most of our group became quite good at the game, what with all the practice they put into it.
The day ended on a hilarious note since we had only one small van and way too many students when it was time to leave (a small group had broken away for Ash Wednesday services, and had yet to return with the other van)--and it began to rain. We all ended up piling into the tiny van like a group of clowns, driving a short distance this way until we met up with the other van along the main road.
All in all, the day was beautiful, the people around us were kind, and the atmosphere was laid- back and relaxed on this day of rest.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Jennifer Kober, Moravian '14, plans to major in Biology and is a member of the Alpha, NJ Mennonite Church.
Macaire Kolchin, Moravian '14, an avid humanitarian, plans to major in Psychology and is part of the Moravian College Emerging Leaders program.
After one day in this beautiful country I have seen further into the human heart than I could have done anywhere else in the world. The purity in the heart of every person you meet results in a humbling feeling. After painting the Clifton Home for Boys, I went to shake the hand of the caretaker, but that handshake turned into a hug.
Now, in America, a hug is usually a little taboo on the first meeting. This woman's response surprised me, and it will touch my heart for the rest of my life. She held me in front of her and said, "I love you." If hugging is frowned upon for first meetings, then those three words are all but forbidden. I was shocked to speechlessness when she said this, and I began to tear up.
My biggest regret is not smiling back at this woman who was so grateful for a little painting and saying "I love you too" with a true Jamaican heart.
Those who know me well are fully aware that I rarely eat meat; however, here in Jamaica, at all opportunities to eat protein I have accepted and eaten the meat. My taste buds have welcomed the chicken, pork, and beef. Jamaicans have an interesting way of cooking and blending native spices.
Katie Makoski, Moravian '14, plans to major in English and minor in Political Science. She serves on the Moravian College Multi-faith Council.
Along with the food, I am enjoying the warm weather. It has been fantastic: sun, no humidity, the Caribbean Sea's breeze! I have adjusted to the weather so quickly that I am fearful for when I return to Pennsylvania's March weather.
But the part I am most enjoying about being in Jamaica is being able to interact with the people around me. The Jamaicans who our colleges are helping have the warmest souls I have ever met.
The locals have said, "Jamaica--no problems, just situations." Judging by all of the vibrant, carefree children running around at the schools and Sports Day competitions we've visited, I would have to agree. Today was Sports Day at many schools here in Westmoreland Parish, and for each school's day, three teams of children engaged in friendly competition. Girls were dressed up in colorful skirts, chanting cheers for their teams. Boys ran tirelessly under the hot sun.
The people's energy seems to be boundless; their sunny attitude is contagious. A few children borrowed our digital cameras, curiously tinkering with them. Then they snapped an endless number of photos of us all smiling and enjoying each other's company. They all happily waved goodbye as we drove off at the end of the day's competitions.
Kelsy-Ann Adams, Moravian '14, was born in Jamaica and moved to the U.S. at age six. She plans to major in Sociology.
These past two days have been a great learning experience for me. I've never been in Jamaica without being with my family, and I've never been on a service trip. I don't want to say that it's been hard for me because it hasn't, just very interesting.
It's been good to hear Americans' perspectives on Jamaica, the perspectives of people who are actually experiencing the culture and not just speaking from biases and rumors they have heard. Listening to the other members of our group speak about their experiences and seeing them in awe of the beauty here has opened my mind to look at things in a different way, in both Jamaica and America.
It has also been very enlightening to me to do community service in my own country. Before this trip, I never even thought about orphanages in Jamaica, or someone needing help building a part of their kitchen. It sounds silly, but I never thought of the Jamaican culture in that way.
This entire trip has shown me experiences that have opened my eyes to new ideas and views, and has shown me just how sheltered I have been. I am appreciative that I don't have to go through what some of these people have to, but at the same time they inspire me to help even more.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Hello from Jamaica! Specifically from the beautiful southern coast, and our base at Camp Hope in Westmoreland parish, where twenty-one Ursinus College students and two Ursinus advisors, six Moravian College students, four Moravian College guests, and Chaplain Hopeton Clennon are off to a great start on our spring break service trip.
We arrived in Montego Bay yesterday, Sunday, March 6, and today we dove into our varied service projects. At King's Elementary School near Whitehouse, a group of us worked to mix concrete and begin building a concrete-and-cinder-block garbage unit; the foundation was finished by day's end, when we all gathered to help--but mostly to socialize with the wonderful King's Elementary schoolchildren as they waited for their buses and other rides home from school. We watched a group of boys in their crisp khaki uniforms playing cricket with an old wooden paddle and a tennis ball, and chatted with the friendly girls in their white blouses and blue jumpers.
Earlier in the day, one group worked to demolish and rebuild a kitchen out of wood at a home in Beeston Spring. Another worked on building a wood floor and additional room at a home in Left Hall, north of Beeston Spring. And the largest group put a fresh coat of bright, creamy yellow paint on the Clifton Boys' Home in Darliston. We were helped here by a few of the boys who were home from school today. At all the sites, we were helped and guided by experienced local builders and workers.
Camp Hope is beautiful, and for two evenings now we've watched the sun set over the placid blue Caribbean Sea, right outside the doors of our dormitory. And we've enjoyed delicious meals prepared by Nellie and her fine kitchen crew.
Temperatures are in the 80s during the day. Both days we've had nice, cooling rains in the late afternoon or evening; these blow over quickly, and the beautiful sun returns. Our drive here from Montego Bay took us through lush green forests over winding mountain roads. We are getting to see parts of Jamaica that tourists who blow in and out of the island's resorts miss completely.
We're also becoming good friends. This is a wonderful group of students, staff, and friends--cheerful, welcoming, hard-working, generous, kind.
And we've been transported from place to place by the marvelous bus driver Junior, who plays Bob Marley, croons Harry Belafonte tunes, and sings raps of his own creation for us. Life is good here in this tropical paradise!