My students and I had arrived very late at the Norman Manley International Airport on a balmy Wednesday evening. After traveling by bus and winding our way through the busy night time streets of Kingston, we finally arrived at our Smokey Manor vacation site way up in the mountains.
Sprawling out before us like a carpet of stars were the sparkling lights of Kingston, now far below us in the lowlands of Jamaica. We were excited but exhausted. By the time we all got settled and went to bed, it was nearly 12:30 a.m.
That same morning we had to get up at 5:00 a.m. to be at Yallahs Primary School in St. Thomas for the beginning of our volunteer program.
The trip was slow and long, travelling through winding streets, many of which were narrow and unpaved. We even slogged our way through a dried riverbed where the bridge had been washed out months before. Though tired, by the time we got to Yallahs, we were enlivened by our anticipation of whatever lay ahead of us.
I led the devotions for that morning and my students went on to conduct classes with the children through the course of the day. Keep in mind that this was all on about four hours sleep plus traveling from Boston, Massachusetts, the day before. We all felt we were reaching our limits, and it was also very, very hot. What transcended our exhaustion and the heat was the magic that happened between my students and the students from Yallahs.
Most of the Yallahs children had never seen a white person in real life. One of our girls had beautiful, long blonde hair. The young girls were enchanted and curious how a white person’s hair could be so straight and long and blonde! They wanted to touch it and to braid it, just to see what it was like. And so they did.
As we played together and worked together in the classrooms, we became a real-life mystery unfolding before their very eyes. Just our being there was a tremendous learning experience for them.
In the same way, the children of Yallahs enchanted us. Their unbounded spirit, their happy faces and willingness to share made us feel like long-awaited and treasured guests. By the end of the morning, we were becoming fast friends. As we ate our boxed lunches of chicken and rice and slurped down our juice boxes, these same students performed for us a cultural exhibition that would have rivaled anything at Disney’s Epcot Center. One could tell, as they shared their heritage through dancing and singing, that they absolutely loved this. They loved sharing their Jamaican hearts with us.
We had learned a lot about each other, and it wasn’t the kind of knowledge that anyone could ever get from a book or a video. It was the kind of knowledge that could only come through experience. And this experience was very, very rich. We were all surprised at how much our lives had woven and grown together. While we had been there less than a full school day, there was barely a dry eye because we all bonded, laughed, and cried together.
I highly recommend a volunteer vacation, especially in Jamaica where the people are naturally warm and friendly. My life has changed because of my volunteer vacation to Jamaica and I am sure yours can change too!
This trip report was submitted to Jamaicans.com via Jamaica Volunteer Vacations.