Montego Bay, Jamaica
Today is my 22nd birthday! 😀 Since I’m away from family and thanks to college making all of my days mush together, it doesn’t really feel like my birthday, so I’m finding it hard to get peppy for it. Hopefully this travelicious post will get me into a more celebratory mood!
During my junior year of high school in 2009, I went on a trip with a group of fellow students to do mission work in Jamaica with GAIN International.
The experiences I had in that country allowed me to appreciate the things I take for granted every day as well as provide me an opportunity to learn more about myself and my faith.
Upon landing, we took a bus (with a HILARIOUSLY FUN driver) out to our basic bunkroom/hotel, “Chatam Cottages” and were greeted by a local preacher who would be our tour guide and leader as well as the hotel cook: an elderly Jamaican woman who cooked EVERY MEAL WE HAD THERE. She was precious and her food was out of this world! 🙂
That afternoon, we explored the beach nearby (which was littered with drug addicts and heroin needles), went swimming and shared a fantastic dinner of local, fresh cuisine. A lot of us were shell-shocked and nervous for our safety, but trusted in God and our leaders.
We set out early the next morning and took a long bus ride into the mountains to get to the preacher’s church for Sunday service. Hands down the friendliest, and most lively group of people I’ve ever met! The locals were dressed to the nines; their rainbow colored clothes so immaculate, it was hard to find even a hint of a wrinkle. I later learned the majority of them only had two pairs of clothes: one for church and one for everything else. It was beautiful to see how they clearly put God as a priority in their lives.
After service, we spent the rest of the afternoon doing construction and painting on the church. Once finished, we went walking with the pastor to other homes in the mountains to visit members of the church who were either sick or invalid. The homes were more like shacks–it was very heartbreaking to see such poverty in a place advertised on TV as a “vacation hotspot.” The church members we visited were so thankful for our company-it was almost as if we brought service to them! We sang songs, told stories, and read verses.
That night back at our hotel, we had to prepare for visiting elementary schools that had over 1700 children. Our leaders invited us to volunteer to be teachers in the classrooms. I knew this trip was a once in a lifetime experience, so I volunteered.
The next day at the school, something huge occurred in the first grade class. While showing my pictures to the kids, I came upon my favorite: an eight foot tall pile of snow with me standing inside its massive shadow. Before I showed them, I asked the children “Have any of you ever seen snow?” Confused, they simply replied, “No.” NEVER SEEN SNOW?!?! WHAT?! I was freaking out! But as my perspective changed, I realized not many people get to ever leave their country or what they know. The moment I revealed the picture, many of them scrambled out of their desks to see the white spectacle.
We made great friends with all of the children–they never stopped asking to have their picture taken! 🙂
The next day, we visited orphanages. This was the hardest, saddest part of the trip for everyone. The head nurse informed us that the majority of the children there either had homeless, jobless, drug addict, or dead parents and that many of them would probably grow up mirroring the same unfortunate events.
My friends and I played with the kids outside, pushed them on swings, and helped the nurses feed them. While it was great to see the kids enjoying themselves. But every so often, we’d be hit by the sorrow of reality. One 3 or 4 year old boy never left the gate by the road and kept saying, “Is that my dad? He’s supposed to be coming back soon!” Everyone definitely shed multiple tears saying goodbye; we wanted to kidnap all of the kids and hide them in our backpacks.
That night, we were somber at our hotel. We prayed a lot and our leaders encouraged us to bond and find the good in the day. So, my friends and I went back to our cabin, danced to crazy music, laughed until we cried, and had a photoshoot while eating crackers hahaha it was a great way to get our minds off the sorrow.
Our final day in Jamaica was a free day–so we got to spend all day at the main beach! Swimming, exploring the open air market, dodging women asking if we wanted our hair braided, haggling in the gift shops for fair prices, snorkeling–it was a magical day! Except for the fact that I got the worst sunburn in my life despite lubing up with SPF 10,000 multiple times 😛 My friends were nice enough to douse me in Aloe that night haha
Over the course of the trip, I learned about leadership and camaraderie, never judging people based on stereotypes, and never taking advantage of blessings. I captured a glimpse of an unknown side of Jamaica in a tiny classroom. Observing learning first hand, I realized that each human makes an impact with their life; whether it is through actions or words. Though I went there as a teacher/worker/missionary, I learned a lot about myself and I returned home a changed person.