Volunteer Review: Thomas G., Building in Jamaica
My time in Jamaica was truly a unique experience. I signed up one month before I left and I didn’t really know what to expect. I had never been on a volunteer trip before, none of my friends were coming with me and I had never been to Jamaica. I decided to join because I was looking to help out, to try a new experience, and to travel. You truly learn about yourself when you are taken out of your usual routine.
This being my first volunteer trip, I didn’t know how to pack or what to bring. I just packed clothes I didn’t mind getting dirty, and when I realized I forgot to pack a towel, I just went down the road and bought one for very cheap (and I still have it today). I realize it’s hard for some people to get out of their comfort zone and travel by themselves, but the Projects Abroad team there for support throughout the entire trip, and they are infinitely helpful whenever one of the volunteers was in need.
Arriving in Jamaica
When I arrived at the airport on Sunday morning, I was met by my taxi driver. He was a nice guy with a smile that went from ear to ear, and we talked for the two and a half hour drive, mostly me asking a ton of questions. We went from from Montego Bay Airport to Mandeville, a small town in the center of Jamaica. The driver was so helpful, giving me hints, telling me street names, and telling me about Jamaican culture. I arrived at my host family’s house, and they met me outside. I was nervous at first, but I jumped in and introduced myself, and they were very welcoming towards me. We talked, got to know each other, and ate dinner.
The first day I met all the other volunteers who came to Jamaica for the week, and the Projects Abroad staff walked us around town. We went to our project site, Richmond Primary School, and were building a bathroom for them. We saw the location and were told our objectives and goals. We had to get to the building site at 8:30 every morning. There were about 15 of us, and we were short on tools and experience.
My Building Project
We started our project by mixing cement, but we had to do it with our shovels by continuously turning it over and adding the ingredients to the mix. First, we started with a pile of sand, then added a bag of cement, then mixed in buckets of stone. We didn’t have much water to work with, so we had to fill the buckets up with water and carry them over to our pile. Keeping the cement from drying up in the intense heat was a challenge. Once we mixed the water in and finally made the concrete (and we made a lot of concrete), we laid the foundation.
The concrete was poured into the buckets, and it took a lot of work because it was heavy and it constantly needed to be tended to. Everybody had their part, and everybody kept busy. We worked as a team; we were like a machine. Our supervisor did an awesome job guiding us, teaching us, and instructing us during our work. Once the foundation was laid, we started building on the walls. We placed the concrete blocks, and learned how to make “sausages” of cement to place in between the blocks to keep the building together.
Traveling in Jamaica
On the last day of our trip, the Projects Abroad staff took us to Appleton Estate. Appleton Estate was about two hours away from Mandeville. For me, the drives to and from each destination were amazing; we got to see the countryside and we got to see parts of Jamaica that many people don’t usually get to see. Appleton is the most famous Jamaican rum, and we got to try samples and walk around the factory to see how the rum was made and stored.
Appleton Estate was completely self-sustaining, which I thought was very cool. After Appleton, we drove to YS Falls, which was a beautiful waterfall that we got to explore. This was amazing for me, because I had never seen a waterfall before. We got to swim in beautiful water, and we were truly in the nature of Jamaica.
I’m really glad that I volunteered in Jamaica. If I had just gone to some resort, I probably would have still had fun, but this was an experience like no other. I truly mean that. I got to help out, and I had fun and met amazing people. I got to experience a part of Jamaica that most people don’t get to experience, and I am really grateful for that. I really hope I get the opportunity to do another volunteer trip like this one.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.