Alice Payne - General Care Projects in Jamaica
I went to Jamaica with Projects Abroad in the year between my high school and university studies. I wanted an organisation that would allow me to do overseas voluntary work and provide me with ample support as it was my first time travelling alone. Projects Abroad gave me this and the whole time I was in Jamaica the staff were amazing, always there to help and really friendly. I went to Jamaica for three months and did a care project.
First impressions of Jamaica
My first look at Jamaica was the hour and a half drive from the airport in the country’s capital, Kingston, to Mandeville. My taxi driver, Andrew was very friendly, as is everyone in Jamaica, and gave me lots tips about the culture and people. He also played me some of the dancehall music that was popular at the time. I arrived on a Saturday so I had the weekend to get to know my host family and on the Monday I was picked up by a Projects Abroad staff member in a local taxi for the induction day.
The taxis in Jamaica are a cross between the buses and the taxis in Australia. They each have a route that they follow, like a bus, but will drop you at specific places on that route, which is more like a taxi. Also a taxi, which in Australia will fit four passengers plus the driver, will at least carry five passengers plus the driver in Jamaica! It can be a bit of a tight squeeze in the back seat but it’s an adventure and can be very entertaining at times.
Living with a local host family
At my host family I shared my room with another Australian girl, who I also worked with. We didn’t have internet and there was only cold running water, which was a good experience. On our block there were two other houses, which my host mother’s two daughters lived in with their families. There were always children running around the yard and family members staying for dinner. We were generally made a cooked breakfast and dinner and we took sandwiches for lunch.
On the induction day the Projects Abroad Jamaica staff took the group of new volunteers on a walking tour of the town and they showed us the main things that we would need such as banks and supermarkets. Then they told us in detail about the culture and what to expect in Jamaica. We were taken to our placement, mine at an orphanage called New Hope Children's Home, where we met our supervisors for the first time and were given a quick orientation of our work place. The Projects Abroad staff then took us to lunch and later took us back to our host families.
My Care placement
I started work the next day and absolutely loved it. Every day for the next three months was the same; working at the orphanage was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. My role at the orphanage was to help feed the children, mostly the babies, supervise the children playing and simply give the children extra one-on-one attention. Over the three months the children came to know me very well and I also got to know them well and after a month I knew all the individual personalities of the children living at the home.
When I would arrive in the mornings the children would all call my name and as I walked through the rooms and would run up and give me hugs. Most of the smaller children would also put their arms up for me to pick them up. Some days if the children were tired and a bit grumpy or if I was tired, it could be challenging but then one of the children would give you a hug or a huge smile and it made it all worth it.
Life as a volunteer in Jamaica
Projects Abroad Jamaica organises weekly volunteer activities such as the always entertaining Reggae dance class, Patois class, culture class and a range of other activities. My first Tuesday in Jamaica we had a culture class where we were taken to a host family's house and shown how to cook traditional Jamaican food and afterwards we got to taste it all.
The food in Jamaica is generally very cheap but in the tourist areas you often have to bargain. One of my favourite meals was fried chicken with rice and peas (rice cooked with a bit of coconut milk and kidney beans) and it can be bought at almost every restaurant in Jamaica.
Before I went to Jamaica I was worried that I wouldn’t meet anyone, but at my first culture class I met all the other volunteers who invited me on the weekend trip and out to a bar that night. The volunteer activities were always lots of fun and it was a way to see everyone and organise the weekends away as well.
Travelling around Jamaica
Most weekends the volunteers organised to travel out of the town we stayed in, Mandeville, to other parts of the island. Usually one or two people would organise the transport and accommodation for the weekend. Some weekends all the volunteers would go to the same place, other weekends there would be two or three groups going to different parts of the island.
Over my three months I saw everything I wanted to see in Jamaica and I was able to go to most of the popular destinations two or three times. My favourite places were Negril, on the west coast and Boston Bay on the east. Some afternoons during the week volunteers would also organise to go to places that weren't too far from Mandeville, such as the Appleton Rum factory, Treasure Beach and YS Falls which were about an hour away.
Volunteering in Jamaica has definitely been one of the best things I have and possibly will ever do. The whole experience was amazing. The Jamaican culture is so relaxed, friendly and colourful and volunteering was such a humbling experience as the children can teach you a lot as well as you giving them the extra attention they crave. Projects Abroad was great support and helped me go to a doctor when I got sick, organised fun activities and were helpful the entire time I was there.
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.